‘No excuses’ for cross-shape of rebuilt Jersey Shore pier, church group says

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association defends the design of a new pier it plans to build in the Jersey Shore community, despite backlash from some residents who say the structure looks too much like a Christian cross on a public beach .

The religious nonprofit’s chief operating officer, Jamie Jackson, said the group “is not apologizing for it, we love that it looks like a cross”.

When asked if Jackson’s statement meant that the beach pier was, in fact, intentionally designed to look like a Christian cross, Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association President Michael Badger simply replied: “It did not escape us”.

“Symbolism is in cooperation with its effective use,” he said. “Different people will see different things. How important it is, in a way (depends on) your point of view.

“It’s obvious to a lot of people what the shape is,” Badger said.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist ministry, is using $1.3 million of its funds and donating money to build the pier and other beachfront facilities.

Under a complex charter, the association has authority over the land, beach and boardwalk of Ocean Grove, which is a small seaside section of Neptune Township in Monmouth County.

The Ocean Grove Pier as it currently stands, as of August 17. Photo courtesy of Michael Badger, President of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.

The new jetty, which will be open to the public, did not need to go through local authorities for approval. However, some residents who view the design as “Christian bullying” have called on state and local authorities to intervene.

The project’s architectural firm, Leon S. Avakian Engineers, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether the pier was intentionally designed to be a religious symbol or just has a similar cross design at Coney Island and other Shore piers. communities.

Badger said the Camp Meeting Association never intended the pier to offend or exclude anyone. He also denied that the pier had anything to do with Christian nationalism, a term used to describe efforts to put Christian symbols and practices in public spaces.

“There was no idea it could be perceived as Christian nationalism,” Badger said. “It’s not part of the association of camp meetings.”

Christian nationalism is often used to describe the belief that the United States was established as an explicitly Christian nation and that this close relationship with Christianity should be protected, according to research by Joseph Williams, associate professor of religion at the Rutgers University.

“The practical ramifications of these views involve everything from support for laws that codify specific interpretations of Christian morality, to the defense of religious manifestations on public property, to nativist reactions to non-white, non-Christian immigrants,” a said Williams at a Rutgers University. publication.

The new cross-shaped pier design was unveiled in a premiere last month, drawing criticism from some local officials and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The pier will replace the one that was damaged ten years ago during Hurricane Sandy and never replaced.

Christian symbols can already be found all around Ocean Grove.

Beach badges sold by the Camp Meetings Association include a cross, the umbrellas available for hire are decorated with cross iconography, and there is a cross mounted on the beach dunes. When visitors enter Ocean Grove, they are greeted by a sign that reads, “Welcome to Ocean Grove, a Christian Resort.”

OCGMA defends the cross-shaped pier

A cross on the beach at Ocean Grove. Photo taken June 9, 2022.

The pier is just another version of the ‘holier than thou’ kind of bullying we all know here in what some call ‘God’s square mile’,” Ocean Grove resident Doug Grote wrote. , in an editorial this week.

“To me, any political power that would appear to bully its captive, vulnerable, secular citizens into accepting a sectarian cross as the center of its cultural life is probably a human rights abuser,” said Grote, a Presbyterian minister. semi-retired. “With construction of the pier soon to begin, I fear the beautiful cross of my faith will soon become as toxic as a Trojan horse to Ocean Grove, Asbury Park and all of New Jersey.”

Grote has the opportunity to present a motion at the next meeting of the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association on September 17, where he can seek a vote to ask the camp meeting association to stop construction of the pier” until the issues are considered, all of its citizens are consulted and approve or disagree of the cross-shaped pier, just as democracy should work.

The Ocean Grove Home Owner’s Association is not affiliated with the Camp Meeting Association and its membership includes a mix of residents.

If Grote or another resident makes a motion and it is accepted, the Home Owner’s Association will forward the results to the Camp Meeting Association and urge them to halt construction.

“However, OGHOA is not part of Camp Meeting, and Camp Meeting is not likely to be influenced by a vote of OGHOA members, no matter how decisive,” said Joyce Klein, vice -President of the Home Owners Association. in an email shared with NJ Advance Media.

Construction of the pier is expected to begin next month, a week before the Home Owners Association meeting.

That’s why Grote and resident Shane Martins are also asking elected officials to step in.

“For too long, Badger and Jackson’s decision affecting our community has gone unchecked. It is time for our leaders, who are effectively elected, to step up to ensure that the protections afforded to us under the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution are not violated,” Martins said.

Not all residents are opposed to the pier project. Some say they don’t mind the design, some embrace the symbolism of the cross, and others are just happy to see the pier being rebuilt.

“I believe most of (us) here, religious or not, are just deeply happy that the pier that many of us visit daily will soon be better than before,” said Ocean resident Charlotte Pritchard. Groves.

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jackie roman can be attached to [email protected].