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NJ Religious Group Accused of 'Christian Bullying' for Trying to Build a Cross-Shaped Pier on Land It Owns

08-24-2022
The proposed Ocean Grove pier would have a t-shape that's similar to this pier at Coney Island, NY (Adobe stock image).
The proposed Ocean Grove pier would have a t-shape that's similar to this pier at Coney Island, NY (Adobe stock image).

A New Jersey religious community that has been in operation since 1869 is rebuilding a beach pier with its boardwalk in the shape of a cross, prompting backlash from the local LGBTQ community. 

NJ.com reports the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist ministry, is replacing a pier that was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  The end of the pier is t-shaped, resembling a cross with north and south-facing wings, similar to a pier at Coney Island. 

"We make no apology for that, we love the fact that it looks like a cross," Camp Meeting Association COO Jamie Jackson told News 12 New Jersey. "This is a religious town founded as such in Ocean Grove and most people are excited we will be able to have this pier shaped this way for these purposes."

"We've added the extensions north and south to create opportunities for better life saving, weather stations, lightning detection," Jackson explained. 

Ocean Grove is a small seaside community of almost 3,000 residents, located south of Asbury Park. Ocean Grove is not a town, but a small section of Neptune Township, set aside with a unique charter, according to NJ.com

Founded more than 150 years ago as a religious retreat, the area was governed by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association for a century until the New Jersey Supreme Court declared the association's charter unconstitutional. 

However, the association still owns all of the land. When buying a home in Ocean Grove, residents must sign a land-lease agreement with the camp. This means while residents and businesses can own buildings in Ocean Grove, the Methodist group owns the land, according to NJ.com

The association's ownership also extends to the beach, boardwalk, and all of its activities.

Located within walking distance, Asbury Park was also once a Methodist enclave, according to Breitbart.  But high levels of beachside development in the area have led to changing demographics, which has led to the development of a LGBTQ+ tourism industry, along with hotels and clubs that cater to the community, the outlet reported. 

"Members of the small seaside town's LGTBQ+ community and allies are saying the cross crosses a line, but many are afraid to voice their grievances with the Camp Meeting Association," Douglas Grote, a local resident, and a retired Presbyterian pastor told NJ.com. "The cross-shaped pier feels like Christian bullying."

"I am so deeply concerned," he said. "And I am so concerned from my neighbors who are scared and bullied."

Camp Association Held Three-Year 'American Treasure' Funding Drive to Rebuild Pier

Last month, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association had a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil the new design of the pier. 

"The new design is practical, functional and an improvement over the prior design," Michael Badger, president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, told NJ.com

When asked if the pier was purposely redesigned to resemble a Christian cross, Badger said the design was "highly functional, to be in the shape that it's been designed to be."

The outlet reports the camp undertook a three-year private funding campaign for the new pier called "American Treasure" that raised $550,000 towards the construction of the pier and its facilities. In addition, the group is also adding $750,000 of its own funds to meet the project's $1.3 million construction budget. 

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Once completed, the pier will be accessible to the public free of charge. Construction is scheduled to begin the week of Sept. 12, according to the association. 

Since the land is owned by the camp, the project does not have to go through any municipal approval. 

But Shane Martins, an attorney who sits on the Neptune Zoning Board and lives in Ocean Grove, told NJ.com "many residents were surprised by the new cross-shaped pier design. 

Martins, who is gay, said even if he's not personally offended by the design, "it's not just about me, there's other people being hurt."

"Once this pier is built like a cross, I believe that will be the point of a no return," he said. "To say that (cross-shaped pier) doesn't represent Christian nationalism — anyone who says that isn't being honest."

Martins did not elaborate on his comments to the outlet or define what he meant by "Christian nationalism." He also did not specify any objections members of the LGBTQ+ community would have over the t-shaped pier. 

But other residents are excited that the pier is being rebuilt after more than a decade. 

"As long as it works well, I don't really care," Oliver Stebich, of Scarsdale, New York told News 12. "I'm just happy something's coming back. If it happens to be in the shape of a cross, fine, guess that will be a lot more fishing space, a lot more people will be out there to enjoy the water."

Commenting on a Facebook post, New Jersey State sen. Holly Schepsi (R) noted that most piers are t-shaped. 

"Crazy that this is the top story on NJ.com," she wrote. "Most piers I've been on are in some form of a t-shape. I think NJ has far bigger issues to worry about than attempting to cancel out a pier because it may be viewed as cross-shaped."

News12 Reporter Jim Murdoch also noted in a Facebook post that "The Coney Island pier in NYC is the same shape."

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