The Common Good
March-April 2002

Can I Get an 'Amen'!

by Rose Marie Berger | March-April 2002

Rev. Billy may not be a reverend, but he's got some good news to tell.

"Children, here's the tough love, here's the sermon: Corporate-sponsored grieving makes you bomb people. Too much patriotism makes you Mel Gibson. Too much America makes you fly predator drones across Afghanistan shouting in 41 dialects, ‘We need to bomb you but WE ARE NICE PEOPLE!' We in the Church of Stop Bombing think that bombing is a sin. It's almost the only kind of sin we object to. Well, bombing and shopping. They cause each other." —Rev. Billy

He's the king of cultural interventions, the clown of charismatic anti-corporatism, the pope of populist preach-ins. New York City's Bill Talen turned his wildly popular theater production "Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping" into "The Church of Stop Bombing." He's not a "real" preacher, but he plays one on stage, in the streets, or at Starbucks.

Bill Talen—aka Rev. Billy—has become something of a social savior for the creative and political aspirations of artists, activists, and haters of hypocrisy. He took his Dutch Calvinist roots and, with the help of Episcopal priest Sidney Lanier, used them to co-opt the persona of a right- wing televangelist. Before long the good reverend was spewing fire and brimstone about the spell of consumer narcosis; railing against fundamentalists, corporate conglomerates, and New Age individualists; and getting a powerful amen corner going among the 20-something disaffected hard-core cultural skeptics.

The Church of Stop Bombing's Christmas show honored small businesses afflicted by the attacks on the World Trade Center. In the past Rev. Billy has championed such causes as keeping Disney out of Times Square. His recent projects have focused on defending neighborhood, family-owned businesses from "NASDAQ funny-money fueled" corporations like Starbucks. As Village Voice's Alisa Solomon says, "His collar is fake, but his calling is real."

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