‘Christian Bullying’: New Jersey Beach Town Wars Over Cross-Shaped Pier

‘Christian Bullying’: New Jersey Beach Town Wars Over Cross-Shaped Pier

Some residents of a New Jersey seaside town are less than thrilled that a new 500-foot-long, T-shaped pier will be shaped like a cross.

Plans for the redesigned pier in Ocean Grove have inspired a lot of opinions from religious and non-religious folks. The original structure was destroyed in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy.

The New York Post reported that Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association broke ground on the $1.3 million project on July 30 and has an estimated completion date of December. The publication notes that the pier is being privately funded, and no government funds will be used for construction.

Ocean Grove residents Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster said the cross-shaped structure is problematic for some. 

“Ocean Grove is a diverse community including LGBTQ residents and people of various religious affiliations, who are never asked for input about the OGCMA projects that impact all of us. … The problem is not solely the pier in the shape of the cross, but the total lack of regard for their tenants,” they explained.

Presbyterian Pastor Douglas Grote called the rebuild and design of the pier a form of “Christian bullying.”

“I fear that my faith’s lovely cross may soon become as toxic as a Trojan horse for Ocean Grove, Asbury Park, and all of New Jersey,” Grote shared in a guest column he wrote for NJ.com.

Grote called the pier’s design an example of “holier than thou” bullying in the small town founded on religious principles. He noted that Ocean Grove is known as “God’s square mile.’

“To me, any political power that would appear to bully its captive, vulnerable, secular citizenry into accepting a sectarian cross as the center of its cultural life is a likely human rights violator,” the pastor argued. 

He demanded that officials delay construction “until matters are investigated, all of its citizenry are consulted, and approve the cross-shaped pier, or not, just like democracy ought to work.”

The Camp Meeting Association (CMA) defended its decision to make the pier T-shaped. Group COO Jamie Jackson told News12,  “We make no apology for that — we love the fact that it looks like a cross. 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.”

“Our hope continues to be that people of varying points of view will enjoy the peace of a stroll out over the Atlantic on the new pier,” group president Michael Badger told The Post. He explained that the pier would be open to the public and won’t require a beach tag or other admission fee to enjoy. 

Badger also said the CMA did not receive any complaints about the design during the public comment period. He further noted that the design plan has been available online for three years.

“The Christian interpretation of the cross is that it is a symbol of God’s love and forgiveness. It is disappointing that anyone would seek to block a sacred symbol on private property from public view regardless of whether you interpret the shape as a pier, a plus sign, or cross,” Badger said.

Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 as a Methodist summer camp, per The Post. The CMA owns all the land in the seaside town of 3,100, including the beach, boardwalk, and the area where the pier is being constructed.