God to Ratner: Don’t build so big

The Brooklyn Paper
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If there are any atheist opponents of Atlantic Yards, they might want to start believing in God — because God, apparently, is opposed to Bruce Ratner’s mega-development.

Now, of course, I’m simplifying one of the great theocratic questions of our time: Is God reserving a special, Old Testament-style wrath for his disloyal servant, Bruce Ratner?

Simplification or not, an increasing number of men of the cloth believe He is.

The debate over the godlessness of Ratner’s 16-tower arena, office and residential development began earlier this year when a Long Island priest, the Rev. Fred Jenkins of St. Luke’s Pentecostal Church, announced that he opposed Atlantic Yards on religious grounds.

God, he said, does not support the use of eminent domain — which is necessary if Ratner is to realize his vision.

The moral crusade against the mega-development was later joined by the Rev. Daniel Meeter of the Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope.

On his blog (yes, even pastors have blogs nowadays), Meeter called Atlantic Yards “a moral issue” because of its sheer size.

“The Bible is not against development,” Meeter wrote. “But the scale of a project can affect its relative morality. The scale of this project is monstrous. It’s a moral issue.”

Another “moral issue”? His belief that government agencies were “prejudiced” in favor of Ratner.

“In this case, [government] is playing for one of the teams,” Meeter wrote. “That itself is a moral issue.”

And, like so many things Biblical, therein lies a great story.

In the Old Testament book of Kings, there is a tale of Naboth and his vineyard. Now, this wasn’t an Ernest and Julio Gallo-sized factory farm, but a small vineyard that just happened to be sitting on land that King Ahab wanted. But alas, the Torah forbade the king from seizing the land.

But Ahab’s wife, Queen Jezebel (who was a gentile, but that’s a whole nother story!) tricked the town fathers into believing that Naboth had spoken against God and the king. For that, Naboth was sentenced to death, paving the way for Ahab to take the land.

Given the facts about Atlantic Yards, it’s a pretty compelling story. Naboth (Brooklyn) had a vineyard (private homes) that he didn’t want to give up, so the town fathers (the Empire State Development Corporation) took it away from him and gave it to Ahab (Ratner).

But is it illustrative? After all, Ahab (Ratner) got his land and lived happily ever after? Wrong. The Biblical story tells how God was so angry about what had happened to Naboth (Brooklyn) that Ahab (Ratner) was later killed in a freak accident (freak accident?).

Meeter said he wasn’t surprised. “In the Torah, small owners of private property are seen as where prosperity lies. In that way, Atlantic Yards breaks the rules of the Torah.”

Meeter also cited the stories of the Tower of Babel (God was against it) and Adam and Eve as Biblical examples of leaders not knowing when to say, “Enough.”

“I don’t know what [Atlantic Yards architect] Frank Gehry wants,” Meeter wrote. “I don’t know what Bruce Ratner wants or what [Borough President] Marty Markowitz wants. I don’t think they want to be like gods. But apparently they don’t know when to say, ‘No, Enough.’”

On the other hand, plenty of Brooklynites are saying they want more of Meeter. The pastor said his Atlantic Yards blog post has gotten him more traffic than any prior entry.

“If you google my name, the Atlantic Yards thing comes up,” Meeter told me.

First a blog, and now he’s googling his own name. But it all goes to show you that with Atlantic Yards, there is no separation of church and state.

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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