Occupy Wall Street Raises Questions about Why Christians Occupy Church Pews


Occupy Wall Street Raises Questions about Why Christians Occupy Church Pews | Robert Parham, Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are angry about the injustice of how 1 percent of Americans have more wealth than 90 percent of the rest of Americans, Parham observes. (Photo: David Shankbone)
Jesus showed up at the demonstration of the Occupy London Stock Exchange on Oct. 15. At least, a demonstrator was dressed as Jesus, according to an Associated Press photograph.

Occupy London Stock Exchange is a spinoff of Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

The London demonstrator certainly knew the story about Jesus in the temple. His sign read, "I threw out the moneylenders for a reason."

He even looked like Jesus – shoulder-length hair, a beard and a robe. He had a leafy crown on his head.

The photograph is available on the Atlantic website (it's number 25).

OWS is a hard-to-define "people-powered movement."

OWS identifies itself as "fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1 percent of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future."

Begun on Sept. 17, the protestors appear mostly to be young people – college-age students. They are grieved about unemployment, underemployment and the impoverishment of the middle class.

They are angry about the injustice of how 1 percent of Americans have more wealth than 90 percent of the rest of Americans. They are repulsed by the bonuses and compensation of CEOs who wrecked the global economy.

The Christian community has been mostly silent about OWS. Of course, some exceptions stand out.

"This is insane... This Occupy Wall Street is nothing more than a leftist, progressive movement," said Buster Wilson, host of a radio program of the American Family Association, on the 32nd day of the movement.

He said the American Nazi Party, the Communist Party USA and President Obama had endorsed OWS, accusing the movement of being a mob, clashing with police and destroying property.

James Dobson's Family Research Council had a post under the heading "Prayer Team."

"Dear Praying Friends," began the post, which accused OWS of being organized by labor unions and the far left, who are supported by "the sycophant liberal media, Hollywood celebrities and leading Democrats."

The prayer request read: "May God prevent these radical organizers from stirring revolution and distracting voters from the elections and keeping watch on our elected leaders."

A publication of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches criticized OWS for generating trash and wasting public funds on police costs.

Frank Schaeffer, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church and the son of fundamentalist guru Francis Schaeffer, attacked fundamentalism.

"If the Wall Street protests are to mean anything long term, they have to also focus on the enablers of the top 1 percent that have raped the 99. Fundamentalist religion made this rape possible," blasted Schaeffer. "The source of the empowering of the top 1 percent super wealthy and the economic rape of [the] rest of us is the religion of Evangelical fundamentalism."

He accused evangelical fundamentalism of using religion to back billionaires and misdirecting Americans from their self-interest.

"[I]f you can get Americans to worry about the Bible and not fairness and justice, then you have handed a perpetual victory to Goldman Sacks [sic] and company," said Schaeffer.

United Church of Christ blogger Chuck Currie called OWS a new "Great Awakening."

"The protesters are lifting up principles of compassion, justice and love. These principles are central to the Christian faith," blogged Currie.

"Our churches should seize this movement as a new Great Awakening and once again preach a Social Gospel that lifts up the common good of all and firmly rejects prosperity theology and other movements in our churches that have allowed us to ignore the fundamental principles of biblical justice," wrote Currie.

United Methodist Women's board of directors showed up with hand-made signs citing a Bible verse about greed and words from the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline.

Many conservative Christians have a knee-jerk reaction against OWS, perhaps rooted in their historical opposition to the civil rights movement and anti-war marches. Social justice Christians see protest as a legitimate vehicle to challenge entrenched power.

Those faithful to the biblical witness know that Jesus did indeed challenge economic power.

Jesus did so when he announced his God-given agenda in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:18-19). His good news was for the poor, which in Greek is the word ptochos, meaning the marginalized and destitute. He said it was time for the year of jubilee, a time of economic transformation and environmental restoration.

Jesus challenged the Pharisee (identified as "lovers of money" in Luke 16:14), who no doubt had economic power: "But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice" (Luke 11:42).

Jesus challenged the economic power of the rich ruler (Luke 18:18-30), who refused to follow Jesus and abandon his idolatrous commitment to wealth.

Jesus challenged Zacchaeus' economic power (Luke 19:1-10). The repentant tax collector gave half of his goods to the poor and paid back four times what he had defrauded.

Jesus challenged the economic power in the temple (Luke 19:45-48), driving out the moneylenders.

Given the clear textual evidence that Jesus challenged economic power, one wonders why the occupiers of church pews haven't.

Are church pews too comfortable?

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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