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Occupy Wall Street: Feels like church

Occupy Wall Street: Feels like church

Marisa Egerstrom, an Episcopalian, Ph.D. candidate studying American religious history at Harvard University, a member of the Boston-based group Protest Chaplains, and has been involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and Boston writes at CNN that the Occupy Wall Street “feels like church.”

… at its heart, the Occupy movement is about creating a democratic society in which everyone matters, there is dignity in working together across differences, and there is enough for everyone. Is this vision tantamount to socialism? No. Once upon a time, we called this “American.”

It also sounds pretty Christian to me. What the early Apostles called “The Way” was a vision for peaceful living that built on Christ’s teaching, life, death and resurrection. The Way repudiates the pursuit of individual wealth in favor of building communities that care for the marginalized, the desperate and the powerless. Jesus demonstrated this by healing lepers and dining with prostitutes and tax collectors.


Critics have derided the protesters with the usual rehearsal of slurs: spoiled kids, lazy hippies and so on. But the occupiers don’t want your money or your stuff. In this entitled era of “Have it Your Way” and overwhelming consumer choice, spend any time listening to people speaking about their grief and hope, and you hear a groan of longing for a different way of living. “I want less,” a friend told me once. “Less of everything.” She wasn’t talking about wanting to be poor. She just wants real life.


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Adam Wood

She just wants real life.

But you can’t get that by protesting.

The Way repudiates the pursuit of individual wealth in favor of building communities that care for the marginalized, the desperate and the powerless. Jesus demonstrated this by healing lepers and dining with prostitutes and tax collectors.

All true. But they didn’t build those communities by protesting and/or attempting to change the laws or the political structures they lived in. They built those communities by… well… being together in community.

The protesters want all the same things that corporate executives and stock brokers want: freedom from material want, comfort in life, relative safety, freedom from financial insecurity, freedom to pursue their own happiness. The protesters and their sympathizers aren’t at odds with the values of Wall Street. They are upset that our political/economic system has created a situation where some people have those things and others do not.

Those desires/values might be good. They certainly seem American. And so it may be that the protesters are doing the right thing in terms of American principles or modern secular ethics.

But those values are not Christian. At least- not the Christianity of Scripture or the early Church. James and John quit their jobs in order to follow Jesus around. The old widow with her two pennies was not financially rewarded, or the difficulty of her earthly situation alleviated. Paul managed to hold down a tent-making business while preaching the Gospel (when he wasn’t in jail).

The wealthy among the disciples supported the less fortunate- but not by government mandate. They did it voluntarily as members of their community. They did not attempt to restructure the tax code or force their non-Christian neighbors to contribute.

Jesus didn’t tell the Centurion to go back and work from the inside to dismantle the evil Roman Empire, nor did he tell him to quit his job and stop working for such a terrible institution.

The protesters are not like the Early Church. They might be a little like early America. The founders weren’t really at odds with the cultural values and lifestyle of the English. They were angry that they were not able to enjoy or participate in that lifestyle or live according to those cultural values.

(Except, you know- they wanted to overthrow the government so that their corporations could flourish. Not the other way around.)

Right-wing conservatives have a tendency to take their culturally-created social/moral views (homosexuality is bad), find those values in their religion (the Bible says homosexuality is bad), and then use the strong arm of the government to force those views on other people (the government should treat homosexuals differently somehow).

I fear that we (religious/political/moral liberals) fall into that exact same pattern when we exalt social or political action as somehow mandated or sanctioned by religion:

1. Rich people should help support poor people.

2. The bible says that rich people should help poor people.

3. The Federal Government should force rich people to help poor people.

I’m on board with points 1 and 2. But point 3 freaks me out.

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