Would Jesus Christ occupy Wall Street?
This may seem like an odd question, but in looking at the reaction coming from liberal Christian groups, it seems they've already settled in on an affirmative answer.
The Rev. Jim Wallis has showered the protesters with accolades, calling them "inspirational" and dubbing them "citizen economists." He even penned an open letter to the Occupiers in which he covered, in-depth, his positive thoughts about the movement. And who can forget his list of circumstances under which the protesters "stand with Jesus?"
In a recent interview with one of the protesters -- a man named "Drew" -- Wallis questions the man's involvement in the Occupy movement. Drew, who says "the current system is suicidal," explains what it is that the protesters want:
But Wallis isn't the only faith leader who's throwing his weight behind the protests (or, at the least, giving extensive attention to the Occupiers, while penning "love" notes to them). Nicole Neroulias writes that "there’s a growing religious component" to the Occupy movement.
Take, for instance, Fordham theologian Tom Beaudoin, who wonders if the Catholic Church could learn something from the protests. Beaudoin, who has been participating in Occupy Wall Street, posted his views in America Magazine:
Imagine a group of Catholics whose deep care for the future of their church is matched by their sense of responsibility to name, protest and change what is intolerable about that church today: in the form of nonviolent physical occupation of spaces, in the form -- necessarily imperfect and unruly -- of democratic organization, in the form of continued open-ended articulations of visions of a different Catholic Church, without prematurely forcing the movement to take on a specific agenda. And yes, in the form of consciousness-raising and of direct action. This would be the Catholic version of the Arab Spring, to combat the long Catholic Winter.
Last week, the New York Daily News quoted some Christian clergy who have been encouraging participation in the movement as well. Rev. Donna Schaper, senior minister at Judson Memorial Church, says it's time for the faith community to speak up and join the protests.
"Some say faith leaders should stay out of this," she said. "But actually every faith gives preference to the poor. The Hebrew and the Christian scriptures are full of warnings about the acquisition of wealth to the harm of others, and of the requirement that the poor and dispossessed be cared for."
During a service that was held down at Zuccotti Park two weekends ago, Rev. Michael Ellick of Judson Memorial, took the rhetoric a step further. "This isn't just a jobs issue, or an education issue, or a health care issue, this is a spiritual issue, about what the United States has become," he said.
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Ellick, though, has some cautiousness when it comes to the movement's many messages and the potential he sees for violence. He also believes that the faith community is the most equipped to push for economic justice for all. He says:
"It takes long-term organizing and a deep-vision future, but faith communities have to be the ones to do it. We’re the only ones who can carry that kind of message so that all the little messages don’t eat us up...
[The protesters are] doing something amazing. But simultaneously there are a lot of people with a lot of different agendas. And as they have no clear vision to move forward, things are naturally going to turn violent at times.”
But Rev. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister and the Associate Director of The Westar Institute, doesn't seem to have these reservations. In a piece published on the Huffington Post on Monday, he wrote:
For Christians, supporting the Occupy America protests should be clear-cut. The protesters are lifting up principles of compassion, justice and love. These principles are central to the Christian faith.
We need to do more to address the truly fundamental problems facing our nation. As a start, we need Congress to pass President Obama's American Jobs Act.
Earlier this month, Marisa Egerstrom mirrored these statements. Enerstrom, is a Ph.D. candidate studying American religious history at Harvard University, wrote the following on the CNN Belief Blog:
...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.
This is not to say that American democracy is synonymous with Christianity, nor to argue that it should be...
But on Pathos, columnist J.E. Dyer dismisses similarities that have been made between Christ and the Occupiers, writing that, "Jesus is the very antithesis of an occupier." Using scripture to back up her claims, she writes:
Jesus never went anywhere uninvited. Even when he rebuked the money-changers in the Temple, he did not approach the institution as an antagonist, demanding entry on his own terms. He entered the Temple in obedience to the Father, as a Jew going to worship: exercising the privilege of a Jew under the commandments of God and the system of worship and priestly authority God had instituted. At no time did Jesus enter the premises of any person or institution on any but an orderly pretext.
Additionally, she said that Jesus didn't defy authorities in order to make his point. In fact, she contends, Christ obeyed his enemies all the way through his death and even rebuked Peter for showing resistance. "The resurrected Jesus doesn't even occupy our hearts," Dyer writes. "He dwells there only at our invitation."
While the debate continues to rage, at least one fact seems evident: The faith community will likely continue its involvement in the protests.