Occupy Wall Street & Christian Theology, a Conversation

Last night at Theology Pub we hosted a conversation consider the Occupy Wall Street movement and Christian theology. In truth, when I scheduled the topic, I was a bit nervous about how it would go. After all, the Christian church these days sometimes feels more like a corporate conglomerate than a fringe movement taking to the streets. The conversation, however, went beautifully and I left contemplating the many cross-over notions of Christianity and the #Occupy movement (OWS).

In last week’s news roundup on NPR, NY Times columnist David Brooks said, “I think the Tea Party is like, 11 percent of the country. My estimate is that Occupy Wall Street is 2 or 3 percent of the country in what they actually want to do.” I’m not sure what Brooks thinks “they actually want to do,” but last night a fairly mixed group of young adults — Christians, atheists, seekers, seminarians, pastors — was definitely more than appreciative of the movement. Here’s why.

First, we considered how OWS might connect to Jesus’ notion of the “kingdom of God.” (See Brian McLaren’s piece here.) Conversation hinged on what a new version of the world might look like, one in which there is less income inequality, everyone has a voice, and diminished injustice. We considered, also, how the Kingdom of God is something that is not only coming in the future, but something that we can glimpse here and now. Perhaps OWS can remind and inspire Christians to live out that kingdom mentality.

Second, since the OWS folks seem to be living out certain intentional practices such as offering hospitality, food, prayer, tearing down of golden calves, and so on, we wondered with Elizabeth Drescher how OWS might be seen as a spiritual practice. Folks were less open to this notion, as they didn’t see religious identity as a determinative aspect to most folks’ participation in the protests. Certainly there are exceptions (such as the Protest Chaplains), but I was personally intrigued how folks seemed to be willing to make a distinction like, “People do this not because they’re Christian, but because they’re fed up with injustice.” I don’t like that distinction one bit, but it seemed to drive several persons’ thinking and went over without much debate.

Third, the move of OWS to “kill the Buddhas of power and hierarchy in our society,” as Nathan Schneider considers here, was quite compelling to folks. Our young adults needed almost no time to point out different idols of wealth, power, prestige, celebrity, nationality, even unquestioned democracy that needed to be called to account. (Of course, it’s always easier to point out the false idols of others than it is to claim your own hangups.)

Finally, we ended with a brief consideration of how sin (both personal and societal) might be way to put Christian language to the brokenness OWS folks are protesting.

At the end of the night, my uneasiness about the OWS topic has subsided, only to be replaced by another troublesome reality. Our conversation went so well, tapping into much of Christian theology and the Bible, that I mourned the fact such polite, wide-ranging, political conversation would be difficult to host in many mainline churches. But then again, according to the young adults gathered last night, it’s not Christians who push this justice stuff anyway.

image by Rob Sheridan

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