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October 18, 2011

A Response to Occupy Wall Street

Rapid Response is a New Publication of Summit Ministries designed to help Christians process what’s going on in the world from a biblical worldview and intelligently engage the culture. We want your feedback — what was helpful about this? What would make it more helpful? Email Michael Reneau at michael@summit.org.

Who wouldn’t agree to the notion of “people before profits?” For thousands of Americans now camped out at the financial, legislative, and cultural centers of their cities across the country, this sentiment is a rallying cry. And it began now more than a month ago with the Occupy Wall Street protests, which have gained tremendous traction and notoriety.

But what do these protesters want? How should Christians engage their message and their methods?

The protests began with a Canadian, anti-consumerist, anti-establishment magazine: Adbusters. The goal of the organization is to bring down America’s culture of consumerism and commercialism. Adbusters set the protest in motion in mid-summer, but the movement has now taken a life of its own. With no recognized leadership as of yet, protesters’ demands remain vague and undefined, other than they believe the richest Americans and corporations control our society. Their aim is to bring the top 1 percent down, whatever that actually means.

The OWS movement taps into legitimate questions. What does it mean to be human, crafted in the image of God? Is it to only consume? Is it to live off the backs of others? Is it to hoard wealth and material possessions, especially at the expense of those less wealthy? The Christian ought to ask these questions along with OWS protesters. But the biblical worldview offers solutions, whereas OWS seems content to complain about the problems.

Though no uniform answer has been offered from OWS, many have asked that student loans be forgiven and wealth be shared. Others demand free health care. All want more given to them by the nation’s wealthiest.

But doesn’t that play back into the notion that we are only consumerist creatures? Doesn’t that negate the fact that we were created to create, to steward resources given to us in creation and use them for the kingdom and the good of others? Mooching off the richest 1 percent and the federal government — as some OWS protesters have demanded — distorts what it means to be human.

The message of the OWS movement is still incoherent — waiting for someone to come along and lead. This is dangerous because those in the movement could be easily co-opted by those who want to use the movement for evil purposes.

But to the larger question: What would it look like if Christians, from an intelligent biblical worldview perspective, got involved? Could an honest dialogue about biblical principles sprout from that? It’s easy to tear down and deconstruct society or a movement. But what does it look like for a movement to become culture-building?

Below are some talking points we hope you’ll find helpful as you engage the OWS movement. Again we ask, what would it look like for someone who’s articulate with a biblical worldview to lead?

Talking Points to engage OWS:

  • At what point is your cause illegitimate because you use what you rally against? Isn’t it hypocritical for OWS protesters to use the products of “big business” to get their message out: social media, smartphones, Adbusters, brand name tents, camping supplies?
  • The U.S. has always been about what we are for, not what we are against. We know what you’re against: corporatism and crony capitalism. But what are you for?
  • Isn’t greed a problem with all of us, not just businesses? In a free market economy, if big businesses are at fault, so too are the consumers purchasing their products. The problem of over-consumerism isn’t just “out there.” It’s also “right here.” We’re the ones who shop.
  • Don’t OWS protesters over-exaggerate the influence of the wealthy? Even the wealthiest among us only have so much income. According to some estimates, if everyone making more than $250,000 were taxed at 100 percent of their income, we’d only have enough money to sustain the current national budget for 141 days. Taking corporate profits would only add a few weeks more.
  • What would you replace capitalism with? There has never been a system in the history of the world that allows for human creativity, and alleviates human suffering, as much as ours. Restricting economic freedom doesn’t encourage us to produce, create, and make the world better, as a video from Values and Capitalism shows. It encourages us to consume — the supposed antithesis of the OWS movement.
  • How do you know that your assumptions are valid?
    • You assume that the wealthy have what they have because they stole it from us. How do you know that to be true?
    • You assume that the wealthiest 1 percent giving up their wealth would solve the problem. How do you know that to be true?
    • You assume that direct democracy would be better than our current system. How do you know that to be true?

You assume that tearing down the current system will automatically result in something better. How do you know that to be true?


This post has earned 6 Comments so far.

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  • October 18, 2011 // 04:33 pm //  # 
    Peter's avatar Peter

    Serving as salt and light in the OWS may be possible for some Christians, but who within the movement protests the underlying and fundamental problem of offenses against God, including offenses by protesters? Surely the movement correctly perceives a problem with greed in the financial elite, though no doubt perceived simplistically for most, but does it also humbly perceive the same problem in OWS members? Christian influence in the OWS may be limited by the divergence of focus between the gospel and the OWS. But then also as in the Apostle John’s day “men love darkness rather than light, for their deeds are evil.”

  • October 18, 2011 // 04:33 pm //  # 
    Janey's avatar Janey

    As a top wage earner in America, a business owner, a lifelong Republican and a devout Christian, I disagree with what you have written here.

    Corporate America is utterly amoral. It will do anything to get more and more money. It has no sense of fairness, quid pro quo, or integrity. I used to be naive and believe in the American Dream, but years of watching big corporations, banks, and private equity has convinced me that the Occupy Wall Street protests are important and necessary.

    The American Dream is a promise: If you work hard and help your company get ahead, you will advance too. As the tide comes in all boats will rise.  But that isn’t happening anymore—at least not like it used to.

    I’m not surprised that you think it still is happening. I believed it too until 5 years ago. It worked up until the 1980s. But in the past 20 years, the tables have turned so slowly and will such good PR, that many people haven’t noticed. 

    Middle class wages, adjusted for inflation, are the same as they were in the 1980s, but the top 10%? Our wages have increased to dizzying heights.

    As a Christian, I know that corporate America for the most part doesn’t care and cannot be trusted. My fellow business owners say the same thing, even the non-Christians. I have talked to a dozen corporate leaders in the past month. We support Occupy Wall Street.

    Corporate America has reneged on our part of the American Dream.  A good warning shot across the bow is in order.

    To other business owners visiting this board: We already make 6-figure incomes. On top of that the tax code allows us to have huge perks: sports cars, gas, fancy dinners. 

    If Jesus walked in and looked at your payroll, would he say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” and “What you did for your lowest paid employee you’ve done unto me”?

    Or would he say what he did to the rich man in Luke 16: “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony”?

  • October 19, 2011 // 06:23 am //  # 
    Catrina's avatar Catrina

    It seems to me that the squeezing out of the middle class is coming about as a result of governmental policies, not necessarily the success of businesses. We are being swallowed up by taxes. There is a group of large corporations this is profiting from bail outs and subsidies from the federal government, but once again, this is a result of bad government. It is not the place of government to take from individuals and give to others (whether that be other individuals or large corporations).

    Poverty is relative. Many of the people we consider to be poor in this country would be consider to be at least comfortable in other parts of the world. We are also overlooking the fact that the poor can be greedy too, thus demanding wealth be taken from others and given to them. I certainly am not arguing that the Lord wants us to be generous givers with what He has blessed us with, but Jesus didn’t say that it was up to anyone else to tell us what we are to give. That is between the Lord and us. It just seems to me that we are encouraging an attitude of coveteousness. Rather than giving hand outs, we should be encouraging hard work, and if we have the means, giving others opportunities to work. There are some that are unable to work - those we should help as we can.

  • October 27, 2011 // 02:18 pm //  # 
    Joann Longton's avatar Joann Longton

    I appreciate this article and the chance to dialogue with fellow Christians about this issue in a God-honoring way. I recently blogged about this—http://jotsfromjoann.blogspot.com/ —. I also appreciate janey’s honesty. The truth is, capitalism is not wrong. But it used to be balanced by a faithful Church that actively spoke into the lives of our society, calling them to remember the Lord in their dealings with their fellow men. The Church has sadly gone AWOL in America, hower—worse yet, it has allowed itself to become part of the problem; being often more concerned with having nice buildings, than in building up the people who are meant to be God’s Temple. We need to hear God’s voice in this movement and repent ourselves. Only then will we have any authority to speak to these people, and point to the Kingom of God.

  • October 31, 2011 // 04:58 pm //  # 
    General Public's avatar General Public

    Hi, you say ‘free market’. There is no ‘free’ when subsidies, tarriffs, and other barriers to trade are in place by the governing regime. People are unemployed, can’t feed their families - I believe they gather in agreeing things need to change. Attempting to simplify a situation by fixing a Banner Group is incorrect. They are people of all walks agreeing for a better life. Thanks for allowing messages.

  • December 01, 2011 // 03:34 pm //  # 
    thefoolonthehill's avatar thefoolonthehill

    I find the discussions on the OWS movement somewhat perplexing when it comes to the church. The church believes that it is not to be a part of anything political because all governments are put in power by God and given to directing people. This is nonsense. You are suppose to follow the government when it is treating people like the bible says and when it isnt voice our opinions against the wrongs it is doing.

    I think the Church forgets that the reason the US rose to the prominence it did is because the majority of the country was following God. The founding fathers were Christians and were involved in politics keeping tyrants at bay by being vigilant. We are no longer vigilant, and no longer on the wall watching. We have fallen asleep trusting those in power who say they are for our rights and liberties to rip them right from us. If we do not start looking harder at what is going on in the US we are going to lose our rights and freedoms our christian forefathers fought and died to give us because we are to complacent to stand up for what is right.

    If you are not researching those you are voting for, watching how they vote on Bills and reminding them they SERVE us as PUBLIC SERVANTS you need to wake up because you, as a Christian, are part of the problem.

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