Since the early days of the Occupy Movement, I and many other scattered believers have been calling on the Church to throw our support behind the call for economic justice and global repentance. Some Christians have been openly involved from the very beginning, and more of us become involved every day.
In London, the Occupation is taking place on the grounds of St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of the crown jewels of the Anglican Church. Though this presented an opportunity for the Church to provide both material and moral support to the occupiers, St. Paul’s Cathedral has instead joined in a lawsuit to remove demonstrators from church grounds. The result of the lawsuit could be the forceable removal of the occupiers. This decision has percipitated a serious split among cathedral officials, with several resigning in protest.
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. – Jesus in Luke 6:27-28
Here at Occupy DC, we have been extremely fortunate in our good relations with the several police services that operate in our city. Our interactions with police have been generally cordial, and we have not felt threatened in any way. The police violence that our friends in Oakland – and many other cities – are suffering stands in stark contrast to our experience here in DC.
This came to the surface on Wednesday night, when folks at Occupy DC rallied in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Oakland. Folks at the rally were fired up, furious about what had gone down in California. When the police arrived, some of our young men had to be physically impeded to keep them from picking fights with the officers. Lots of emotion; lots of testosterone.
We occupiers are really good at the “truth” part. Most of us have highly developed analyses of the problems facing our country. We do a good job at pointing out what is wrong. But love is harder. Love requires us to lay down our own selfish interests and act for the sake of others. It means seeing the reality of God’s love for others, even those who want to do us harm. Real love goes far beyond strategic nonviolence.
To be loving, however, does not require us to be naïve. We understand that the police – and, more importantly, the powers that give them orders – are not seeking our best interests. We understand that the powers are trembling, and that they are willing to do us harm in order to maintain their privilege. We have no illusions about the ultimate allegiance of the police.
But we must love them. It has been pointed out that police are also part of the 99%. Far more important than this, police officers are also children of God. Just like us, they are in desperate need of God’s mercy and love. I pray that rather than falling into the trap of fear and hate, we will imitate Jesus who prayed for those who crucified him: “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.”
In many ways, Jesus was alone in his mission to a confused and rebellious world. Even his own disciples did not understand his purpose. Jesus provided guidance and direction for his disciples; but he himself had no one to rely upon except his Father(1). Jesus had none of the advantages we enjoy today. As the pioneer of our faith, he blazed all the trails for us, showing us his new Way.
Since Pentecost, when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to unite and guide us, we have been able to draw on the shared wisdom, faithfulness and experience of the Church – the community of faithful believers in the world. While no longer physically with us, Jesus is present in our midst.
Weeks of intense involvement in Occupy DC have reminded me of my own need of his presence. Just as Jesus withdrew on a regular basis for prayer, I have been careful to make space for time alone with God. I seek to continously wait on the Holy Spirit to direct my steps throughout the day. But I know that I am not as strong as Jesus was. I need more than solitary prayer – I need the support of Christian community.
The Occupation is a broad movement that brings together individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, faiths and worldviews. The goals of the movement are couched in largely secular terms, and decisions are typically made based on human wisdom rather than a search for God’s guidance.
It would be easy to lose perspective in such an environment. I could easily start believing that I am in the streets to promote “democracy,” demonize the rich, or oppose capitalism. In order to stay grounded in the Truth, I need help from the community of disciples here in DC. The Church and our witness need to be the primary reference point in my life.
There are many Christians involved in Occupy DC – I discover more all the time. Nevertheless, the overall culture and worldview of the Occupy movement is a lowest-common-denominator, generally left-wing set of assumptions. So far, almost all of the discourse at Occupy DC has been about “restoring democracy,” “building power,” or the plight of “the 99%.” I have not heard anyone – including the folks whom I know are Christians – talking about the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ mission to liberate the poor and oppressed.
I pray that the Body of Christ might rise up – not only through the hidden faithfulness of thousands of individual Christians, but also through the explicit engagement of our local congregations and denominational bodies. I, and the countless other individual Christians who are already engaged in this movement need the support and guidance of the rest of the Body of Christ.
How long will we as the Church take refuge in our respectable Sunday services and lukewarm sermonizing? How long will the Church wait before we have the courage to risk our comfort in this struggle for justice? What will it take to unleash the prophetic voice of the people of God?
1. For a good example of Jesus’ isolation and reliance on his Father, see Matthew 26:36-46