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Time to Occupy the Church

Ever since becoming a Christian, I have read in the Book of Acts about the radical fearlessness of the early Church, and I have long been inspired by the witness of the early Quaker movement, which cast aside comfort and privilege to shine a light on all the forces that held women and men in misery. Yet, I had never myself seen this kind of communal faithfulness in action. It took an apparently secular movement like Occupy Wall Street to help me really understand, on an experiential level, what an authentic movement for justice and righteousness could actually look like.

The Occupy movement is based in a sense of indignation that a tiny elite of our wealthiest citizens and their corporations have virtually monopolized the political discourse in this country. Elections have devolved into auctions, with the candidate who is able to raise the most money from corporate sponsors almost always emerging victorious. As public opinion is increasingly swayed by massive corporate propaganda campaigns, all semblance of real democracy is slipping away. The Occupy movement names these truths, revealing them in bold acts of street theater. It creatively disrupts the careful choreography of the wealthy elites and their servants.

The Occupy movement is playing a prophetic role in our society. It has ripped away the thin veneer of legitimacy that previously masked the criminal actions of the corporate powers and their bought-and-paid-for politicians. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the occupiers have revealed the true condition of our nation.

It is amazing to see how God is using the most unlikely of characters – anarchists and homeless people, young idealists and unemployed construction workers – to call our attention to the truth. Those whom our society has rejected have been chosen to serve as the national conscience.

This has Jesus’ fingerprints all over it. Jesus always got push-back from the respectable people of his day – religious and community leaders – for spending his time with tax collectors and sinners, lepers and prostitutes. Jesus not only mixed with people whom his socity deemed dirty and worthless, he called them his friends. Jesus invited the lowest of the low to become friends of God. He empowered society’s outcasts to reveal God’s love, mercy and justice to the world.
The Occupy movement is not made up of the “important” people of our day. Religious leaders in particular have been cautious about getting too close to this risky group of people who are speaking truth to power. It is one thing to preach a sermon on peace from the safety of the pulpit – it is another thing entirely to put our bodies and reputations on the line to advance the cause of truth and mercy in our communities. So far, most church people have not been ready to take the plunge.
I do believe, however, that God is calling the Christian community to get out of our comfort zone, to invest ourselves in the struggle for economic justice and genuine democracy. We can no longer hide behind a false neutrality that only emboldens the predatory behavior of the wealthiest and their corporations. When a bully is hurting your friends, you cannot be neutral. There are villains in this story, and they must be confronted.

Far too often, we ourselves have been the villains. Through selfishness and cowardice, we have participated in the systems of injustice that are choking the dignity of millions. Perhaps this is one reason that we are so reluctant to commit ourselves in this new movement. If we are to stand up for truth and righteousness, we will be forced to acknowledge the ways in which we have fallen short. We will be forced to change.

This is hard. It is a process that will take years and decades. But I am convinced that we must start now. We, the ecumenical Christian Church in the United States, must take up the frightening responsibility of living and proclaiming the uncompromising love and prophetic justice of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only by participating in his mission to liberate the poor and oppressed(1) that we can ever hope to be his disciples.

This Thursday evening, at 7:00pm, some of us who desire to become more faithful disciples of our homeless Savior(2) will be gathering at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. We call on Christians of all denominations and communions to join with us in issuing a call to repentance and renewal of faith in the God who stands with the poor and the powerless. Together, we will seek to embody the love, strength and courage of Jesus Christ through positive action for justice, reconciliation and peace.

If you are in the DC area, please join us. If you are in another region, please pray for us, and consider holding a similar gathering in your area. As followers of the crucified Messiah, we can no longer be silent. The time has come to Occupy the Church.

1. Luke 4:18-19
2. Luke 9:58