Is It Time For Evangelicals to “Occupy Wall Street”?

I believe that there is no such thing as pure capitalism. Purist capitalism is a myth. Every capitalist economy needs regulations, infrastructures and laws that make possible the conducting of business, even in the most capitalist of countries. The roads, the education systems, the penal systems are all socialist if we label them according to the roll of central government in governing them and paying for them. Yet capitalist systems need all these things and more to make capitalist economic organization possible. You see, it is not whether government will order certain parts of a country’s life, it is a matter of what it will order and to what degree.  Most of what we talk about then when we say “capitalism,” by the media or Tea Party or the Left, is not a serious discussion of economics and capitalism. It is a hurling of terms like “capitalism” and “socialism” as ideological terms to stir up irrational fears and gain an edge against the other side. It is the modus operandi of American politics. It keeps us enslaved instead of having decent and needed conversations.

That’s why I am heartened by the “Occupy Wall Street” movements (I love some of Zizek’s comments at the rally). I don’t know enough about them. I haven’t studied them. I am sure there are examples of licentious activity going at these protests. But there are three things I like about what I’ve heard so far. I offer these three things as guidelines for your local church to have a serious discussion on how should the church of Jesus Christ respond to the “Occupy” movements in this country.

1.) They protest the corporate power taking over every aspect of our lives. I sense a broad realization by more and more people that large corporations are taking over every area of our lives. Food, education, healthcare, business, government is all being engulfed by corporate profit driven behavior. All these areas of life are more and more intertwined with huge corporate systems that are so huge we as individuals cannot help but be subsumed. Huge never-ending flows of dollars are going to elected officials. This combines with the illicit ways our officials are elected through largely unregulated campaigns fed by corporate money that pollutes our entire democratic system. It has been going on for years. It is the new socialism, corporate socialism with the corporate elite taking over our lives and Washington DC their puppets. And so, it is very difficult to escape. Corporatism – for me – is the new atheism. These are the powers and principalities.

We must realize that there are times in history when God’s people cannot participate in systems (even if they be God-ordained) because they have left the ranch, they have turned in rebellion against God and His purposes. They are past the tipping point. We should then withdraw from participation and resist. To me, this may be one of those times. This is what “Occupy Wall Street” is about. I am no socialist. I am no capitalist. I believe Jesus is Lord and so our discussion should revolve around whether participation in the current government-corporate structures is a denial of the Lordship of Christ over our lives.  And so I call upon our churches to have this discussion in relation to “OccupyWallSt.” Discern whether to support them, join in with them, on this basis! We could bring a new perspective, the Kingdom of God, into the very center of this movement.

2.) They are nonviolent. The “Occupy” movements realize, I think, that the systems are so big we simply cannot go to the elected officials, through the election process. We will simply get more of the same. It is time to simply opt out of the corrupt powers, protest, point to the reality (in Scriptural terms we call this “witness”) and non violently resist. This little piece is part of our historic faith. Since the beginnings of the called out people of Jesus in Rome under Ceasar, we have believed that there will be reasons to join in with the state, and then sometimes there will be reasons to opt out (read Ch. 10 of John Howard Yoder’s Politics of Jesus on Romans 13). When the Christian says “Jesus is Lord,” he or she ultimately acknowledges there is the continual option of the Christian to withdraw in peace, resisting being absorbed, refusing to cooperate with a government at odds with the Lordship of Christ. (The lack of this option in Tim Keller’s Ecosystem was one of its blind spots that I talked about here). The fact then that “OccupyWallSt” is nonviolently opting out of polluted democratic structures plays into this Christian impulse. And we need to train our gathered people to recognize this is part of the Christian life. So let us gather in our churches to discuss the non-violent opt out option and whether it is time to live this in our society. For this reason, I urge all our churches to have discussions about “OccupyWallSt.” Because when we join in with them, we bring Jesus, the Lordship and Reign of Christ. This becomes an opportunity to participate/manifest the Kingdom into the world!

3.) They Are Reflective and Open to Self Examination: I have sensed in this group a desire for some serious discussion. They seem to want genuine reflection on what is happening in this country. We are all sick of the vitriolic prattle of political campaigns since Karl Rove.  Yet few politicians have been willing or capable of going another way. The “Occupy” people are at least making a space for something else (read Chris Hedges piece here). I think however if Christians get involved, we could bring our unique wherewithal to begin with self-examination and forgiveness in Christ before the nation. We could model what is needed if this thing called United States is to come out of our sickening malaise. We could bring self examination (read this piece over at JesusRadicals). Again, I urge Christian churches all over the land to have your own discusssions about these things and ask what we can bring to these demonstrations by virtue of who we are in Jesus Christ. Let us discern whether we should get involved and how we might bring a confessing aspect to these protests. I believe if we did, the Kingdom of God, the Lordship of Christ might break in.

There are of course many caveats/misgivings to getting involved with the “Occupy” movement. “Occupy” DOES NOT EMULATE THE ASPIRATIONS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. Yes I have noticed. Likewise, I recognize that if “Occupy” is to amount to anything, it must produce a substantive way of life lived counter to the goals and aspirations of wealth accumulation and control of power that so drives American life. Ultimately, this must push us towards local social expressions of life in obedience to Christ and His Kingdom. Yet are not these the things we bring as Christians? Is this not the opportunity to bring this witness? At the very least, does not this movement present to each of us (and our churches) the need to examine our own lives and what it is we are living for and whom/what we have become slaves to? Based on these reasons, I think “OccupyWallStreet” might be an occasion for the younger evangelicals to reshape the political presence of evangelicals in United States politics. If you’re an evangelical like me, and you don’t get the alliance of evangelicals to the politics of The Tea Party, this might be the opportunity to reshape the conversation under Christ’s Lordship. At the very least, this is an opportunity for witness to God’s Kingdom. It is an opportunity to proclaim the Kingdom of God, Jesus is Lord, over our money, our systems.  Let us then get active. Let the discussions go forth in and from our church gatherings.

What say you? Should churches all over the country make this discussion a top priority? Yes or No? Why or Why Not?

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If anyone wishes to explore further the relationship between evangelicalism and the ideology of capitalism, see my book The End of Evangelicalism? and buy it cheaper here.

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David Fitch
David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.

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