We may be too far removed from Manhattan to really get the heartbeat of what’s happening on Wall Street with these protestors. I, for one, believe that the majority of the "occupiers" are protesting because they sense something is wrong with everything, not just government. This is not a new phenomenon. Perhaps the financial problems of our country have finally awakened a self-realization that the world is broken and someone needs to do something about it. My assertion would be that the work of showing them how to deal with that brokenness is the work of the church.
People in my circles refer to this as “social justice.” It’s actually becoming something highly controversial for the American church (in fact I shouldn't even be talking about it lest I be ostracized from the religious community) as extreme conservative religious folks take up their side of the work and extreme liberal religious folks take up theirs. In certain respects the differing approaches taken by conservatives and liberals, concerning social justice, are both correct. Conservatives are correct to point to the family as a crucial factor in fighting poverty and liberals are correct to focus on systemic disadvantages.
However, within the demonstration in Manhattan (and in other major cities around the U.S.) a somewhat confusing, highly charged, and (in some cases) ridiculously theatrical message is being spread (thank you “corporate zombie” guy, random interpretive dance crew, and anyone dressed like a viking), so most people ignore the protest all together. To paraphrase a recent “special news report” from a correspondent on the Jon Stewart show (again, probably shouldn’t have mentioned I even know this show exists), the basic message of Occupy Wall Street is valid, but it has to start coming from the folks in the middle, or “normal” folks (as correspondent John Oliver put it).
Now, I’m not saying that I’m the middle or that I’m “normal.” I do think, however, that I may be able to offer a little direction and perspective concerning social justice. As a pastor I read and study the Bible... it’s what I do. The more that I read, the more I’m overwhelmed with the amount of Biblical material that expresses concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien. Now, I’ve never had extensive experience in a poor community or country (although I grew up in a household that would be considered, by today’s standards, well below the poverty level) and so I would conclude that if I can see all of this in the Bible, despite the fact that I’m not especially oriented to do so, it must be important to God.
In fact, it’s so important to God that it cascades out of almost every book of the Bible. Now the issue becomes: who are the poor and marginalized that the Bible is talking about. I would suggest that the Biblical standard for “poor” actually refers to a much smaller percentage of Americans than the 99% claimed by the protestors on Wall Street. It may be helpful to remind ourselves that despite our economic disasters we don’t face almost any of the desperate and difficult circumstances of countless millions around the world. Perhaps our focus and energies devoted to protest, would be better spent educating and actively involving ourselves in stopping human trafficking and the sex-trade slave industry (to name one).
I’m not an activist, I don’t talk politics in church (unless it’s between Jesus and the Pharisees) but I would strongly encourage us to shake up our worldview a little. May grace be the motivating factor behind our movement for justice and may justice be sought where it is so desperately needed.
Side note: While small, many churches in our area are involving themselves in many of the primary battles for justice. You can find most of these happenings here on Patch. One, that my church is doing, is for Women at Risk International. You can read about the event or about the organization here.