This post is my response to an editorial on Forbes.com. entitled I Am Proud to be a Member of the Demonized 1%.
Let me begin my response to your post by saying that I’m happy for your success, and even though I’m involved in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, I’m probably more sympathetic than you would think to a lot of what you’re saying. I do feel constrained to “fact check” what you’ve said though – but I do so in a particular tone. You’ve made some good points, and there is nothing disrespectful about your approach. I offer my comments in the same manner, and I’d like them to sound like one friend challenging another.
1. Your story is not the “real story” of the 1%, anymore than Michael Bloomberg’s story is the “real story.” The 1% is comprised of a variety of individuals who have a number of stories – some of privilege, some not; some of unscrupulous, illegal, heartless deeds, some not, some involving privilege or luck, and some not. Your story is just one story of the 1%. This becomes important in the light of my next point.
2. You’re right, it’s only a percentage of the 1% that should really be targeted. It’s probably only 350-400 individuals – and even when we speak like that we generalize. Many of these people have not “created most of the jobs in our economy.” Many of them have enriched themselves at the expense of the multitudes. Many of them can not honestly attribute their success to just working harder 0r being smarter or more determined. These are the 1% that people like me in the Occupy Movement – and elsewhere – are calling out.
3. If the media isn’t telling your story fairly, well, join the club. Occupy has that problem too. And ask the Republican hopefuls whether they think the media is telling their story accurately, for instance. Or ask President Obama. (And in all fairness to the media, who would listen if they tried to do really nuanced and thorough coverage? Is there a market for that … besides NPR, I mean?)
4. If the “American Dream” allowed you to become rich after poor beginnings, that’s great, and you deserve a lot of credit for your hard work, willingness to sacrifice, and tenacity. Even if you did have a yacht or a plane, I certainly wouldn’t condemn you for that. As you argued, one of the great things about our country is that people have to right to enjoy what they earn. (If there are Occupy people who want to level everyone by taking from the rich, they’re certainly in the minority.) The Movement won’t criticize you or condemn you because you’re successful. I hope you realize though, how many people got the education, worked the long hours, made the kind of sacrifices you mention, etc. – and still don’t share your success story. You just may be taking too much credit for your superlative success – and assuming that if others don’t have it, it’s their fault for not doing what you have done, not trying as hard as you have tried, not being willing to make the sacrifices you have made. (Psychologically, the benefit of such an approach is that it absolves you of any need for sympathy toward those others, or of feeling that perhaps you need to help them.)
5. It’s also great if you’ve created businesses that have put people to work, especially if you’ve paid fair wages, treated workers with respect, and allowed them to share in the success of the company – for instance, at least by providing health insurance and reasonable benefits. These days, this happens less and less. (I’m sure you’re familiar with “permanent part-time employees” – you know, the kind without any benefits?) Many businesses don’t share the wealth – even a little. How many times have we seen massive layoffs at some big corporation and a huge pay raise to the CEO at the same time? It’s that kind of behavior, which people these days find repugnant, and that the Occupy Movement wants to “demonize” and “denigrate.” It might not be illegal, but it certainly seems reprehensible, and you can hardly blame people for saying they want to end it.
6. It’s true that tension between the extremely rich and the poor is growing in the U.S. I guess it’s fair to call it “class warfare.” To be accurate though, that small percentage of the 1% has been waging an economic war on the 99% for a long time, and the 99% is only now beginning to fight back. We’re not motivated by “envy” or “greed” – it seems like that would be Wall Street you’re thinking of – we’re motivated by the desire to be treated fairly in the marketplace – not to be exploited as wage slaves or like sharecroppers, or treated like just so many cogs in a machine that makes piles of money for someone else.
7. You don’t have a lobbyist, or a banker or congressman in your pocket. You’ve not making huge contributions to political campaigns to buy influence. That’s all well and good, but others are doing all these things. You surely must understand if we can’t just sit idly by and accept that. In fact, maybe there is room for some common ground between you and Occupy here. If you made your money through honest hard work, without morally disgraceful and illegal means – then I can’t see why you wouldn’t agree with us, that those who haven’t should be criticized and stopped from doing it (at the least) and penalized whenever possible. (What’s so unreasonable about asking why no one has gone to jail for their part in crashing our economy?)
8. You say that no one has ever given you anything. Fair enough. But what about having a heart for the less fortunate? I don’t know about you, but I’m a Christian. The Bible encourages and commands me to help those who oftentimes can’t help themselves – this doesn’t mean hand-outs for people who won’t work. (Under the leadership of Captain John Smith at Jamestown, when some of the settlers refused to work, and threatened the survival of all, they made a rule, “He who will not work, shall not eat.”) I get that. But God cares about the downtrodden and disadvantaged. The Bible even uses “caring for widows and orphans in their distress” as the definition of “pure and undefiled religion.” What this means is that each of us ought to have a heart for those who are downtrodden, poor, immigrants, widowed, orphaned, etc. When we have such a heart, we will show grace, compassion and kindness to others in need. Life is about more than just climbing to the top of the heap and beating everyone else to the brass ring. It’s the “human” race, after all, and such grace and compassion towards others is a big part of what it means to be human. We can debate about how to show this compassion, but I would hope that we all want to see it happen.
9. To me, your article reads too much like a resume of reasons, not only why you are successful, but also why you deserve to be successful. Did you ever see the yearly issue of Time Magazine where the cover features what people around the country do and what they make? Only a little exposure to one of those issues will send you away with the conclusion that how hard people work, and what they make, often have almost nothing to do with one another. You know how hard the guys in my neighborhood work to roof a house? They start really early, finish really late, and never stop moving in between. They really hustle. It’s completely impressive. They don’t make much, and maybe some of them sleep in the truck as their bedroom at night. Is it really only that you have worked so much harder, or could it be that you have been “blessed” in many ways – ways that allowed you, with all of your hard work and determination – and some luck – to succeed as you have? Isn’t that possible? After all, you had a father, you got a college education, you haven’t suffered from a debilitating disease, you were born with all your limbs and your right mind, you parents didn’t sadistically abuse you, your neighbors didn’t shun you because of the color of your skin, the police didn’t stop and frisk you several times a week because of the neighborhood you lived in. Right? Like you, I’m a white male, born to loving parents and educated in decent schools, born in the 20th century. I was taught good morals, and surrounded by many loving family members and friends. I was born in the United States and therefore able to enjoy all the freedom and opportunity that entails. I am in the 1% of the richest people who have ever lived on the face of this earth. I would never dream of pretending that I haven’t enjoyed the luxury of a privileged life – compared to many others – to the other 99% of people who have ever lived. I would never dream of pretending I owe my success (which is nothing like yours) only to myself. And I hope that I always remember just how privileged and even lucky I am as a person. No man is an island, and perhaps it’s the most successful among us that stand in the greatest debt to others in this way. I know you were defending yourself in your article, and you might not have expressed much humility for that reason. But no matter, in my opinion, humility is definitely indicated. (And once humility grips you, because you realize how fortunate you have been, your heart will be softened towards others – and that’s indicated too.)
10. Finally, you say that “Just like millions who came before me, our sacrifice, discipline, personal financial risk, and unmatched work ethic has made America into the greatest country in world history.” I agree. But we’ve lost our moorings. We’ve drifted from our values. Capitalism and unbridled Capitalism are two different things. Like people, businesses and corporations need to be checked by legislation – and most of all, by morality. Morality isn’t working too well anymore, and when that happens, it’s basically impossible for legislation and law enforcement to make up the difference. That’s the sad state of affairs today – and the solution to it is surely just not more of the same me-first, others-be-damned kind of Capitalism.
Hope that things can change was the reason I became involved in the OWS Movement in the beginning. If you’re one of the good guys, we’re not against you no matter what your percentage is. If you’re in the upper one percent, and not an exploiter of others, a law-breaker, or someone buying political influence – then we’re actually protesting for you. We’re looking out for your interests. I don’t imagine that you’ll be bowled over with appreciation, but I hope I’ve freed you from feeling persecuted by the Occupy Movement. We’re not ignorant or mean. We’re just terrified as we look into the future.
I had a dream last night
What a lovely dream it was….
Why did everybody laugh
when I told them my dream?
I guess they all were so far
from that kind of scene.
For Christmas my son gave me a copy of The 99%: How the Occupy Wall Street Movement is Changing America. The book includes articles, transcripts, photos and interviews, all attempting to make sense of the Occupy Wall Street movement which was in its infancy when the book was written. I was only twenty pages into the book when I read Roseanne Barr’s address to OWS at Liberty Plaza on September 19, 2011:
“I WANT A NEW capitalism. Not fueled by wars. One that doesn’t pass on its wealth to a handful of white guys and call that free trade. One wherein the elderly actually get paid their retirement monies. We’ll have capitalism, but we’ll also have socialism. And education and basic compassion and healthcare I’m talking about a system that rewards hard work and ambition, but cares for its weakest child …. We will simply combine capitalism and socialism and create people-ism, where ideas work for a functional system. No one will cling blindly to single, unyielding ideology …. We will actually compromise, adjust and make reasonable choices. We will have common-sense solutions.”
What I love most about Barr’s comments is her “dreaming outside the box.” Some may laugh scornfully, but I believe we have enough cynicism to go around already – I see it in myself. But I don’t want to be so negative, so pessimistic, so cynical, so locked into what is known and taken for granted about “how it is”, so “sophisticated” and “intellectual” that I can no longer hope, imagine change, or dream of something much better.
Barr’s article is set up by Lynn Paramore’s Introduction to the book. She also imagines …
“a world where students are not crushed by debt, where the elderly do not choose between food and medicine, where wars are not waged for profit, where we care together for the Earth and for principles like acceptance and nonviolence, where the people control the political system and where human values drive our society instead of corporate greed.”
Sandwiched between these two women’s articles is an article by Arun Gupta, a founding editor of The Indypendent newspaper. He wants us to envision the realization of “… a society based on human needs, not hedge fund profits.”
I just wanted to go on record as saying that I’m responding to the call. I will hope. I will work. I will learn, and I WILL DREAM. Nor will I be limited in my dreaming by what I’ve known, what seems feasible, or by what history, my peers, or the experts tell me must be. I won’t limit God’s ability that way, or disrespect humanity, made in his image, as though it couldn’t possibly rise to a moment of greatness.
I’m a dreamin’ man,
yes, that’s my problem.
I can’t tell
when I’m not being real.
I’ll always be a dreamin’ man
I don’t have to understand.
I know it’s alright.
Recent studies have demonstrated again that our brains tend to filter out what doesn’t fit with our mental map of the world. It’s called “confirmation bias.” I suppose otherwise we would spend all our time hesitating between two (or more) opinions: “Is Breyers the best, or Ben & Jerry’s?”, “Should I do crunches or the ‘plank’ for my core?”, “Who really points to the way forward for America, Occupy Wall Street, or the Tea Party?”, etc.
The downside of this of course is that sometimes, since it doesn’t agree with the story in our head, we unwittingly filter out the truth. And when we do this, to make ourselves feel better or more confident in our positions, we generalize about those who are filtering the opposite way – those who dare to disagree with us. We stereotype them, paint with a broad brush, and we fail to even to give them the benefit 0f the doubt. Sometimes we impugn their motives, “They’re not even trying to see the truth!” Now this is still an improvement over times in the past. In our land these days, nobody is being burned at the stake or made to seek sanctuary in another country, or locked up in prison because of their unacceptable views. It’s hardly the case though, that we’ve reached a truly civilized place where we can talk with (not “at”) each other, and even learn from each other. What ever happened to “walking a mile” in the other guys shoes? Remember that old Elvis song?
If you’re a member of the Tea Party or a supporter of Occupy Wall Street, I think you know what I’m talking about. Generalizations abound, and stereotypes shape or control the thinking of many. And it’s just not accurate or fair, and you know it. Probably you wish that journalists and others would give a more objective and accurate depiction of your group – of people like you. Well, that’s how I feel about Evangelicals – people like me. The same thing happens for all the same reasons, and we would like to be understood better too.
In his article, The Evangelical 99%, Richard Flory tells about a recent visit to the meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society – a group which he refers to as the “brain trust of conservative American evangelicalism.” He begins with the usual amount of suspicion about the group, but his training and journalistic integrity keep him from prejudging what he sees based on what he may have expected. This is his exhortation to his fellow journalists:
“Of course due suspicion is warranted; these were events open to the public, after all. But journalists should nonetheless try to look for greater depth and complexity in their stories about conservative evangelicals and religion more generally. A conference that arguably constituted a sampling of Republican primary voters attracted people who are not only ardent in their beliefs but thoughtfully committed to civil discourse, per Chuck Colson. This suggests that there are more interesting stories to be told about religious conservatives than those that simply focus on titillating personalities like Sarah Palin, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. These politicos, along with Rick Warren, currently serve as stand-ins for tens of millions of conservative American evangelicals in most news media narratives, but they’re essential spiritual versions of the infamous 1 percent decried by Occupy Wall Street. In other words, they don’t live in the day-to-day world that 99 percent of the evangelicals in the U.S. actually inhabit. Like the ranks of religious progressives and centrists, on whom the gaze of the news media also seldom turns, most evangelical conservatives are just trying to make ends meet, raise their children as best they can and follow their religious beliefs as they encounter the good, the bad and the puzzling in everyday life.
“It is thus crucial for the news media to provide a more nuanced and accurate view of the roughly 80 million people in the U.S. who identify as evangelicals. They exert enormous influence in every national election, in various legal fights and in the communities in which they live. As such, they should neither be ignored nor characterized by the actions and proclamations of their most publicity-hungry members. By focusing narrowly on the famous (or infamous), whether political or pastoral, journalists skew the public perception of all forms of religion in the public sphere. This tight frame presents evangelicals as unworldly and easily befuddled (a la Palin, Perry and Bachmann) or not particularly deep theologically (a la Warren) rather than complex in their range of everyday needs, desires, fears and dreams. Apart from distorting reality, these media narratives don’t simply record the skirmishes in the culture wars–they also serve to stoke the conflict.”
I have to say, I appreciate these words. I’ve known lots of Evangelicals in my lifetime, and there are many that I respect for their intelligence, passion to know the truth, commitment to sacrificially serving others, and willingness to admit they could be wrong, or that they’ve grown, or changed a long-held position. Many of the ones I know have a great respect for women, would fight to the death for religious freedom for those in other religions, and attempt to marshal the church’s sometimes meager resources to help the poor. (The church of about 500 where I attend just fed over 350 people for Thanksgiving – with members serving needy people with love and respect. The church’s food pantry gives out bags of groceries to many hurting families every week. When I was a pastor, one Thanksgiving we invited a homeless family to share our holiday dinner with us in our home.) I’m just saying that this picture may be different from the one in your head – and you might not be seeing what is really there. It might be “confirmation bias.” I’m glad that Richard Flory said it, because I’m sure it means more coming from him.
I like to suggest that we start anew. We can agree to practice respect towards those who differ from us. We can work hard to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Let’s try to see beyond the ideological walls we have constructed – or even worse – that others have constructed for us. After all, we all breathe the same air, walk the same earth, and we all “… encounter the good, the bad and the puzzling in everyday life.”
In a day when everything is “spun” and where disinformation is perhaps the most common form of information, skepticism and cynicism can be appropriate responses – but they’re hardly appropriate starting points. On my way to Zuccotti Park once, I took the long, often slow bus ride into Manhattan. I was almost the only white person, and I have to admit, it’s not my usual element. But on that bus, as I looked around, I realized in a very powerful way, “I don’t know these people or their struggles, but I know this – they are part of the 99%. They are the reason that I’m going into the city to protest today.” Perhaps the next time you encounter an Evangelical, you can do something similar (self-talk). You can say to yourself, “I don’t know or understand this person, but she is part of the 99%. Maybe I’ll try to show respect. Maybe we’ll learn we share some important beliefs. Maybe where we differ, we can do so with insight and more respect than previously.” You might even say, “Maybe I can learn something from this fellow creature.” In the words of Richard Flory, “You might be surprised to discover that they’re not so different from you ….”
Back in November, Richard Beattie from the Denver Evangelical Examiner wrote this critique of Occupy Wall Street and ended with some advice to them. He said,
“The waste of time, talent and resources of occupying Wall Street is getting tiresome. The movement is not united and watching the threads on blogs and websites is only serving to be buying into a system of “haves and have nots.” … I was thinking about how “Occupy Wall Street” is playing on Wall Street and how it is playing on Main Street and from what I can see the only hurt that the movement is leaving a mark on is the continuing sluggish Jobs Index. I have a solution for the occupiers – Leave Wall Street and head on down to Church Street. Occupy Church Street, your prayers will be answered. …
“On Church Street you are not slaves to Wall Street or Main Street, you are considered friends who will be compelled to live in a community where people will give, will work with you and beside you. Your gifts and talents, your education and your qualifications are noticed. …. There will always be greed and there will always be injustice, but when you rely on God only for your sustenance then you will find your needs are met, that justice is given and you will be treated with respect and dignity. So take your tents and move to the nearest church you can find and occupy Church Street 24/7. Be prepared to pray, be prepared to worship and be prepared to listen to the message God wants you to hear.”
I can’t resist a few brief comments on this exhortation. 1) In fairness, this was back in November, so the impact that OWS is having was less evident. 2) The picture portrayed here of the church is very generous. The church of Jesus Christ is indeed to be a receptive, inclusive place where you will be welcomed and your talents will be appreciated and utilized – and where you will be treated with respect and dignity. In practice it might take some real looking to find such a church – and if you have real problems you might want to keep them to yourself – just so you don’t ruin everything! The church is made up of very imperfect people, and it shows. I mention this not to pick on the church, but because the author writes glowingly about it and condescendingly about OWS. In my experience, I’ve seen people (not necessarily Christians) attempting to live out Christian principles more impressively in OWS gatherings than in most churches. 3) The question remains, even should justice and respect for others be found in the church – what about those outside of the church who also want and need these things? In most cases they’re not going to come to the Evangelical church (about which they often have many negative impressions) for help. If the church is to help, it has to reach out or go to them. This “going” is at the heart of the Great Commission and the sending out of the Apostles after the resurrection of Jesus. And given that, perhaps involvement with the Occupy Movement isn’t so far-fetched. When I’ve gone to Zuccotti Park, my presence as clergy was appreciated by many, and I had unprecedented opportunities to share my values and perspective – just like everyone else there. Showing up and talking to others and praying for them is doing something, and it may lead to other good things too. You don’t have to camp out, be a “dirty hippie”, or become a socialist to join in with these others in an attempt to “do good to all people.” 4) The God of the Bible won’t do for us what we can do for ourselves. He expects us to leave the comfortable, familiar enviroment of our churches, and actually work for justice and respect in our world. It’s not enough to say, “We have the answer here, and if they want it, they can come to us.” Perhaps this is the message that God wants the Church to hear.
For their own reasons, many on both the Left and the Right seem to think that Evangelical Christians ought to stay out of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Many non-Christians on the Left are against Christian involvement in Occupy because they are distrustful and disillusioned with religion and the church (Do a twitter search on “religion!”). Many Christians on the Right seem concerned about other things – things not on the Occupy radar – abortion, homosexual marriage, etc. The question is, who are these Evangelicals, and can they make a contribution? Might those who are antagonistic now towards them, later actually be able to appreciate them for their contribution?
Defining “Evangelicals” has always been tricky, and it’s only become more complicated over the years. British historical David Bebbington’s four specific hallmarks of Evangelism have often been cited: “… conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.”
Another approach is to describe Evangelicals as “an organic group of movements and religious tradition.” This approach includes “ … groups as disparate as black Baptists and Dutch Reformed Churches, Mennonites and Pentecostals, Catholic charismatics and Southern Baptists….” (ibid.)
To simplify and generalize even more, one might suggest that Evangelicals inhabit the middle ground between the other Right and Left – the religious Right and Left, with Fundamentalists on the Right, and liberal Churches on the Left. As one would expect, within Evangelicals themselves we find the same spectrum, with more conservative individuals and groups on the one end, and more liberal ones on the other. (For instance sometimes the controversial “Emerging Church movement” is considered Evangelical.)
What I’m asking about is whether members of this disparate group, and not just on the fringes of it, but those at its heart, can “occupy.” Can they share the concerns of the Occupy Movement and join their voices with others of the 99% in protesting obscene income inequality, rampant downward mobility of the middle class, lack of accountability and corruption on Wall Street and in Congress, and the slipping away of First Amendment rights, and similar national concerns? To put it succinctly, is there anything intrinsic to being an Evangelical that would or should prevent that? That’s my question, and it’s not an academic one. So many Christian friends of mine and their pastors (also friends) are at best uninvolved or apathetic towards the Occupy movement, and at worst, openly hostile to it, that I feel the need to defend what I believe is obvious. (Not all my Christian friends or friends who are pastors are this way, just to be clear.)
So here’s why I think Evangelicals can Occupy:
1) In the past, Evangelicals have been active in a great spectrum of concerns and issues:
“By the decades prior to the Civil War, a largely-evangelical ‘Benevolent Empire’ (in historian Martin Marty’s words) was actively attempting to reshape American society through Bible and tract distribution, the establishment of Sunday Schools and through such reforms as temperance, the early women’s movement, various benevolent and betterment societies, and–most controversial of all–the abolition movement.” Marcia Pally says something similar, “Evangelical emphasis on individual moral responsibility made them, from the colonial era to World War I, politically anti-authoritarian and economically populist — anti-banker and anti-landlord. Before the Civil War, they created many of the associations that helped build the country and, in the North, were crucially important to the abolitionist movement. After the war, they fought for labor against robber-baron capitalism and supported William Jennings Bryan three times for president on a pro-worker, pro-farmer platform.”
Today, Evangelicals involve themselves in a similarly impressive list: “New evangelicals have been working through their churches on substance abuse, care for the homeless and the elderly, prison ministries, and affordable housing, and they have been developing projects overseas on environmental protection, disease reduction and education.” (ibid.) This is done through education, lobbying and coalition-building.
There is definitely also a specifically “political” piece of the equation: “Since all governments are human and therefore corruptible, new evangelicals understand the vigilance needed to keep politics honest. This is the church’s “prophetic role” — not to become the government but to “speak truth to power.” (ibid.) Recently, the National Association of Evangelicals called on its members — over 40,000 churches — to protest Republican cuts in programs for the needy.” (ibid.)
So, if Evangelicals today refuse to participate in causes and protests like the Occupy movement, they are out of step with, rather than following in the footsteps of, their predecessors.
2) Many “New Evangelicals” today stress the need to move beyond Bible studies, prayer meeting, and service to God that is understood only as serving in the church and sharing the gospel with neighbors, to more of a “taking it to the streets” kind of religion. That includes the critical practices I’ve mentioned (prayer, Bible study, etc.), but acts in this other arena also.
The Biblical writer James says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. ” (James 1:27) This quintessential ministry activity occurs outside the walls of the church obviously – and that’s why while you’re at it, you must take heed to keep yourself “unspotted.”
Evangelicals believe in sharing the “gospel” – the “evangel.” Biblically, such witness is accomplished both verbally and through behavior or actions. The saying “”Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.”, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, whether rightly or in error, makes the proper point. Writings by the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good puts it this way: “Much Christian moral witness takes place quietly in families, local congregations, and local communities, as Christians simply go about their daily lives and seek to live as faithful followers of Christ. This is the responsibility of all Christians. … But some Christian moral witness occurs at national and international levels, where many significant challenges to human well-being are often created and addressed. Christians have no choice but to engage religious, economic, cultural, and political institutions with our best efforts to articulate and embody the love and justice of Jesus Christ for the well-being of God’s world.” (And “world” here is the sense of our planet, but also definitely in the sense of it’s people.)
You gain an appreciation for how exciting and thoroughgoing these efforts can be when you read from the “Here We Stand” statement of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good: “We stand against poverty and economic injustice and for dignified and decent economic conditions for all. We seek to be involved in creative efforts to build a more fair and humane economic order here and around the world. … We stand against tyranny and for democracy, justice, and the rule of law. We are involved in efforts to protect and strengthen the culture of American democracy, the unique legacy of religious liberty in this land, and the always fragile rule of law. We look for ways to support indigenous efforts to advance democracy, religious liberty, public justice, and the rule of law in other lands.” (ibid.)
Secular antagonists, fault Evangelicals if you will with the stereotypes that Christians “don’t get it” or “don’t care”, “won’t become involved” or “just want to push their religion down your throat/convert you”, but the evidence is against you. There is not only a rich tradition of activism, but some admirable and radical calls to action being made today from the Evangelical camp.
3) There should be nothing surprising about either what was done in the past, or what is being attempted now by Evangelicals (either “New” or otherwise), because the Bible clearly call’s upon God’s people to be concerned about social justice. Listen to just a few verses from the Bible: “For I the Lord love justice.” (Isaiah 61:8); “You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue.” (Deuteronomy 16:19-20); “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8); “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24); “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness [Greek dikaiosune, also translated as justice], for they will be filled.” (Jesus in Matthew 5:6); “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.” (Jesus in Luke 18:7-8); “Woe to you … for you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Jesus in Matthew 23:23)
David Gushee, who gathered these verses says, “I could have picked hundreds of other verses. By our count in Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Intervarsity Press, 2003), fellow ethicist Glen Stassen and I find in the Bible 1,060 uses of the two Hebrew and two Greek words for justice. In contrast, the main words for sexual sin appear 90 times. There really is no theme more central to biblical faith than the matter of justice. This is very widely recognized to be true for what Christians call the Old Testament, but in our book we show that it is just as true for the New Testament. We offer an entire chapter detailing the forty occasions in which Jesus confronted the powers and authorities of his time over their injustice. We show that justice is one of the core themes of the kingdom of God that Jesus preached about and died to bring into existence.”
“To summarize: for Jesus, as for the Jewish prophets in whose line he came, social injustice consists of misuses of power to create distortions of human community in which greed, domination, violence, and exclusion come to dominate human life. Social justice consists of human acts to resist social injustice by repairing such distortions of human community. We work today for social justice when we seek to create religious and political communities characterized by more economic justice, less domination, less violence, and more inclusive community. When we do so, we can have every assurance that we are attempting to put into practice God’s will and indeed God’s passion for a world that he made for precisely such justice.”
I can already hear the objections, so let me rush to add at this point that it’s not only institutions that need to be renovated and repaired, but the human heart itself. From a Biblical point of view, the fallenness (brokenness, sinfulness) of man touches everything he is and does. It’s not that man is as bad as he can be, it’s that he can never help but leave disgraceful fingerprints on everything he touches, and morally ugly footprints everywhere he goes. What sets Evangelicals apart from others concerned about social justice issues, is this assumption of the need for all individuals to be transformed (not just the 1%, but the 99% as well). It will not be enough to attempt to change only the corporations, the Congress, the police, and the tax rate, etc. (In fairness, I have to say that I have heard this kind of theme also at Zuccotti Park and read it in Occupy materials. An example would be Occupy’s call to boycott shopping on Black Friday in 2011, and instead to donate items you already have and aren’t using to the needy. Another would be the “democratic” approach in decision making in the General Assemblies and elsewhere, where pains (literally) are made to see that every person and his or her view is treated respectfully. The movement is also designed to prevent power grabs so that such equality continues. They encourage a looking inside oneself as well as a critique of others.)
I must also rush to add, just because both lives and institutions must be changed, that there is no excuse for Evangelicals focusing only on one or the other. In the past, Evangelical churches became enamored with the “social gospel”, and many gradually stopped doing evangelism. That was a mistake to be avoided, not a precedent to emulate. Evangelism and work for social justice are two sides of the same coin – and I would dare suggest that this is exactly what you see in the Greatest Commandment of Jesus to each of us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength – AND to love our neighbor as we love ourself. If all you give to your thirsty neighbor is a cup of cold water, you deprive him of the “living water” that Jesus offers. If all you offer him is the living water, and you don’t reach out to him with love and help in other ways, at best you lose your “street cred”, and at worst, your own faith is proven by your inaction to be false.
4) If today Evangelicals are associated more with Republicans and the Religious Right (and they are), there is no reason to think either that Evangelicals will not change their political affiliation – or that they will not change the political landscape. (Already Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, formerly known as Governor 1%, proposed a tax plan that, many believe, was shaped as a result of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Republican party used to be much less the party of the rich than it is today, and used to be much more sympathetic to a wider spectrum of concerns. There’s no reason, at least hypothetically, that it can’t embrace many of those former values.
In fact, hopefully a third way will arise that avoids all the polarizing categories and starts anew, with people seeking the truth together. That’s partly what I believe the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has been criticized for not embracing a political party-type position, is asking people to do. It’s also what the some New Evangelicals are calling for: “We want to see an engagement of Christians in American public life that is loving, rather than angry; holistic rather than narrowly focused; healing rather than divisive; and independent of partisanship and ideology rather than subservient to party or ideology.”
And even now, there are some who are hopeful about changes already occurring among Evangelicals. In the past (the 20th century) Evangelicals become associated with the political Right. Paully asks wisely “So why another shift in the 21st? One reason is generational, with idealistic youth rejecting the politics of their parents. Another is that views about sex, the environment and global connectedness have shifted nationwide, including among evangelicals. … In a group that takes ethics seriously, still another reason for the change is new thinking about what matters most. The cavalier militarism and the justification of torture during the Bush years, along with the strident in-group-ism of the last four decades, prodded many evangelicals to re-examine themselves and their actions. George W. Bush may have fractured the Christian coalition that elected him.”
I’ve become a news junkie, and for a long time I’ve been a major fan of National Public Radio (WYNC in New York). Several months ago, I had to finally stop listening. I couldn’t listen to the demoralizing news any more. It wasn’t bad news by the “sound byte”, but “in depth.” It depressed me profoundly, and I was kvetching to anyone who would listen about the premature demise of our country, of rampant corruption everywhere you turned, and of the broken social contract that we all now realize we more-or-less depended on. Then, one fine day, I heard about Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park, and eventually went down to the park to check it out for myself. That day was a turning point in a process that led to no less than a personal rebirth of hope for me in our future as a country. Yes, I know that “This is not my home, I’m just a passing through.”, but I know that, while I’m here, my world is going to impact me and the people I love (and others that I may be neglecting so far, but need to begin to love). I also know that in return, I can impact that world. This is why I “Occupy”. Let me commend it to you, especially my Evangelical Christian friends.