Occupy Wall Street: Discerning Not Dismissing
by Byron Barlowe
Occupation is the big new thing. The social motions and explosions got bigger this week. While I believe it’s a misguided, unrealistic exercise overall, I want to caution myself and likeminded observers from dismissing the protesters, but for reasons that go beyond politics.
News coverage of city governments kicking hapless demonstrators out of municipal parks implies that the very oppression they so vaguely protest is being wielded against them. Meanwhile, conservatives (many Christians included) call out the movement as insular, selfish, self-defeating and pointless. One called protesters idiots. Many characterize them as rehashed hippies of the 1960s. Yet some look like average American middle-classers. It all raises some trite as well as some profound questions.
Should individual Christ-followers welcome or even join in the universal decrying of greed, corporate participation in (entanglement?) with government, perceived favoritism and lobbying? Perhaps this is a chance to join in calling for social justice. Or maybe it’s time to call out sloppy thinking and irresponsibility—or both.
That’s a judgment call for each believer. But whether we join in, give modified ascent, or critique, we’re called to biblical discernment. The Apostle Paul, writing to the church members at Philippi, said he prayed that they would “grow yet more and more” in God-given super-knowledge and discriminating spiritual discernment so that they might remain pure and ultimately give God glory. Paul wanted his charges to grow up. I’m concerned that well-meaning people of biblical faith not be drawn into unthinking responses either way; that is, let’s be grown up even if we are sure the occupiers aren’t.
Here are some thoughts as I read about the protests continuing to unfold in city parks and streets across the U.S. and Canada:
Why not seek as much common ground as possible with protesters and their sympathizers online and elsewhere? Joining them in common cause would be another matter, but empathizing with their angst over the brokenness of life and mankind (and our own brokenness) is a good way to relate human to human. And it might open up opportunities to minister like the interaction being sought by some Christ followers who are reaching out to occupiers in Los Angeles. Case McCarty and Charles Wang believe the protesters’ focus on social and economic restructuring is misdirected… It’s a group of people who are sick and tired of what the government has promised them and of being lied to… They’re at a place where we all were before we became Christians…where Jesus [met] us. So they may not be finding much to agree on with protesters politically, but they are seeking to offer hope. That’s redemptive.
And showing up with the gospel (and food) creates a counterbalance to the message of Hare Krishna and other religions taking full advantage at the ad hoc occupation villages. One Krishna evangelist said of Dallas occupiers, “They’re trying to make the world a better place to live. But the real solution comes from changing yourself inside.” Now there’s a message to be countered with from a biblical worldview…
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