St. Matthew's Episcopal

OccupyWallStreet

Posted on: November 3rd, 2011 by Robin Jarrell

Below is the report requested by Bishop Baxter on the role of faith in the OccupyWallStreet movement.

The Gospel foundation for Economic Justice

The story of our salvation begins in the Old Testament and has always been in the mind and on the heart of God.  It is intimately bound together with our duty to care especially for the poor:

 

Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns … as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake (Deuteronomy 14:29).

 

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).

 

The “Sabbath Year” is celebrated once every seven years (the way a Sabbath day is celebrated one day out of 7) and is also called the “Year of Release” since all debts are to be forgiven in order to relieve the poor (Deuteronomy 15:1-8), slaves were to be released (Exodus 21:1-6) and the law was to be read aloud to ensure that former debtors and slaves would not become poor again (Deuteronomy 31:9-13).

 

The year of the “Jubilee” or “liberty “was celebrated on the fiftieth year (a “Sabbath Year” of “Sabbath Years”) and called for the redistribution of land (which is owned by God) among the people.

 

In the midst of Imperial and economic occupation by Rome, Our Lord announces the inauguration of his own ministry according to Luke by reading from the Prophet Isaiah which proclaims a “Year of Jubilee”:

 

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ (Luke 4:18/Isaiah 61:1-2).

 

This is a crucial part of the “Good  News” proclaimed by Jesus as the coming of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5: 1-12/Luke 6:20-23 – also known as the “Sermon on the Mount.”)

 

When Jesus says, “for the poor you have with you always,” (Matthew 26:11) he is not stating an awkward, uncomfortable but conventional fact.  Jesus challenges us to acknowledge our own behaviors and actions in the community and in the world that perpetuate the systemic roots of poverty and injustice.  Christians are called to live especially among and serve the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) – not just the wealthy and powerful.

 

The Anglican Social Justice Tradition

 

  • It takes seriously Jesus’s proclamation that he brings good news to the poor, freedom for those held in bondage, and justice to the oppressed.  (Luke 4:18-19)
  • It is incarnational:  What we do to our fellow humans, we do to Christ.  When we give aid to the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the needy, the prisoner, we serve the Lord. (Matthew 25:35-36)
  • But charity needs supplementation by justice.  So the Church’s mission is to offer immediate aid and solidarity to those in need, and to preach truth to power when power misuses its authority.
  • Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple defined the proper role of the Church in his 1942 Christianity and Social Order.  The Church’s place is neither to legislate nor to lobby for legislation, but to serve as the community’s moral conscience by keeping in public view the fundamental moral precepts upon which all legislation should be based.
  • In addition to thousands of Anglicans working for social justice, economic equality, and peace worldwide, here’s a sampling of Anglicans famous for their faith-based social justice advocacy:

 

  • Bono (1960-    ):  Irish layperson; poverty; peace; humanitarian relief
  • Charles Gore (1853-1932):  British bishop; economic justice; labor
  • Jonathan Daniels (1939-1965):  American seminarian; racial justice; Civil Rights martyr
  • Verna Dozier (1917-1988):  American laywoman; racial justice; women’s rights; arms race
  • Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872):  British priest; labor reform, poverty, free education
  • Paul Jones (1880-1941):  American bishop; peace
  • Charles Kingsley (1819-1875):  British priest; labor; poverty
  • Kenneth Leech (1939-    ):  British priest; economic justice; racism; labor
  • Conrad Noel (1869-1942):  British priest; economic justice; labor
  • Vida Scudder (1861-1955:  American Layperson; economic justice
  • William Stringfellow (1928-1985):  American layperson; racial justice, poverty; peace
  • R.H. Tawney (1880-1962):  British layperson; economic justice
  • William Temple (1881-1941):  British Archbishop of Canterbury; labor reform, racial justice
  • Desmond Tutu (1931-    ):  South African Archbishop of Cape Town; racial justice; peace
  • William Wilberforce (1759-1833):  British layperson; slavery

 

 

Social Justice Trends In The Diocese

 

  • Large portions of the Diocese seem not to have experienced the peaks and valleys in economic realities seen in other areas of the country.  In part, this is because many areas here are traditionally depressed, so neither boom nor bust has the statistical effect it may have other places.  Nonetheless, social services are increasingly strained, wages are stagnant, opportunity is scarce, demographics – at least in the rural areas – are regrettable, and hopes are dim.
  • The exception to this is the recent gas-drilling phenomenon, which has helped a relative few, and will probably help a few more, but possibly at a heavy cost to the environment.  This phenomenon is actually very much like previous experiences with logging and coal mining, which have afforded periods of economic benefit accompanied by environmental degradation, and followed by recession-like conditions once the resources are depleted.
  • These realities are accompanied by ongoing suspicion of progressive policy, education, inclusiveness and modernity in general, all of which have the potential to ameliorate economic hardship over the long run.  If these suspicions are changing, they are doing so very slowly.
  • Because of the dearth of hope, the love of many grows cold and there are increased tendencies for people to isolate themselves, along with the gifts God has given them, for fear that they will lose what little they have.
  • One of the most troubling reactions I’ve witnessed is the increasing tendency for people to stockpile firearms and ammunition against a day in which “they” will come to their doors to take away still more.

OccupyWallStreet As A Response To Trends In Social Justice

 

  • OWS is at root a response to the “corporate personhood” movement, which has been able to craft a body of law that favors corporate interests and rights at the expense of those of individuals.  The legal trail of this movement can be traced back at least as far as the Reconstruction, and its crowning achievement to date is the Citizens United ruling.  Corporate personhood redistributes wealth from the lower, working, and middle classes to those who are already well off.  The resulting crunch is felt first by segments of society already disadvantaged, but spreads to majority populations, as well.  The more wealth that is redistributed upwards, the faster the redistribution progresses, creating more poverty faster.
  • OWS is criticized and ridiculed for its “lack of focus” and its lack of a list of demands.  Actually, both the focus and the demands are quite clear:  governments and other institutions which fail to provide for the well being of their citizenry are in need of reform or removal.
  • OWS has so far been peaceful, and has been characterized by respectful relations between the protesters and non-protesters, and among the protesters themselves.
  • OWS has received kind treatment by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.  See also, remarks by The Rev. John Merz and the Rt. Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, reported in the ENS article, Clergy, laity support nonviolent protests at Occupy Wall Street (by Sharon Sheridan, 10/25/11).
  • See also Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s Huff Post discussion of monasticism in Waiting for Benedict: Where Does Occupy Go From Here? (10/19/11).  See also, Open Letter to the Christian Churches of the United States, from Christian leaders in Latin America; it is available at Sojourners.

 

Summary

The Gospel and OccupyWallStreet

Just as Jesus did not let the desperate economic inequalities of his day keep him from his role as Messiah (and forgave all those in power who condemned him to death) but commanded us to love one another as he loves us, we are bound to consider the fate of all who are economically oppressed.  We are also called to care for ALL, including those in power (the 1%) at the same time we stand in solidarity with those who, because of blatant economic injustice, cannot find adequate employment, shelter, and healthcare or remain in poverty.  For this reason, it is in keeping with our Gospel of “Good News” to the poor that we as a Church (and specifically as the Episcopal Church in the United States) champion the peaceful, nonviolent and inclusive movement known as OccupyWallStreet.

 

 

The Anglican Social Justice Tradition and OccupyWallStreet

The United States has one of the largest levels of income inequality among the world’s nations.  OccupyWallStreet’s peaceful witness to this inequality and the corporate influence on government that fuels it is squarely in keeping with the Church’s tradition of condemning egregious wealth accumulation as idolatrous and hurtful.  R.H. Tawney, Anglican economist and author of the classic Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (1926), put it this way:  “Compromise is as impossible between the Church of Christ and the idolatry of wealth, which is the practical religion of capitalist societies, as it was between the Church and the state idolatry of the Roman Empire.”  It’s for this reason that OccupyWallStreet’s goals are consistent with the Church’s role, as Archbishop William Temple said, to be society’s conscience.

 

The Diocese of Central Pennsylvania and OccupyWallStreet

 

Although OccupyWallStreet is not a faith-based movement, it seems to me that it resonates with Christianity in many ways in its focus, its methods, and its goals.  It could be that we should’ve been the first protesters.  OccupyWallStreet  intentionally or not, raises questions about how all of us live, and how we live as a Church:  Where are we most visible?  How do we spend our resources?  What drives our theology?  Where do we place our trust?  What is “control,” and who is in it?  What informs our decisions, our words, and our silence?  Where do we say Christ is?  Are we there, too?

For more information:

On Occupy Wall Street and Faith Issues:

http://unitedchurchofchrist.blogspot.com/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-sign-of-times.html

http://www.npr.org/2011/10/26/141659992/occupy-wall-streets-most-unlikely-ally-the-pope

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/31/corporation-london-city-medieval?fb=native&CMP=FBCNETTXT9038

http://episcopalchurch.org/79425_130309_ENG_HTM.htm

http://www.ucc.org/news/ucc-leaders-issue-pastoral.html

 

On Poverty in the US and Poverty/Hunger in Central PA:

http://lewistownsentinel.com/page/content.detail/id/150623/Poorest-poor-in-US-hits-new-record–1-in-15-people-.html?isap=1&nav=5016

 

http://www.centralpafoodbank.org/about/hunger.asp

 

Faithfully,

Cliff Johnston

Kerry Walters

Robin Jarrell

 

 

 

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