Christianity was forged as a movement in opposition to a hegemonic and oppressive Roman empire. Today, in that same spirit, battling against the oppressive weight of corporate greed and a government characterized by lust for militarization, violence and a repeated disregard for the poor, people are descending on Wall Street in anger and protest. Annie Gonzalez, a Unitarian Universalist ordination candidate powerfully diagnoses the core issue, “The capitalist system is an idolatrous system that worships profits, and turns away from God by denying the poor, the hungry, and those in prison.” She invites us to “cry out that another way is possible.” This occupation embodies that alternative way, what Kellyann Conners a student at Union Theological Seminary calls a collection of “passionate individuals who dare to embody an alternative consciousness about how are nation and world “ought to be.” Occupy Wall Street has succeeded in creating an different kind of community. In the midst of a space defined by hierarchy, they know each other as sisters and brothers. In the midst of a space built on greed, they hold all things in common. When confronted with the violence of law enforcement, they respond in peace. Sound familiar?
After a slow start, people of faith are finally moving on Wall Street and into occupations all around the country. These occupation movements are indicative of the sort of organization this generation embraces. They are horizontal, fluid, post-modern, defined more by the space they create and the conversations they initiate than the political goals accomplished, money raised, or candidates elected.
John the Baptizer did not lead people out into the wilderness to garner support for particular legislation or in protest of a recent imperial decree. No, John led people out into the desert because the logic of life in the city, the logic of life under imperial oppression was untenable and inhuman. Jesus did not bring the beatitudes to the political negotiating table, he taught them publically to people who gathered spontaneously. Today, we as Christians ought to have a similar relationship to structures of global capitalism and the military industrial complex. Those who are occupying Wall Street, while they may not all identify as Christians, are following in the footsteps of Jesus. Confronting power with an alternative community ethic, an alternative space, another way of living together. As Nathaniel Mahlberg, a community minister at Judson Memorial Church said, “Although [the occupiers] may not subscribe to our faith, it’s very beautiful that here, in defiance of this empire of wealth, you have people living according to radical Christian principles … working for those who are dominated and standing up to the people dominating them.”
As I follower of Christ, I am standing there with all of them. This occupation is not about a particular grievance; rather it is born out of a deep belief that this country’s present capitalist logic is fundamentally dangerous and misguided; it is born out of a growing sense that the status quo is simply no longer acceptable. Jesus was asking for specific changes in society, but he was also seeking a deep existential transformation of the world. Many people have asked the Wall Street Occupiers, “when will this movement end? What are your demands?” I wonder what Jesus would have said if he was asked those same questions.
John Allen is a Protest Chaplain at Occupy Wall Street and a member of People of Faith Occupy, a multi-faith group of religious leaders gathered in support of Occupy Wall Street. He is a Master of Divinity Student in New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from Davidson College. He is an ordination candidate in the United Church of Christ Metropolitan Boston Association.