The Occupy movement and its religious connections

Of the many things one might find noteworthy about the Occupy movement, there’s no missing its speed of spread. Just one … Continued

Of the many things one might find noteworthy about the Occupy movement, there’s no missing its speed of spread. Just one month after a group of people who were fed up enough with the current situation writ large in America to gather, chant, wave placards, talk to the press, and sleep outside, similar efforts had been organized in over 1,300 cities and communities around the world. My favorite photo thus far has been of Diane McEachern, of Bethel, Alaska, and her three dogs, all four of them staring soberly at the camera on a frosted morning, and her holding a sign that reads simply “Occupy the Tundra.”

While the remarkable growth of this movement is clear, less so its message. CNN did an iReporter poll of the protesters in various cities with a simple question, “What are you protesting?” The most-common answer wasn’t even a majority of the responses and was “government corruption” at 46%. The other top answers were more evenly spread out, including job scarcity, bailouts and Wall Street impunity. Perhaps the most simple way to get at the broad message of Occupy Wall Street et al is this: Something is very wrong, we don’t have confidence in our leaders to fix it, so we’re going to show up, speak up, and stay ’til someone does something right. President Obama put it accurately although mildly when he said the Occupy movement expresses “frustration.” Indeed.

 In Old Testament times in the centuries before Jesus, God had a preferred way of expressing God’s own frustration. God sent prophets, less to tell the future and more to remind the people about the agreement they had with God, where they weren’t upholding their end of the deal, what would happen if they persisted and how God was going to keep on loving them anyway. Among God’s grievances were several that were quite consistent, and one of them was all about economics and injustice.   The forms of this one included God’s own hatred of systemic corruption, gross economic inequity and the oversized affluence of some at the expense of the many, lack of compassion for the poor and pretensions of piety comfortably coexisting with rampant poverty. These are themes in the minor prophets Amos and Micah, and the major ones like Jeremiah and Isaiah, through whom God says: “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (1.16-17) 

 Those were God’s words to the Jews then; they’re God’s words to all people, and nations, now.  If we can hear the echo of God’s heart for those on the margins through the voices of the Occupy movement, it will be a mighty movement indeed. And if in those same voices are the echoes of God’s disdain for those who would seek their own comfort and position at the expense of the needs of others, it makes their hearing all the more important. History teaches that countries, at best, do not thrive when they lose sight and adherence to the deepest truths. At worst, like the Jews of the Old Testament, they go into exile.

It’s been said by many in various ways, including Pearl Buck that, “the test of a civilization is in the way that it cares for its helpless members.” The Occupy movement is calling for America to pass that test, and it’s not hard to imagine God giving a hearty “Amen!” to that.

The Rev. Bill Haley is the Associate Rector at
The Falls Church and Director of Formation at
The Washington Institute

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  • TMM007

    I can assure you Bill, that as someone who is making a documentary on Occupy LA, this movement has nothing to do with religion. Quite the contrary. One of the main demands has been to reinforce the concept of separating state from religion. I have heard hundreds of people speak in committees and general assemblies around LA’s City Hall and I haven’t heard a single reference to god, except to keep religion out of politics. Some of them may indeed be religious, but they keep those beliefs to themselves, because it is completely irrelevant. You must be thinking of the Tea Party!

  • dontoccupywallst

    I was taught hard work pays off…. sitting in a park protesting is not hard work… A search on indeed shows 56,000 jobs in NYC…. These protesters could’ve spent the last month getting these jobs…. Does a brand new college grad think they should be earning 200,000??? What do they want, communism? Go to FB and join the anti occupy movement by the hard working 99%… Go like “Don’t Occupy Wall Street” on FB…. It has a now hiring logo, which is what they should be looking for.

  • dontoccupywallst

    I was taught hard work pays off…. sitting in a park protesting is not hard work… A search on indeed shows 56,000 jobs in NYC…. These protesters could’ve spent the last month getting these jobs…. Does a brand new college grad think they should be earning 200,000??? What do they want, communism? Go to FB and join the anti occupy movement by the hard working 99%…

    Go like “Don’t Occupy Wall Street” on FB…. It has a now hiring logo, which is what they should be looking for.

  • BrianB4

    I am sick of these criminal politicians-executives preaching their own brand of wild-west capitalism where the thieves, marauders and renegades pillage and loot with impunity and don’t respect the population and then tell us not to stand up for ourselves. I respect the tenants of capitalism as much as the next guy but this doesn’t mean I like total laizze-faire/no laws/the system is going to fix itself. We do not accept murder, rape and robbery you republicans so why do think we should accept gutting the law (70 years old) that protected against unstable financial practices on Wall Street after the great depression and the laws (about 150 years old… and initiated by republicans/whigs nonetheless) that instituted trade barriers to protect the local economy and keep jobs in the US.

    This sounds to me that this has nothing to do with laizze-faire and economics 101. This has to do with you wild west criminals trying to justify a lawless society for yourselves but preach law and order for the rest of us.

  • CharasmaticMegafauna

    The right is freaking out because Jews are heavily involved in NYC’s Occupy Wall Street, and coming so soon after the recent GOP win of the special election, this scares them.

    So the neocons are rushing to tell the rest of the country that OWS is really some sort of pogrom.

  • RockvilleBear

    Thank you for this comment. I wanted to say what you wrote, but you wrote it more clearly than I would have.

  • evolvedthinker

    Really? Are you trying to inject some imaginary foolishness into a secular demonstration about wealth? Also, can somebody actually define what the hell “spiritual” is. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a word of no meaning. It goes from nature, to love, to passion. to some imaginary part of humans that lives independant of our sentient bodies (which is profoundly stupid) etc..”Spiritual” is just a word of convience. Occupy has nothing to do with being “spiritual” or any religious babble.

  • zzzdoglie

    Cinsidering the bigoted comments and hate-filled speeches coming out of this latest version of “I want mine so just get out of my way” protests of the one percent, calling themselves the 99 – – this must be the same “special” religious advocates that have supported authoritarian regimes over elected governments during both this and last century.

    This is actually the strongest argument for atheists.

  • nardone22

    The message of Occupy is

    BRING THE RULE OF LAW TO WALL STREET.