I Was Just Wondering Why More Christians Don’t
“Occupy” or Count Themselves Among “the 99%”
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
In light of all the recent news reports about the rioting in Hong Kong and the civil war in Syria, I have recently concluded that either an Occupy-style political movement, or the formation of active armed militias in numerous countries including the US, will be the next logical step in the evolution of these separate but related events. A more illogical step would be an internal conflict as bad as Syria’s has become, provided that the Hong Kong police and military units don’t foolishly force the hands of the protesters to take more drastic action. The protesters will demonstrate peacefully provided that they are allowed to do so. But if not, then no one knows for sure (as of this writing) what will happen next. This bears a striking resemblance to the Occupy Wall Street and “the 99%” Movements worldwide. For example, when “Occupy DC” got started on Oct. 6, 2011 at Freedom Plaza (I was there selling books for the first three days), it was a nearly entirely peaceful mass demonstration. It could have turned into a confrontation with authorities, but it didn’t. But there is one thing I have noticed since becoming a part of this movement three years ago. Being involved with a couple of different ministries besides this one, it’s been my experience that trying to get a conservative American Christian to join the Occupy movement is like trying to persuade an orthodox Jew to convert to Islam. My considerable research on the Web and with local ministries here in Atlanta tells me that conservative Christians from other nations are far more politically liberal than their American counterparts.
Why is there such resistance by conservative American Christians to the Occupy movement? What are they so afraid of? After all, aren’t those 99% who are involved in the Occupy movement trying to speak out for those in need while opposing an economic system based on greed? Why would any conservative American Christian not want to join a group that tells us that our future depends on how well we cooperate with each other? The same thing goes for the “We Are The 99%” movement, which I chronicled in my 2011 book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto” (yes, it’s still in print). I also can’t imagine why any rational person would have a problem with people who are protesting against firmly entrenched economic inequality and endless wars. And why would any American Christian not want to join a group that promotes a more participatory and balanced democracy than what we have now? Jesus preached against social and economic injustice, and so we Christians should be doing the same.
Lately, some Leftist writers and social media movers and shakers have attributed the political convictions of American conservative Christians to their faith, as if faith in God and opposition to social or economic injustice are mutually exclusive of one another. I insist that quite the reverse is true, that in fact those who care for the poor and needy, or for the sick or the hospitalized, or for the incarcerated, the institutionalized, and the homeless – the very least of humanity – it is they who do God’s will while here on earth, not hoarding for themselves but ministering and empathizing for all of the above! It is they who maintain their only source of faith and grace as being none other than Jesus Christ himself. But what we have instead is a cadre of people mixing their man-made religion with extremely conservative politics for personal gain instead of worshiping the one true Almighty God. The majority of such Christians, however, are not American, which should give us a hint as to why many conservative American Christians are not Occupying today.
The reason for why they are not occupying is not because of their faith but because of something else. But what would that something else be?Namely, that when one is raised as a conservative Christian in America, there are certain associations made with that “brand” of Christian faith. One such association is made between American patriotism and Christianity. We were taught since when we were born that our nation was founded as a Christian nation by Christian Founding Fathers. Therefore, the American way, at least back when America was still a Christian nation, is the Christian way. To criticize our Founding Fathers is, by extension, to ridicule Christianity and Christ. Protesting against any part of this Christian nation of ours, then, must be tantamount to attacking the Gospel and therefore constitutes betrayal of one’s country as well as a great sin against God for which there will be sure retribution.
Any attempt at reconciling our nation’s history with the notion that America was ever a Christian nation places enormous demands on one’s logical skills. While it is true that many of our founding fathers were Christians, the genocide and ethnic cleansing of North America’s indigenous people combined with our nation’s abuse and persecution of Black Americans, from long before the start of the US Civil War up until the 1964 Civil Rights Act, along with our emerging empire and use of dictators as proxy rulers over other countries, make it problematic to reconcile America’s history with Jesus Christ. And even when our history is partially acknowledged by the conservative American Christians, there seems to be an emotional disconnect that protects such Christians from the dissonance that would otherwise be clanging forth. That is, we might acknowledge some of the abuses in the past, but can we still seriously call ourselves a Christian nation and a “city on a hill” without batting an eye? In the end, what patriotic American Christians are saying to the world is that, despite the evidence, they must feel good about themselves and what they have accomplished. It is considered to be the holy imperative of political conservatism in America, Western Europe, Japan, and yes, Hong Kong, where there is rioting in the streets over this very thing. Well-to-do right-wing Christians demand their Constitutional right to self-exalt, forgetting Jesus’ warning about this very thing when He said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but they who humble themselves will be exalted”.
And what goes for American Patriotism, goes for capitalism. After all, since capitalism is our economic system and we are a Christian nation, logic seems to dictate that capitalism has become God’s preferred economy, as if God needed an economic system in which to operate. We supplement this reason with some common sense, reasoning that since the greatest prosperity in the history of the world has been enjoyed by Americans and we practice capitalism, capitalism must also be God’s economy. Even if such an argument were true, it still only goes so far. That is, we as a nation have experienced some of the greatest periods of prosperity in the history of the world. But there is a problem lurking in the shadows. For just as we must acknowledge the high level of prosperity we have enjoyed, we must also ask a very damning question. That question is, when in the history of capitalism has it prospered without exploiting large numbers of people? Many times those who were exploited were hidden from the view of most Americans though their invisibility does not contradict the fact that they were exploited.
And so what originally caused the Occupy and the “99%” Movements to emerge in 2011 continues to this day unabated. The fact is that far too large of a percentage of Americans have now become the victims of the same capitalist economy that they helped create. All of our hard work was for nothing. In fact, it has backfired on us all in the worst possible way by making homeless people out of formerly middle class workers. Even people with college or university degrees of various kinds are having trouble finding work, particularly here in Atlanta. This has angered a whole lot of people, and rightfully so since we, the workers who have been keeping things moving daily, are on the receiving end of economic and social injustices every time we turn around. These Occupy/99% Movements are transforming American patriotism and public dissent by opposing endless wars for profit while challenging capitalism by insisting that people and their needs have priority over those same profits. Suggesting that being patriotic includes being capitalistic, which is conservative Christianity’s true religion, has spread more evil than good. As before, that’s because of the close association many conservative Christians have made between both patriotism and capitalism. They that do this are forgetting the historical reasons for Jesus’ crucifixion. He preached against organized government, which infuriated the Romans, and against organized religion, which enraged the Jewish ruling council of that time. If Jesus came back today and walked into a mega-church unannounced, one of two things are guaranteed to occur. Either the conservative Christians, “hawks”, Evangelicals, and Charismatics would crucify him all over again, or the entire church would fall out of their pews face down on the floor, crying and begging for mercy. That’s who the real Jesus Christ is!
But there is still another reason why conservative American Christians have still not joined the Occupy movement. That is because the Occupy movement is seen as a protest movement that does not respect authority. From an early age, conservative American Christians were injected with spiritual steroids when being taught to respect authority, mostly from Romans 13 while ignoring the Four Gospels. It is one thing to learn to respect authority, but it’s an entirely different matter to be compelled to worship it. To challenge the authorities and the law, as it states in Romans 13: verses 1-5, is to challenge God himself because it is God who has put in charge every authority figure. On the other hand, that command cuts both ways, as it is written in James chapter 5, verses 1-6: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay your workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”
We can sometimes have great difficulty in distinguishing between between conservative theologies and conservative politics and between liberal theologies and liberal politics. As a result, some tend to uncritically accept the tenets of conservative politics, not because it is biblical, which it is not, but because it has the conservative label. Likewise others will automatically reject liberal and leftist policies because of their connotation. This knee-jerk acceptance of whatever is conservative and rejection of whatever not conservative is one of the key ingredients that enables authoritarianism. For examples of this we need only look to Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, among numerous others. And just as self-exaltation is the reason why we equate American patriotism and capitalism with Christianity, so self-interest is the reason why we have a hyper regard for those in authority. That self-interest tells us to be good little boys and girls so that those in charge will reward us rather than spank us. And perhaps, it is a desire of some – you know who you are – to remain children that leads us to authoritarianism’s embrace over the self-rule that the Occupy and 99% Movements have been practicing. It is the desire to spend more time playing around with what-or-whom-ever than making responsible decisions, from spend more time enjoying our trivial pursuits than being bogged down with the serious issues of life – such as how we relate to each other for the good of all concerned – that causes us to prefer rule by elites over autonomy. The reason why most conservative American Christians won’t Occupy isn’t because of their faith, it is because of the extra ingredients added to their faith. Meaning, their faith is polluted with worldly things and concerns, another thing Jesus warned us about when he said, “A man cannot serve two masters. He will either cling to one and despise the other, or he will serve the other and reject the former. You cannot serve both God and materialism”.