Why Christians must not forget the Occupy movement

Although the Occupy movement appears to be losing steam, the issue of fiscal inequality is one that is going to fester and, make no mistake, the anger will erupt again. I know Christians of good will who hold strong opinions on both sides of this issue. But is it really an issue over which Christians might agree to disagree?

One Christian lady has put a bumper sticker on her car, yet another volley in the bumper-sticker battle between  political left and right. Her sticker says this: "Don’t spread my wealth. Spread my work ethic." She is not wealthy, however. She is part of the famously shrinking middle class. What’s more, she will likely never be wealthy. Sociologist Judy Root Aulette writes that many scholars have observed how the wealthy have a preoccupation with maintaining the boundaries between themselves and others. They are not just going to open the doors and give her access to the great vaults, no matter how hard she knocks.

With her bumper sticker, however, this woman is making it clear where she stands regarding the Occupy movement. She is taking the side of the wealthy. She has her reasons and she can tell you what they are: she does not want the government to have the power to redistribute wealth, an infringement on her rights; she wants what small wealth she does have to stay where it is.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, the issue of slavery did not just split our nation, it split the church as well. Before the war, every major denomination fractured over the issue of slavery - a fracture that cracked along the same crooked geographical path that the war’s battle lines would take: North against South.

Not many southerners actually owned slaves - a few very wealthy plantation owners did - yet they supported the institution in hopes that someday they might be in a position to buy a slave, to start amassing real wealth. For most, the financial realities made their chances of pulling it off so unlikely as to be impossible.

Many southerners who supported the institution did not say it was slavery they favored, but state’s rights, the right of every state to self-government without intrusion from Washington.

You might say the long-past issue of slavery has no similarities to the present trouble. I say yes it does, particularly for Christians.

When it becomes clear that an institution operates in such a way as to allow - even foster - the perpetuation of inequality, where should a follower of Christ stand? Sure, good people work within that system. No doubt there were a lot of good Christian people working inside the slave-fueled economy of the antebellum South.

Most conservative Christians today say it is big government they stand against, not financial inequality. But, like the southern Christians who supported the slave economy, they hold this position by ignoring the very clear and unequivocal words of Jesus on the subject of money and wealth. Set your politics aside and go back and reread carefully what Christ has to say about the rich and the poor, and the use of money. Ask yourself which side of the Occupy line he would be standing on. Without fail, Jesus takes the side of the downtrodden, the marginalized, the subjugated.

History does not look kindly on the southern Christians who flouted Christ’s clear teaching and supported the so-called rights of slave owners to profit from the labor of their fellow human beings without spreading the wealth. Neither will it be kind to Christians who today are, in spirit, doing much the same thing.

(Photo of an Occupy encampment courtesy of Debra M. Gaines/Wikimedia Commons.)

Vic Sizemore’s writing is published or forthcoming in Story Quarterly, Southern Humanities Review, Connecticut Review, PANK Magazine, Rock & Sling, Saint Katherine Review and elsewhere. Sizemore is also a regular contributor to the “Good Letters” page at Image Journal.

Comments (21)

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Vic,

You analogy is an interesting and provocative one. But, I wonder, what is the single issue that galvanizes the positions on either side of the Occupy movement? I think the analogy breaks down here since it is not a matter of redistribution versus no redistribution---we already have a progressive tax code and social programs. Rather it is a complex mix of issues that are at the heart of crippled mobility and rising inequality. To be sure, neither more or less government are a magic pill for what ails us. But, neither is having the wealthy "open the doors and give her access to the great vaults." The boundaries Aulette notes are endemic to all groups of people (race, class, income, etc.), which stratifies society and cripples mobility. Like slavery it is an effective caste system, rather than hoarding that is the greater societal sin.

js
"js," I think you miss the point voice was working for. What Vic was talking about (and what OWS was seeking to facilitate) was not a simple redistribution of wealth. That idea is kind of nuts. I have doubts that anyone will simply open their safety deposit boxes and tell others to "have at it."

The redistribution of the funds is more of a symbolic way of saying "stop being so damn greedy."

The problem with the 1% isn't necessarily that they're hoarding their money and not sharing, it's that they are taking measures to keep the little people down by putting them in such a situation where they are disenfranchised and working for lower wages than they deserve, while at the same time these leaders of corporations are shoveling in as much cash as they possibly can.

The company that I work for does just this. They claim to be about the product that they put out (newspapers), but let's be honest -- their product is terrible. It's filled with syndicated content that readers can access hours before the paper even hits the stands. And people lose interest. So stocks fall. But instead of doing what they should do (modifying their business plan to keep up with the way people engage with information), they cut even more corners, which leads to a worse product, less pay, more layoffs, and many unhappy employees. And let's not forget forced unpaid time off. We were all--company wide--told to take 3 weeks off from work unpaid, as a means to keep from having layoffs. Fine. But at the same time we were tightening our belts for the good of the company, a certain executive gave him or herself a 50 percent raise.

Ouch.

Oh. And by the way, almost 200 people were still laid off.

So, this is what it's more about. OWS is tired of this type of thing happening -- a minute percentage of our population having the vast majority of the money and control that are endeavoring to keep it that way at the cost of the wellbeing of others.



Karl Marx is more right than many care to believe, it seems.
Additionally, in the area where I live, conservative Christianity is the norm. Most of my family members are conservative Christians. And it seems (in many cases) that they side with Wall Street, Gingrich, et. al. on this issue. I don't know why it is that at least a large percentage of the evangelical community feels it is a Christian imperative to bolster capitalism and corporations in all cases. It's scary, really.
I have very mixed feelings about the Occupy Wall Street movement.  First of all, the idea that society has somehow positioned itself to abuse power, make money off the un- or ill-informed, and perpetuate poverty is not new, and I do believe these abuses take place.  If laws are being passed that limit opportunities for success, they need to be changed.  But if we were to look honestly and some of those laws, we would find that many of them are the very ones which were enacted to "help" the poor.  So that, to see improvement, some things might get worse before they get better because we have a large segment of society that has gotten used to getting something for nothing.  We do, indeed, need to redistribute a positive work ethic.  We need to stop rewarding idleness and punishing initiative.  On the other hand, we also need to find ways to discourage [punish?] business and financial institutions from giving bad and misleading advice merely because it increases their profit margin or personal enrichment. (As with lenders or real estate agents who encourage people to purchase loans and mortgages that they cannot sustain.)  I have no idea what kind of law would act to perpetuate wealth in some while preventing others from achieving it.  Someone needs to give me an example of how that works.  Again, if that is truly a factor in the widening of the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots", we do need to band together with the OWS folk to put an end to it.
The author's argument hinges on this statement: "an institution operates in such a way as to allow – even foster – the perpetuation of inequality,"... without identifying what institution in the present time he is referring to.  He is also asking the reader to make a sweeping judgment based on that statement with its inherent comparison of slavery with -- whatever in the present day he seems to be against.  I think the comparison itself is seriously flawed but that's another matter.

On the whole thing about the bumper sticker, the author missed the point as well.  He couches it in the realm of "rich-vs-poor", while the bumper sticker was presenting a personal value, a Biblical value by the way, regarding personal responsibility regarding work.
If a company is being run as you mention, then it will go broke.  The executive will lose his/her raise completely.  That's free market regulation.  That's the company reaping what it sows.

The problem occurs when the government steps in and bails the company out.  It short-circuits the automatic market discipline.  The government takes money from all citizens and redistributes it to a well-connected business.  The executive keeps his/her exorbitant raise instead of losing it.

I think that neatly illustrates the true cause of the shrinking middle class.  The lack of upward mobility is being caused by the GOVERNMENT.  You know, the one entity that can use force to transfer wealth.  The one entity that takes away freedom.
Not one specific institution Steve: http://www.wrdnrd.net/?p=499

Also regarding the bumper sticker: in light of the conversation this woman is joining, the point is quite clear. Us--those who work hard and want to keep what we earn--against them--those who are lazy and shiftless and want to take it away. A personal value for sure. But since institutional racism and classism is a statistically demonstrable fact. 

From the link above:

Many white people continue to believe that racism and sexism, like ethnic prejudice, are simply hateful attitudes toward people.  They look inside themselves and cannot find either the feelings or the beliefs they associate with prejudice and so conclude that they are notprejudiced.  Because they are committed to treating people fairly, they believe they do so.  They teach their children not to judge others by the color of their skin, and they contribute to various charities that address issues of equity and civil rights.  Because they have never been taught the difference between simple “prejudice” and the more complex and recalcitrant forms of oppression signified by the words “racism” and “sexism,” they cannot understand why some people want to talk about “racism” all the time instead of individual initiative.  They do not understand that racism and sexism are perpetuated every day by nice people who are carrying on business as usual.  They do not recognize that what passes as “business as usual” already institutionalizes white skin, male, and class privilege.  They honestly believe that what separates them [...] are intelligence and hard work.
Can one be certain that Jesus would be on the side of the "downtrodden" in the Occupy movement? Did he come to take sides or did he come to take over?

Capitalism is inherently financially unequal. Like it or not, this system is the basis for the economic progress we have enjoyed. The so-called rich are to be motivated to generate wealth by creating jobs for the rest of us. Is there greed and corruption intermingled in that process that have led to abuses? Of course; the 1% need Jesus and the power of the gospel to transform their lives. 

I believe that a sizable portion of the occupiers responded to the class warfare call put forth by our president and responded accordingly. Some are true victims but many also have a victim mentality and expect the government to create jobs for them. Those people need to respond to the bumper sticker exhortation. The 99% need Jesus and power of the gospel to transform their lives too.
You couldn't be misinterpreting this post more. What he is commenting on is the woman's ignorance that asserts that people that have less money than her have a poor work ethic. That may be true in some instances, but it is not true in general. By saying that it is a "biblical value" is also far off base. Is casting judgement a biblical value? Is it biblical to assume that those who are less fortunate are obviously doing some wrong? Maybe if you're into prosperity gospel, it is. 

There really needs to be a serious investigation done into the heart of American Christianity (and, yes, as Vic said, it's history of being pro-slavery) and why it seems that Christians feel it imperative to side with capitalists, with the rich, with a primarily white demographic. Any efforts outside of that are expected to lauded as "good deeds."

The fact of the matter is that the ruling class IS crushing the upward mobility of the middle class. To say that people are not hard working because they are less fortunate is truly hateful. My father is someone who has never been able to make a ton of money. He came to this country as an immigrant in his mid-20s and has worked up to even 90 hour weeks to try to make ends meet. And he is highly skilled, artful even, at what he does. Meanwhile, it's not him who is getting pay raises for doing work faster and at an increased level of quality. It's his employers sitting in their offices who make benefit from his ingenuity, and don't so much as offer a bonus.

Yes, you'll say that he should work for a different employer, but it's all the same. I've seen him work for a variety of different companies, and it's the same everywhere. Expect magic from your workers in difficult situations, but pay them nothing extra in return.

This is the point I was making with my own employer, and it's a comparatively white collar position to what he does (he is a master craftsman). We'll give you garbage, but expect award-winning products to result, meanwhile we'll not only not give you a raise, but we'll CUT your pay and expect you to be thankful that it's only a cut.


No thanks, America.
Sadly, they're not going broke. They've been getting away with it for years and making millions upon millions while doing it. 

Meanwhile, with the furloughs I've been forced to take, my brother has made more tossing pizza dough than I have as an experienced, college-educated journalist.

 

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