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.)