Lessons for Christians from the Occupy Movement

Please help me welcome back Clay Morgan for today’s guest post. *applause* Clay makes some excellent observations and connections here with the Occupy Movement and Christianity. He’s a professor, writer, and pop culture whiz, so it’s no wonder that he can bring all this to light in a thought-provoking, light-hearted way. Be sure to check out his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Okay, quick free association. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase Occupy Wall Street? What kind of images pop into your mind?

I’m wondering how many people think of ignorant protestors instead of social and economic inequality or educational services.

I teach at a couple colleges and have had conversations this semester with a number of students. Some of them want to be really connected to the protest movements, others think they’re stupid and destructive, and still others couldn’t care less.

Whether the protestors want to truly change the world or just create some cool memories, one thing is certain: They have an image problem. And Christians, sadly, are often in the same boat.

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The mob likely occupied this amphitheater in Ephesus.

I was doing some research on the New Testament travels of the Apostle Paul when I stumbled across a verse that about smacked me upside the head like a riot policeman’s baton. A lynch mob was forming against some of Paul’s friends, and a riotous crowd had to be dissuaded from doing bad things. Here’s what Luke says about that mob:

“The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:32).

I think that sums up a lot of modern protestors, a lot of shouting with little direction. News blurbs about the Occupy movement usually annoy me for the following reasons that Christians need to pay attention to.

1. Cluelessness

If you are going to start a movement it’s a good idea to know what you believe. A lot of the protestors don’t know. Simply rejecting an idea is also not good enough. You have to be able to articulate a solution.

I can get behind a movement that works to help the truly less fortunate way more than I’ll ever be motivated by the fact that some people are really rich. Is corporate greed a problem? Yes. Does that make capitalism evil? No.

If capitalism is the devil, and the goal is to overthrow the system then to what will you turn? Communism? Yeah, that always works out like super duper. If you don’t know what I mean, check out a book on the 20th century and look in the index under “Communism, tens of millions murdered by.”

2. Negativity

Are we really just victims all the time? Will property destruction and government disruption help anyone? Again, doing more harm than good is easy.

You have to work from a positive motivation, not negative. As Tim Elmore said, “I tend to think people can follow: “I Have a Dream” a little easier than: “I Have a Complaint.”

3. Hypocrisy

There’s something funny about claiming to be “the 99%” when only 43% of Americans can even tolerate what you’re doing. But moreover, if you’re really protesting the 1% then why aren’t you anti-Kim Kardashian and the NBA as this brilliant article says?

The Occupiers also don’t want to be criticized, but what do you expect when you stand in the street complaining against mega corporations while wearing, using, and consuming all the wonderful stuff they make?

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As I said this post is more about Christianity than Wall Street, so back to some quick free association. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear “Christians”?

I hope the instant connections are positive. That word should make others think of people who are loving and good. But like the Occupiers, we Christians often get it wrong in our public attempts to change the world.

1. Cluelessness

As Christians we have got to know what we believe. If we can’t articulate what we believe and why then we make Jesus look bad and his followers look stupid. We should always be able to explain what we stand for.

In a related thought, for those who reject Christianity I have two questions. First, do you understand the true origins of what you are rejecting, not the messed up version that’s offended you? Second, to what will you turn? It’s not enough to reject everything. If life is to make any sense you’ll have to find a coherent philosophy.

2. Negativity

Many people think that Christians are just about running around telling everybody what to do or not to do, basically condemning everyone who ever wants to do anything fun. Like I already said, successful people operate from a positive perspective with sights set on a goal. We work towards whatever we are focused on.

3. Hypocrisy

This is the big one. If we want people to believe that the love of God changes lives then shouldn’t other people see that our own lives have been changed?

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It’s easy to stand in the street amidst a crowd and yell about stuff that sounds cool. For Christians, we’ve gotta really know what we believe and operate towards a hopeful end. People should see truth and love in the way we operate.

What do you think? Am I off base here? Love to hear your thoughts.

Posted in Christians, Cluelessness, Guest Post, Hypocrisy, Leadership, Lessons, Negativity, Occupy Movement.

26 Comments

  1. Pingback: Politics and Religion: The Party Taboos « EduClaytion

  2. Great to see you two teaming up!

    I remember going through a phase when I corrected people when they asked if I was a Christian. “Oh, am I a Christian? I’d rather you call me a believer.”

    Yeah, that was my over-thinking-my-relevance phase.

    It goes beyond authenticity – you can be authentically ignorant, right? I think you hit on the Three Big Ones as far as spreading Jesus’ message.

    I can be a clueless, negative hypocrite standing alone in the corner and never bother a soul (or even endanger my own), but when it comes to spreading the gospel of hope and peace and reconciliation? That demands a higher ground.

    (Too bad that’s not my nature. Dang it!)

    • But I get that cringing at the word Christianity, especially after just reading Blue Like Jazz. It’s a word that needs qualified anymore because so many people think so many different things. No one can see Christ clearly through all this Christianity we’ve got going on.

  3. Great post, Clay. All very well said. You had me grinning.

    I think the biggest problem in any disagreement is that most people speak and/or act before they take the time to think things through (and for Christians, pray it through). And often times they are really only reacting to their feeling of being offended by something or someone. And when a person simply reacts… it’s not usually pretty, or tasteful, or helpful at all.

    This certainly happens to me… more often than it should… Thankfully, though, I vent all my cluelessness, negativity, and hypocrisy to my husband, who helps me see it for what it is. Then I calm down and think and pray, before I go off reacting in public.

    Gee… what would I do without that husband of mine, I ask you? *goes to thank husband for putting up with his wife’s clueless, negative, and hypocritical moments*

    • Well, I’ve only seen the happy bubbly side of you. I’ll keep an eye out for the other Jill 😀 I’ve got a side of me like that. No one likes him very much. But I don’t have a husband, so the comparison breaks down there.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jill! It’s great to have someone to bounce the messiness off of before heading into the public realm. It’s too bad everyone doesn’t have the view that they should keep those kinds of things privately.

  4. Two of my faves hanging together. Nice.

    Thoughts:
    -love the verse from Acts. Bingo.
    -the communism/capitalism comments make me think of Churchill’s quote on democracy, which I will butcher if I attempt to quote
    -I love the propose-a-solution aspect. My undergrad was a double major in English and Women’s Studies and one of the things that drove me nuts about the latter were people whingeing about a problem with no interest in proposing a possible solution or at least a way out.
    -Christianity and hypocrisy. Yes. As a trivial example, fish on the back of cars make me batty. Especially when the minivan cuts me off. I know it’s trivial, but is that what being a Christian has become to?

    It’s good I have life so figured out.

    Yes, that was sarcastic…

    • Criticism is easy; solutions are hard. I think that’s the 3rd semicolon I’ve used this week. I’m on fire. Oops, distracted. Where was I?

      Oh yeah, those fish on cars. I think the same thing. You better be living right if you’re gonna advertise like that! Most of us would be better off putting a bumper sticker of something we don’t like on our cars. Then the people we cut off will actually hate the same things as us 😉

      • I’m not sure how I missed this post the first time around, but glad I finally found it! If we’re going to have a fish on our car, I think we should put it on our dashboard as a reminder.

    • Leanne, as always, you’re cracking me up! Clay, you’ve got a great point about advertising for the things Christians don’t like – so that others won’t like them.

  5. Great post. I live in the Philadelphia area and there was an “Occupy Philly” movement going on (thank bees I don’t actually live in the city anymore).

    And I thought to myself… here is a bunch of people making a mess, blocking traffic, disrupting the general flow of things to demonstrate that they need jobs.

    Uh…. go look for one?

    • Thanks for reading Darlene. I’m always amazed at how many people will aggravate the rest of society during a movement that’s supposed to build support for their cause. Of course, as a Pittsburgher I’m also sorry that you live near Philadelphia 🙂 Go Penguins/Steelers/Pirates! Okay, I’m really in trouble on that last one.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Darlene! I’ve had the same thought about the jobless protestors… maybe looking for a job would help remedy the problem.

  6. You make some great points here, Clay. As you say in your comment to Jess, “No one can see Christ clearly through all of this Christianity we’ve got going on.”

    Reminds me of Gandhi saying, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christian.”

    My official stand on my blog is that my religion is Baseball. The fact is that I consider myself a Christian, but most “Christians” would not agree, and many would resent me using the label. The reasons for that are irrelevant to my point here. Which is . . . .

    What does it mean to be a Christian?

    There are so many concepts of Christianity. I grew up in hard core, small town Bible belt territory. Those who were fully immersed believed those who were sprinkled were going to Hell. Those who were baptized in one denomination believed those who were baptized in other denominations were going to Hell. We won’t even get into the fact that none of them knew that the point of baptism in its origin was to make people “Jewish” so that they could then be Christian. (I’d be happy to provide that cite if you like. I believe it was Dr. Elaine Pagels.) The one thing the many churches all agreed on was that documentaries like “The First Christians” were “of the devil.”

    Many things about today are similar to the early days of Christianity in that there are numerous, equally valid, coherent interpretations of Christianity competing for dominance, from the Methodists’ lack of doctrine in favor of a “method” to the Southern Baptist Convention making micromanaging doctrinal interpretations of the Bible about yoga.

    I don’t see another Nicean Convention in the cards, and, well, you see what happened to the Catholic Church anyway. Not so universal these days. So for there to be a “Christian movement” that has any coherent meaning, its leaders will need to stick to the bare basics. I recommend focusing on the two things MOST Christians can agree on, which are the two things Jesus brought new to the party as it was during his life. 1) We are equal in the eyes of God, and 2) forgiveness over an eye for an eye. Get past those two ideas, and ideas get to arguments in a hurry.

    But to embrace the more universal concepts of Christianity and not get hung up on divisive details, I believe we must first relinquish ownership of God. We may CHOOSE to belong to God, but we do not own God. “Our God” is a very exclusive concept. One of the first ideas of God is that God is incomprehensible to the human mind. Therefore, we have no business deciding who God actually belongs to. Once we let go of our ownership of God, we can open up to others and develop a more inclusive, coherent concept of what it means to be a Christian.

    For what it’s worth, while there are a few fish on cars around here where I live, there are even more “Random Acts of Kindness” and “Co-Exist” bumper sticker folks flipping off people and exhibiting road rage. Seriously. People are not so different regardless of the religion they claim as their own.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post, Clay. It gave my closet theologian a chance to come out and play.

  7. Thanks for those thoughts Piper. You always make me think. I’m sorry you grew up in that environment. I can relate. Some people were hellbent on fire and brimstone for so long, and they somehow missed all the parts about love and hope and DON’T JUDGE OTHERS.

    It’s interesting to think of Christianity as a movement. Again, like you say, what does that word even mean. We all have many different ideas in our minds. It’s challenging to block out 2000 years of people’s ideas and just see a clear foundation of the man it was named after. If we think of impacting others as ministry, then I like what my old boss used to say, that ministry is what happens in our wake as we follow God.

    And you’re right about Jesus narrowing everything down to simple (though not easy) basics. He took every law in history and summed them up with 1) Love God w/ everything in you and 2) Love others as you love yourself. It’s hard to truly live for others, no doubt about it.

    So true that we have so often tried to “own” God. Ridiculous. We put him into boxes that make sense to us, but He’s not there because, well, He’s God. I just heard a great talk by Donald Miller called Free Market Jesus. It’s on YouTube and covers the history of the church and how we’ve done that for centuries.

    Oh Piper, the interesting conversations we could have on just about every topic under the sun. Someday!

    • I believe we will, Clay, because you convinced me in your blog a long time ago that Pittsburgh might actually be a cool place to visit. 🙂

      Thanks for the tip about Free Market Jesus. I’ll check it out.

      • No need to apologize, Piper. Your closet theologian is welcome here anytime. 🙂 Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I read that part about Ghandi in a biography about him. So much food for thought here. I read your reply a little while ago and have been ruminating about your statement that people can’t own God. You’re so right. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard it put so plainly. Thanks for taking time to join the conversation and for giving me lots to ponder. When you come to Pittsburgh, I want to see you too!

  8. It’s writing like this that makes Clay one of my favorite bloggers. At our church we refer to Christians as Christ Followers for the exact reasons that you are talking about. As a Christian I want to live a life that screams what I’m for way louder than what I’m against.

    • He’s one of my favorite bloggers, too. I like what you said here: “I want to live a life that screams what I’m for way louder than what I’m against.” It is for freedom that Christ set us free!

  9. Man- I can totally get on board with this analogy. I’ve yet to meet someone who’s had a positive perspective on the occupy crowd, or who hasn’t been so turned off by their antics that they even cared about what they stood for. I think the parallel here is strong, in that we as Christians have left plenty people indifferent to what we actually believe due to already being turned off by our approach.
    Lot’s of great thoughts in here, thanks!
    Fave quote of the post : “Communism? Yeah, that always works out like super duper.” (That whole paragraph was great.)

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