Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Occupy Movement Needs A Prophetic Church

In many ways, Jesus was alone in his mission to a confused and rebellious world. Even his own disciples did not understand his purpose. Jesus provided guidance and direction for his disciples; but he himself had no one to rely upon except his Father(1). Jesus had none of the advantages we enjoy today. As the pioneer of our faith, he blazed all the trails for us, showing us his new Way.

Since Pentecost, when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to unite and guide us, we have been able to draw on the shared wisdom, faithfulness and experience of the Church - the community of faithful believers in the world. While no longer physically with us, Jesus is present in our midst.

Weeks of intense involvement in Occupy DC have reminded me of my own need of his presence. Just as Jesus withdrew on a regular basis for prayer, I have been careful to make space for time alone with God. I seek to continously wait on the Holy Spirit to direct my steps throughout the day. But I know that I am not as strong as Jesus was. I need more than solitary prayer - I need the support of Christian community.

The Occupation is a broad movement that brings together individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, faiths and worldviews. The goals of the movement are couched in largely secular terms, and decisions are typically made based on human wisdom rather than a search for God's guidance.

It would be easy to lose perspective in such an environment. I could easily start believing that I am in the streets to promote "democracy," demonize the rich, or oppose capitalism. In order to stay grounded in the Truth, I need help from the community of disciples here in DC. The Church and our witness need to be the primary reference point in my life.

There are many Christians involved in Occupy DC - I discover more all the time. Nevertheless, the overall culture and worldview of the Occupy movement is a lowest-common-denominator, generally left-wing set of assumptions. So far, almost all of the discourse at Occupy DC has been about "restoring democracy," "building power," or the plight of "the 99%." I have not heard anyone - including the folks whom I know are Christians - talking about the Kingdom of God and Jesus' mission to liberate the poor and oppressed.

I pray that the Body of Christ might rise up - not only through the hidden faithfulness of thousands of individual Christians, but also through the explicit engagement of our local congregations and denominational bodies. I, and the countless other individual Christians who are already engaged in this movement need the support and guidance of the rest of the Body of Christ.

How long will we as the Church take refuge in our respectable Sunday services and lukewarm sermonizing? How long will the Church wait before we have the courage to risk our comfort in this struggle for justice? What will it take to unleash the prophetic voice of the people of God?


1. For a good example of Jesus' isolation and reliance on his Father, see Matthew 26:36-46


Simon said...

I'm thinking this echoes the Levellers / Quakers interactions of the 1650s...

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Micah, I think a genuinely Christian movement would be speaking about saving both the poor and the rich from the relationship which is destroying both, and in which they are both mired. That would be a significantly different message from what I’ve been seeing coming out of OWS so far — different, not in the sense of offering compromise (Obama’s mistake), but in the sense of inviting the rich as well as the poor.

To Simon — I am curious what interactions you are referring to. The Leveller movement was all washed up by 1650, while Friends did not become a significant national movement until after that date. I had been under the impression that the major Quaker/Leveller interaction was simply one of disillusioned former Levellers embracing Quakerism. What am I missing?

Micah Bales said...

@Marshall: Quite right! That's why I hope the Church (that's us!) will not remain aloof from this movement, but instead commit ourselves to proclaiming the gospel in this midst of this wave of social unrest.

If you haven't already, I hope you'll consider visiting Occupy Omaha.

Anonymous said...

Hey Micah,
As kind of a history dork, my concern with the whole political climate right now is that it seems to strikingly resemble what Germany had in the 1920s and 30s, which was a not-very-well organized left comprised of well-meaning communists and anarchists and a VERY well-organized bunch of right-wing nationalists, both of whom were kind of vaguely angry about the economy and the job situation. If the Occupy movement is to gain any real traction, they are going to have to come up with a unified plan and a list of attainable demands, else they're going to keep being characterized as a bunch of neo-hippies angry that they can't pay off their student loans. I mean, what do they expect those jerks on Wall Street to do, cut them a personal check? Perhaps as you suggest, Quakers or some such "prophetic" Christian group could offer a more grounded perspective and some kind of real explanation as to what should happen next.

Micah Bales said...

@Ben: I definitely hope that we are not entering into an authoritarian phase in our history like Germany experienced in the 1930s. I see some similarities, but there are also some pretty big differences, too.

Have you been out to an occupation yet? There are so many people who have opinions on this whole thing based on what the corporate media is telling them. I'd encourage you to go out and experience the movement for yourself.

There are definitely some "neo-hippies" who are along for the ride, but most of the people involved here in Occupy DC are ordinary folks (most of whom have full-time jobs). We're not looking for a hand out; rather, we're seeking a more just and compassionate society - one in which the wealthiest few don't have the power to steer our planet into horrific wars, ecological devastation and widespread poverty.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't mean to imply that we're necessarily headed for some kind of doomsday authoritarian scenario. I also hope for "a more just and compassionate society - one in which the wealthiest few don't have the power to steer our planet into horrific wars, ecological devastation and widespread poverty." I get it, and my hat's off to the Occupy people for irritating the economic establishment. I'd like to believe that with enough people showing up, these kids will be able to usher in such an era through sheer numbers. But my cynicism won't allow me to believe that the structure of the corporate world will be changed that easily. We live in a world, As you know(or you wouldn't be occupying Washington), in which not only were the evil people who destroyed our country in 2007/2008 not punished, they were REWARDED. Are a bunch of disaffected 20/30-something liberals going to change that? As to your question, no I have not taken part in the occupation, but I have observed it firsthand. The er ... occupiers (occupants?) I came in contact with were very cool people, and I largely agreed with them, but those I encountered absolutely fit the stereotype of the well-meaning liberal college graduate who wants to "stick it to the man," but who actually has mommy and daddy to fall back on if things fall apart. I hate to be a pessimist, but I think we are just going to have to hold on until the whole thing comes crashing down around us- it is moving too fast to stop just because people with no corporate or political power want it to. I am beginning to believe that "living locally," as people have been telling me for awhile, really is the only way to affect any lasting change.

Unknown said...

Simon I'm thinking it echoes the True-Levellers/Diggers and the activism of Gerrard Winstanley who was buried a Quaker ...
The True Levellers Standard Advanced: Or, The State of Community Opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men:

"A Declaration to the Powers of England, and to all the Powers of the World, shewing the Cause why the Common People of England have begun, and gives Consent to Digge up, Manure, and Sow Corn upon George-Hill in Surrey; by those that have Subscribed, and thousands more that gives Consent.

In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Man, the lord that was to govern this Creation; for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds, and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, That one branch of mankind should rule over another.

And the Reason is this, Every single man, Male and Female, is a perfect Creature of himself; and the same Spirit that made the Globe, dwels in man to govern the Globe; so that the flesh of man being subject to Reason, his Maker, hath him to be his Teacher and Ruler within himself, therefore needs not run abroad after any Teacher and Ruler without him, for he needs not that any man should teach him, for the same Anoynting that ruled in the Son of man, teacheth him all things." (1649)

Wayne Anson said...

Micah, I have continued to follow you daily though I seldom comment or reply.

The heart of this post is - I believe - the heart of God for the American Church.

RantWoman said...

To me prophetic witness means centering one's life in God and spiritual witness and laboring equally with the complacent in one's own community and the spiritually hungry, deprived, broken who are causing the problems. That means both love and clarity in both cases.

In the Light

Anonymous said...

I find myself agreeing very much that this movement definitely needs some explicit spiritual content, although I'm not sure either whether it's going to get any, nor aware of what we're called to do, if anything, towards calling people's attention to that foundation.

As one of that people in scorn called "hippies," I'm wondering just what a "neo-hippie" would be, and why their influence would be such a bad thing. (?)

That movement that eventually became called "hippies" (though Stephen Gaskin more correctly called his followers "beats") was a genuine mass religious revelation, to a mixed multitude of people who'd been socialized to fit into a respectable society of an utterly sterile secular mentality-- but instead found ourselves experiencing the immanent presence of God.

Some of us were more explicit and outspoken about it than others, but that was what was holding us together.

Nobody in the media-- whether seeking to detract or merely to exploit the movement-- wanted to consider that we were experiencing anything real. Any more than the respectable 17th Century English opponents of the Quakers wanted to. "If this goes on, they'll overturn society," that was the bottom line, in both cases.

I cut off most of my hair in the late 80's, when a couple of long-haired scumbags came in to my store to steal some books-- and I said to myself, "If this is what long hair means these days, I don't think I want any." So if that's what you mean by "neo-hippie" I might understand. But to my first impression view, it sounds like ignorant prejudice... (?)


Anonymous said...

I would never use the word "hippie" purely in scorn- my folks certainly qualified, and at one time I would have classified myself as such. But the '60s generation, not unlike the early Quakers (I know I will raise some ire with this assertion) eventually rolled back their more radical ideas in order to stay afloat in society, leading to the materialism of the 1970s and '80s. Just as Fox reigned in the Naylors of his world, so Steve Jobs, et al. reigned in the radicals of his own generation. If that doesn't happen this time, that will be the greatest thing I've ever heard about. I'm just not holding my breath.

Jay T. said...


Is there a public presence of prayer at Occupy DC? Some time where those interested gather to pray together for the movement and its people?

Micah Bales said...

@Jay: There have been times of prayer, but so far no regular schedule has emerged. I would love to participate in such an effort, but it feels like we haven't yet gathered a critical mass of "out" Christians.


Valerie said...

I have been put off by the "us vs them" message of Occupy DC, and also the kind of dangerous "kill the rich" mentality that makes me feel uncomfortable. There are some other, darker messages that I have read about as well. As Marshall says, where is the sense of inviting all - even the rich - to participate in this. I do think tremendous damage has been done in the collusion btwn the banks and the government of both the Bush and Obama administrations. But as a middle aged Quaker who has worked very hard in a tough town, including being a young single mom in a large DC firm (the only female attorney with children as recently as 1996),I'm not real happy with people trying to shame me now with my success. (yes, I'm near but not in the awful 1%) Consider that the adjusted gross income for a family to be in the top 1% is about $343,000 which is undoubtedly very comfortable for a family in DC but not crazy rich. These uninvited "others" represent 1.4 million households earning about 17% of the nation's income and paying roughly 37% of its income tax. I've also noted that Quaker history in the 18th and 19th century reveals very successful business leaders who were certainly not adverse to great profits.
I will walk down the street this week and talk with the protesters, as you suggest, Micah. I would like to be supportive but it seems from the outside as somewhat dysfunctional and eager to find scapegoats, but politically partisan and clearly opposed to rest any of the blame on the current administration despite its action and inaction.

Micah Bales said...

@Valerie: I'm really glad that you're going to visit the Occupation and check it out for yourself. From what you said, I take it you're in DC. I will be out at McPherson Square today, if you'd like to meet up and talk through some of this stuff.

While there are definitely people out here with a wide variety of opinions, I feel safe saying that the vast majority of us are not in an "us-versus-them" mindset. If anything, this movement is about bringing together folks from all walks of life, inviting ordinary Americans to share their hopes, fears and dreams, and to seek together a more just and loving future as a country.

Furthermore, I would point out that most of us at Occupy DC are not big fans of President Obama, or any political party. Far from being a partisan rally, this movement represents a call for national repentance and change of heart.