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My Christian Faith and Why I Support the Occupy Movement
What Does Christianity Have to Do with Occupy?
What I read in comments on political sites and social networking sites about the Occupy movement makes my hair curl. "Dirty, smelly hippies." "Violent anarchists who want to overthrow the government." "You got your trophy for participation, now go home." "You don't have the right to inconvenience people." And, in one case, "Pepper-spray them until their eyeballs melt." And that's just the comments on the so-called "liberal" sites. When I see these kinds of comments, my soul recoils in horror at the hate, spite, and other emotions expressed.
In my case, my Christian faith is intimately tied up with my participation in the Occupy movement. This merging of what I feel is my duty as a Christian and the fight for social justice has come about not suddenly, but over a matter of many months, and many hours of reflection on what being a Christian means. Now I have been able to distill this merging process into four discrete steps, and at long last can begin to explain my position, and why I feel that all Christians must turn into Occupiers.
Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself
What are we, as Christians, commanded to do? The answer is in the Bible: In Leviticus 19:17-18, we read, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD."
And this is repeated by Christ, in Matthew 22:34-40, "But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
And this same story, told by Matthew, is repeated twice more in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. And so we see that even from the time of the Old Testament, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. What does commandment to love your neighbor as yourself mean? For me, it means, I look at my own situation. Do I have enough to eat? Does my neighbor? Do I have a roof over my head? Does my neighbor? Do I have a job? Does my neighbor? And if I am better off than my neighbor, how am I to demonstrate my love for him, other than by doing everything I can to lift him up until she or he is equal to myself?
How Do We Love Our Neighbor? And Who is Our Neighbor?
Just who is our neighbor that we are supposed to love, and how are we supposed to love them? Again, the Bible makes this clear in Matthew 5:38-48. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
One of the verses I find particularly interesting is the mention of the lawsuit. In this litigious age, if the courts judge you wrong, as a Christian, you are to add to the judgment of the wronged person voluntarily!
And so, if you are reading this and looking down on the Occupy people, and yet calling yourself a Christian, if you are one of the Christians driving by shouting, "Get a job!" then you are not living as Christ commanded us. It is precisely those people who don't deserve it, who are lazy, who want everything handed to them, that we are supposed to love, if we want to set ourselves apart as Christians! (Note: my experience with Occupy teaches me that by and large, Occupiers are hard-working, reasonable people from every walk of life. Sure, there are some bad apples, but even those we are commanded to love more!) We are commanded by Christ to love the very people we ought to despise, given our sinful nature.
Two Parables Show Us How to Love Our Neighbor, and Who Our Neighbor Is
How do we show our love for our neighbors, and especially seek out the people who do not, in our estimation, deserve it? I hear so many people who proclaim to be Christian defending themselves by saying that they help deserving people. Again, there is no honor in helping the deserving. It is only in helping the undeserving that we experience real Christianity, so what do we do? Christ, again, gives us numerous examples in the parable of the good Samaritan (very often overlooked is that the Samaritan was the ancestral enemy), and the parable of the sheep and the goats, wherein we are warned that if we proclaim to be Christians, and yet do not minister to the poor and needy (Christ specifically mentions "the least," not "the most deserving"), then when we encounter God, God will tell us "I never knew you"!
It was recently my very great pleasure and honor to meet and talk with the esteemed Liberation theologist, Dr. Joerg Rieger, Wendland-Cook Professor of Constructive Theology at Perkins School of Theology, SMU. It is thanks to my discussion with Dr. Rieger that I was able to clarify so simply exactly how I came to the decision to lend my support to the Occupy movement.
Can We Be Christians if We Do Not Love Our Neighbor?
And that leads me into the next logical step in my Christian faith and how my Christian faith gives me no choice but to support the Occupy movement. For in 1 John 4: 19-20, we read: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also."
Get that? If we do not love those here on earth, the ones who don't deserve it, and yet claim to be Christians, we are liars. There are no punches pulled here. There's no way to weasel out of what we should do as Christians. There is no way for us to say, "Yes, but . . .". There remains only the difficult, and sometimes heart-wrenching choice to put aside our prejudices and engage with the Occupiers that are fighting for social justice, and throw our lot in with theirs. We must work tirelessly, here on earth, to raise every single person we encounter to our level, most especially the undeserving. Any other choice cannot be Christian.
Many people proclaim that the U.S. is a "Christian nation." However, it is clear, from the advice given by the successful to "work hard, save, make smart choices" and the "succeed or die" mentality shown by those who have achieved success in the capitalist system, that while there may be lip service given to Christianity where it seems convenient (read "in line with the status quo, or an imagined past status quo"), the inconvenient tasks of loving the undeserving, the poor, the disadvantaged–in short, our neighbors–is rarely lived up to. I don't believe the U.S. is a Christian nation, but if you believe it, then you had better start walking the walk. Otherwise you may be in for a very unpleasant surprise sooner than you think.