How Should the Church Interact with the Occupy Movement?

…it is incumbent upon the Saints … to be in the world but not of it, … using the things of this world in the manner designed of God, that the places where they occupy may shine as Zion, the redeemed of the Lord. Condensed from Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants 128:8b, 8c.

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers den.” Matthew 21:12-16.

“It’s time to invite the Occupy Movement to church!” says Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who this week called for the creation of a “church sanctuary for the Occupy Movement.

The Sojourners blog God’s Politics also recently published a “Confession“, in which the author Sheri Ellwood says she has “noticed many individual Christians expressing support, but little public support for the movement from the Christian community as a whole.” This is certainly true within the Community of Christ — a quick search of the church website, the Facebook discussion group, the church’s young adult blog and the church’s official blog reveals … absolutely no discussion of the Occupy Movement at all!

Now, despite the church having “Abolish Poverty, End Suffering” as one of its five key “Mission Initiatives”, I hadn’t expected much from the church. But nothing? Not even a dismissive — “that’s not the way to go about effecting change”? Not even a critique of the language of ‘occupying’ as opposed to ‘decolonizing’ or ‘liberating‘? How can the church be so incredibly out of touch with the economic and political reality in country in which they are headquartered? Indeed, there has been no lack of discussions among Christians about the movement, even some of the Community of Christ’s cousins out in Utah have been more proactive about discussing what the Occupy Movement means. There is even an Occupy Missouri contingent.

Am I the only one who thinks the desire of the Occupy Movement to establish communal encampments, sharing things in common, using consensus decisionmaking and considering how to discern paths to a more just and equitable society has interesting resonances with the Community of Christ’s historical theology of building Zion — building ‘kingdom of heaven’ in the here and now?

I think it might be worth republishing here a few “fundamentals and principles” someone back in the Community of Christ’s earlier history claimed would “foster and promote” a new “religious social order:”

Remembering the welfare of fellow-men, especially the unfortunate and poor.

The distribution of surplus wealth according to the law of need.

The determination of just wants.

The fair exchange of commodities.

Each to have his inheritance (private possessions).

Every man to have opportunity to make the contribution in consonance with his talents.

The condemnation of the rich who gather for personal gain, the exaltation of the poor and humble who with contrition refrain from exploitation of others’ goods and who labor with their own hands.

The equality which comes from the operation of the law of needs.

Who said these things? Some wild-eyed unwashed hippie or grumpy unreconstructed Old Leftie? Nope, Frederick M. Smith, the church’s Depression-era president, speaking in similarly troubled economic times in America. Ironically, you won’t find them on the Community of Christ’s website, but rather on that of the Remnant Church, a conservative group that split off from the Community of Christ.
Do we need an Occupy CofC Movement? 
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12 comments on “How Should the Church Interact with the Occupy Movement?

  1. sheyne benedict says:

    You’re not alone in feeling this way. I’ve had many conversations with other members of our faith community who are also looking at the overlaps between the OWS movement and CofC. Our Enduring Principles and Mission Initiatives fit beautifully with many of the concerns and ideas within the OWS movement. Occupy CofC is and an awesome idea!

  2. Rachel C. says:

    Matthew,

    I’m surprised that you’re surprised that you’ve heard nothing “official” from the Community of Christ. I know that you know what I’m about to tell you, but our history of leadership or official positions on anything specific, rather than just ideals, is nonexistent. I know that you understand the post-Nauvoo history of the church, where decentralized self-governance was how congregations that became reorganized operated, and that after the reorganization, JSIII, “the pragmatic prophet,” instead of taking stands on the civil war (and service in war in general,) baptism of the dead and the book of Abraham, let people decide for themselves, and rebaptism and the book of Abraham usage died out naturally. You also know that church involvement in and positions on political issues(with the exemption of polygamy) was also avoided, perhaps because of how the Nauvoo experiment ended.

    I also want to remind you that here in Missouri, the Split is still painful, and still separates families, and that was about the equality of women in our own church, in the 1980s, far behind the times! Any changes or declared positions on issues since then have been quieter and slow, (to me at least), and I remember there was a great deal of anxiety about how the church would respond to name-change. Name-change, instead of substantive issues that profoundly impact people’s day-to-day lives.

    You know that I’ve recently had an interesting opportunity to see how the institutional church thinks about politics, and about how it views U.S. congregations. I find that there is a great deal of anxiety about alienating our more liberal and our more conservative members, I got the feeling that the institutional church feels that we are quite fragile, and not up to having any real discussion or dialogue, that we’re not strong enough to face up to conflict within our own community, let alone the outside community. (Anxieties about the outside community are more understandable as until recently the extermination order was still on the books, and we’ve until recently had uneasy relationships with other denominations.) We also have the problem of being an international church, which means that political issues are more charged, and issues from nuclear weapons to LGBTQ priesthood often have international consequences.

    I also spent time recently with a faith community that also had decentralized decision-making structures, yet were able to take courageous stands on almost anything, not just individually, but collectively. I found it to be very frustrating, to return to my own community on Sundays and not see anything resembling that. I know that I have spoken to many young adults about the issues that frustrate them about the church, and a lack of leadership consistently comes up. I know that I have lost, and will soon lose the religious fellowship of many good friends over our Church’s fear of LGBTQ issues, and those of my friends who remain often say, with dark humor, “We just have to wait for enough old people to die.” Which seems to be the way that the institutional church operates, move cautiously, and hope that a decision will be made by default. Unfortunately, for a great deal of my friends, they don’t have 40 years to wait, and have joined faith movements with greater courage and leadership.

    I’m afraid Matthew, that we don’t need an Occupy Wall Street movement in CofC, or any movement really, because that’s just not who we are.

  3. Rachel C. says:

    I want to amend my comments because I believe that they make me sound unhappier than I am.

    Part of the institutional church’s problem with entropy is structural. We only meet every three years, and have a very limited number of people, who as other articles have indicated are not really representative of the constituency, and a very limited amount of time to debate and overcome language and cultural barriers at world conference. The institutional church can only act on or speak to issues that have been approved at conference. That means that the church cannot be as responsive to issues as we’d like, and there are huge transaction costs involved in making any decision.

    This is why I think the U.S. conference and other regional conferences will be a pretty big deal in the way we are able to respond to the needs of congregations everywhere.

    So, something to consider.

  4. Kathy S. says:

    Hello, Everyone:
    I admit that taking stands on peace and justice issues has, in the past, been difficult for Community of Christ. I see new signs of hope that we will be more agile and timely going forward. Locally, Community of Christ is on the board of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. At church today I shared a statement of support for Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Seattle, now posted on our bulletin board. No one complained. It’s a start. The statement pointed out that the gospel of Jesus was very concerned about economic and power inequities.

  5. Robert L L says:

    …an historical review of the RLDS/Community of Christ ‘polity/policy’ suggests it has always encouraged individual stewardship over government/community/social issues. Perhaps the only exception being during the administration of President F. M. Smith. It seems this might be following the same pattern found when we search for the ‘creed’ of the church. Rather than showing a lack of institutional leaderships’ lack of intestinal fortitude; it may be expressing our foundational and historical principles in an honest and forthright manner. Members of the church are encouraged to be strong witnesses in their discipleship; not expecting to be ‘commanded in all things’ but to do much of their own accord. In much the same way that we do not expect the church to endorse political candidates we do not expect the church to tell us how to think or which ‘movements’ to participate in and support.

    May we all continue in our discipleship formation and give strong expression to the gospel of the Christ. ….shalom

  6. […] Saints Herald The Center Place of the Community of Christ Bloggitorium « How Should the Church Interact with the Occupy Movement? […]

  7. mattfrizzell says:

    Matt B,

    I’m late to the party. Thanks for this post. I, myself, have been occupied. :-) I’ve been very occupied by the demands of my recent job change, an out-of-state move, a new situation at Graceland, and its impact on my family.

    I think you are observing what is the norm in the Community of Christ. Political and economic positions are historically left to the individual. The individual is really the only legitimate domain of political positioning and economic decisions in the church. As you know, this is the bedrock of classical liberalism, whether in conservative and progressive forms.

    As a result, there is implicit (and sometimes explicit) pressure to temper controversial political and religious issues in the church. The unspoken moral norms of the middle class culture in the church is to respect another person’s opinion, religious convictions, and comfort level. Furthermore, this is done in a negative way in the church. The principles of community, love, and respect often mean withholding political opinions and tempering uncomfortable discourse to fit the lowest threshold in fear that others will object or leave. While the political economics of the Occupy movement may be meaningful and navigable for you, me, and others, the emotional content of these issues overall is, itself, repelling for many people. I believe the politics of protest are more complicated and difficult today than in the past.

    Part of what’s been difficult for the Occupy movement is its vagueness, as you state in your video. Of course, that doesn’t justify the inaction and silence you rightfully note in the church. But clarity is important for getting through the politics of protest surrounding these issues, whether from right or left. I agree with earlier comments that the Restorationist split has left its imprint on the U.S. Community of Christ. In many ways, it’s reinforced the repressive culture of personal protest and controversy I describe above. There is extraordinary pressure to have legitimate authority in the church if you are going to take a political or economic position that makes others uncomfortable. While minority voices often seem the loudest, I maintain the most fearful and deafening sound in the church remains the sound of feet — walking away.

    I lament these realities. They deeply trouble me. I absolutely believe these norms are the symptom and cause of the church’s ongoing decline in the U.S.

    You quote excellent biblical and Doctrine & Covenants scriptures that can wake up the U.S. church. But, I think the church’s increasing dependency on the financial sectors of global markets and its class of benefactors make it difficult for church’s politics to change.

    I remain prayerful….and hopeful.

    Matt Frizzell

  8. […] you think Community of Christ clergy should join the Occupy Movement? How should the church more generally interact with the Occupy Movement? GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  9. Rick C. says:

    Here’s what I think we can learn most from the Occupy Movement:
    When you have a people that truly believe in themselves and their ability to make things better, they don’t need to look to leaders to take action – they’ll be the leaders themselves and will be characterized by action, not talk.

    I believe the central problem the Community of Christ has is not lack of leadership, but lack of self-confidence. Our culture is one of constantly looking to the leadership to solve the problem of a shrinking church.
    Our members need to recognize that it’s not about solving the problems of a shrinking institution. Instead, they need to recognize how they can be the blessing and can provide the solutions that those in their communities need.

    Steve Veazey can give a good sermon, but that doesn’t minister to the homeless. He can bring revelation to the church, but that won’t eliminate the undue influence of corporations in the U.S. government. The leadership can come out with a new way of articulating our message and identity, but that wont cause anyone’s life to be transformed.

    The thing that will make these things happen is ordinary people recognizing the power that God has blessed them with to be a powerful blessing to other people and to creation. When you see things that way, leadership is almost irrelevant. All they can do is hope to influence and motivate us (and frankly, I think they generally do a poor of motivating – would the church be in the situation it is if it were otherwise?).

    It is up to us to do something, to get out there and share the ministry of Christ – and the only thing stopping us from doing it is ourselves.

    It’s time to stop blaming others. The Community of Christ is shrinking because we’re not growing it. The Community of Christ is ministering to fewer people because we, as members are not ministering to anyone outside of the walls of the church.

    We need to stop hiding. We’re better than that. We’re awesome.

    Let’s Occupy the Community of Christ by being the leaders ourselves, instead of waiting for guidance from above. I think we’ll find that, as the Occupy Movement has, we’ll get a lot more done.

  10. Rick C. says:

    On church stances vs individual stances:

    Yes we have traditionally allowed people to make up their own minds on things, and make their own decisions on participations in movements…
    HOWEVER the lack of discussion and action from individual Community of Christ members on not only the Occupy movement, but the issues they have been raising has, in my opinion, been alarming. I’ve had to defend the Occupy movement from more Community of Christ members than I’ve heard actively supporting them.

    What does this say about our attitude toward peace?

    Here’s what I think.
    Our culture is that we are comfortable with peace when it is talked about in vague, mostly spiritual terms. But the moment you start talking about concrete issues and stepping out and doing something about them, many of our INDIVIDUALS start feeling uncomfortable. – Even when the Bible’s response to the issue is clear.

    I suspect some of this stems from the culture of the leadership. If our leaders are uncomfortable taking a stand, then our members will be to – and we will fail to uphold the Gospel.

  11. Kathy S. says:

    Great discussion. I’m mentioning the Occupy Movement in the context of the Christmas story in my preaching today. Not because of the posts, but they do bolster my resolve. . . Thanks for keeping the discussion going. I agree with the need to focus on directly helping others outside our walls, and our need to stop hiding and have self-confidence in who we are. PRAXIS!

  12. […] How Should the Church Interact with the Occupy Movement? […]

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