[This thoughtful post was written by Jim Craft, in response to the earlier post by Matthew Bolton: “How Should the Church Interact with the Occupy Movement?” — Ed.]
During the last few months, we have been bombarded with images of fellow citizens camped out in public parks around the nation. Most of the attention has focused on a group in Manhattan which is called “Occupy Wall Street”. This group has taken their grievances to the people they feel are responsible for whatever ills society is suffering from today, Wall Street.
What I have noticed is that the message isn’t entirely clear. When the protests first started, I was listening to a broadcast from Dave Ramsey while driving back to my office from a rural courthouse. Mr. Ramsey was having audience members who identified with the Occupy movement call in and explain what and why they were protesting or considering themselves members of this group. There was absolutely no clear consensus among ANY of the callers why they were protesting, other than they were just “mad” about the way things were going for them. Almost none of them could explain the economic injustices they were protesting, or even what they were experiencing.
In America, for 99% of us, we are about two generations from having to struggle for survival every day. We have conquered the most dangerous communicable diseases in the world, have clean drinking water, relatively easy access to healthcare, although paying for that healthcare is an ongoing issue, and an abundance of opportunity to achieve more than what we’re born into. The problem is that we’ve grown into an entitlement society. We believe we are entitled to success and riches just because we’re born here, not because we have to work at it. We believe that it is someone else’s responsibility to make us happy and care for our every basic need. We believe that we are entitled to a job just because we earned a college degree, never mind the fact that we don’t have the talent or passion of our peers in the same position. We have grown dependent on our parents to provide food, shelter, and a phone call to the teacher, coach, or hiring manager to get those good grades, playing time, or that first job.
I have worked for corporations, and now I work as a public servant for a state agency. What disturbs me the most about the Occupy movement is the vilification of the corporation and the people who run those entities. Accusations of greed, robbery, and mistreatment abound at these rallies, and the constant drumbeat of “tax the rich” has grown louder and louder over the last few months. What I think the Occupy movement is missing is the fact that corporations are people too. Corporations are groups of shareholders, managers, and employees who work to maximize the value of that corporation to the shareholders. Most insurance, retirement, and employment income is derived from corporate profits. Most taxable income is derived from that income of employees, retirees, and other investment income. Community of Christ has significant holdings in many of these corporations that have been excoriated by the Occupy movement. Those investment pools help the church keep afloat during lean economic times when tithes are erratic, and they help members and church employees invest wisely for the future. Several thousand church members worldwide are employees of corporations, and they also provide funding for various church ministries, both locally and worldwide, with the fruits of their labor.
So do I think there is a need for an Occupy Community of Christ movement? Yes and no. I believe that we need to facilitate dialog in our community concerning the responsible use of resources, including natural and financial resources. We should also be concerned with the ethical use of corporate power and the consequences of concentrating power within groups that may not have the best interests of their shareholders, or the community as a whole in mind. However, I do believe that in this country and many others the church is organized within, we have been given the freedom and power to chart our own course. We should be equally concerned with personal responsibility for tithing and conservation. We should be concerned with being self-sufficient, debt-free, and willing to support those who need assistance to survive. Many of our members throughout the world are unable to worship or work according to their desires due to government or cultural intrusion. We should not punish success, but celebrate the blessings that can be shared with our community as a whole. We should be mindful of those groups that seek our involvement, and with due diligence lend our respect for the choice to protest an injustice. We should support those who struggle for conscience and understanding, but not those who lend themselves to sound bites and class warfare over dialog and consensus.