Like every liberal activist and preacher's son, I have arch-conservative family members who don't agree with my philosophies, whom I see every year on the holidays. This year, Occupiers have nothing to worry about. When that uncomfortable conversation starts at the dinner table, we can appeal to their religious upbringing this year and be fully justified.
Jesus was the first Occupier. Think about it.
He was an unshaven, sandal-clad vagrant who claimed no permanent address, fed thousands in public spaces, spoke against economic inequality and materialism, and was firmly committed to peace and nonviolence. The only documented act of violence Jesus committed was overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple, accusing them of turning a house of prayer into "a den of thieves," even chasing them out with a whip. And he's still venerated as the holiest, most perfect human being to ever walk the Earth.
James W. McCarty III's excellent piece in The Christian Century points out the fact that Jesus Christ was killed by the state for threatening the socio-economic structure of the Roman Empire. Jesus built a nonviolent movement that inspired the empire's subjects to question the very nature of the system's structure, exposing the hypocrisy of the religious ruling class. He preached not of violent rebellion, but of structural changes that would make society more equal. He even reminded followers who asked him about denying the payment of taxes to "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar."
Our movement, while filled with religious and non-religious activists alike, nonetheless espouses the same fundamental philosophies of Jesus in the Gospels.
At a time when 42 percent of all financial wealth is controlled by the top 1 percent; when 400 Americans control more wealth than 155,000,000 other Americans; when billionaire financiers who wrecked the economic well-being of millions for pure profit get off scot-free and have the audacity to sit in country clubs and call the people protesting them "imbeciles," a nonviolent movement has risen to decry those acts of greed as unjust and immoral. While none of us are perfect, sinless human beings like Jesus, we still have the same message. We aren't calling for violent insurrection, but fundamental structural changes to the way society has been built.
When the rich man asked Jesus how he could find salvation, he was told to give away all of his possessions and follow him. Our solutions aren't as radical: Occupiers have no problem with people attaining wealth, as long as that wealth wasn't attained by denying a fair wage to their employees or blowing millions on high-risk financial shell games that rook honest people out of their pensions.
Instead, we're proposing common-sense reforms, like removing corporate money from elections and instituting public campaign financing. We're demanding the return of a tax burden tilted toward the super-rich, instead of the poor and middle class. We want an end to a system that rewards and encourages reckless greed, unsustainable growth and endless profits for a few, done on the backs of the many.
The mainstream media, owned by the same corporations that have made their billions in financial finagling of the tax code, loves to ridicule and marginalize our movement. Fox commentators call us unwashed radicals and vagrants, drifters with a hatred and envy of the wealthy. If Jesus were alive today, the talking heads on Fox News would undoubtedly play video footage of his attack on the money changers while accusing him of being a violent, radical religious cleric who hates capitalism. Just as today's right-wing political commentators cheer the violent police crackdowns of nonviolent protesters at Occupy encampments, they would also likely cheer the crucifixion of Jesus, a rebellious socialist who dared to question the inequalities and injustices of Roman society.
So don't fret this year, Occupiers. Truth, facts and even Scripture are all on our side.
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