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Rev. Jennifer Butler

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The Golden Calf and Occupy Wall Street

Posted: 10/13/11 11:03 PM ET

As the #OccupyWallStreet movement continues to flourish as a national symbol of outrage at economic injustice and inequality, faith leaders are bringing a new dimension to the demonstrations in New York. I'm an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister, and I traveled to Wall Street last weekend with a lay Catholic friend dedicated to fighting for economic justice. Our other passenger was an inanimate object that spoke volumes -- a statue of a golden calf -- a powerful symbol of idolatry in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.

On Sunday, we joined hundreds of people for an interfaith worship service at Judson Memorial Church and march to reflect on the condemnation of greed throughout Scripture. The calf was displayed in the sanctuary during worship and carried at the front of our procession through Lower Manhattan. In church and in the streets, the cheers and prayers were overwhelming. Photographers and TV crews flocked to us. Apparently you don't need to know your Exodus to understand a symbol of idolatry.

People know deep down that greed has been idolized for too long in our nation, with disastrous economic and spiritual consequences, and our effort struck that chord. Americans have wised up to the fact that bad actors on Wall Street -- and their servants in Washington -- have segregated a grossly unjust concentration of our nation's wealth in the hands of the people whose recklessness and greed caused our economic collapse. And we know from experience that working hard and playing by the rules doesn't bring the security that it used to. And we're outraged. We recognize a great sin and injustice in our midst.

This awakening has scared the hell out of the defenders of the status quo, and they're going on the attack. Karl Rove calls us "left-wing crazies," and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor described us as a "growing mob" at a recent religious right conference. Turn on Fox News at any time of day and you'll see pundits throwing around terms like "anti-American" and "class warfare."

What they may not realize is that there's no turning back. Not when the nation has realized an unjust truth. Not when the inspiring and sustaining power of faith is directed toward building a more just economic order. We're not going to forget what we've seen and go back to our homes and our churches like none of this ever happened. We finally, truly understand that greed really is a pervasive sinful force that must be confronted, not a necessary thing that leads to prosperity.

The faith community's movement for economic justice didn't start in Zuccotti Park in September. In addition to overcoming Jim Crow, Martin Luther King Jr. worked to end poverty for people of all races in all places. Since the Tea Party has taken over Washington, we've organized to protect the poor and the vulnerable from immoral budget cuts and confronted politicians who pay lip service to the Gospel but pursue an economic agenda inspired by Ayn Rand. We're working to hold predatory banks accountable, not only on Wall Street, but in cities across the country.

Scripture is replete with examples of people backsliding into sin after progressing toward righteousness. It would be foolish to believe that we are ushering in a golden age free of greed. But the occupiers are helping to end the era in which it is celebrated and rewarded with obscene wealth and power. And it's fitting that the faith community is part of it.