Skip to comments.Theology, justice and Occupy Wall Street
Posted on 11/24/2011 12:34:03 PM PST by AlaskaErik
The Martin Luther King Jr. monument was dedicated recently in Washington, D.C. I was reminded then that the civil rights movement in America was led not by a politician fulfilling campaign promises nor by a popular evangelist bent on saving souls, but by a highly trained theologian who put his theology into practice with a demand for justice for those who had suffered at the hands of the rich and the powerful.
King was a Baptist preacher who took his religion into the arena of racism, economics and social disparity. Hatred caught up with him, and he was killed.
Now half a century later, there is another broad-based protest that is gaining momentum. The Occupy Wall Street protests can no longer be ignored. The significance of this latest public demonstration movement may eventually rival the impact of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. When comparing the two movements, there is one glaring difference. Priests, pastors and clergy of every stripe are conspicuously absent from this modern movement. In the meantime, secular young people are doing the very work that Jesus from Nazareth would urge us to do. The evils that are being protested are real and critical to the well-being of masses of people.
This week religious people are feeling proud of giving turkeys to the poor, when they should be joining in the protests against the haughty rich. I maintain that Jesus would be a part of the actions in Portland, Denver and New York.
The issue of what would Jesus do? is in fact crucial.
Today, Christian theologians and Bible scholars agree that the Jesus trip to Jerusalem at the end of his life is essential to understand what Jesus was about.
Christian tradition has misinformed followers of Jesus about the realities of the trip south to Jerusalem. We have all been exposed to the worship services in which children march waving Palm branches and singing Hosanna. Traditionally, we have called the event the triumphal entry. Put into the political and social context of Jerusalem in the early first century BCE, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was probably more like a protest march that mocked every leader in the city. Leaders would have ridden into town on a prancing horse. It was more street theater than triumphal entry. It triggered a week of confrontations and arguments with the leaders of state and temple.
The key event of the week was the incident in the temple. Once again, church tradition has given us a special name for the incident, the cleansing of the temple. It was more likely another piece of street theater that became a bit physical. To better understand the temple incident, we need to understand the context of the incident. The temple had become a lot more that a temple. It had become a tax collection agency and a bank.
The temple held large sums of money accumulated by collecting tithes from the faithful. (In reality, the tithe was a tax, not a freely given gift to God.) In addition, fees were charged for participation in the temple religious exercises. The temple collected lots of money. With a fat treasury, the temple had entered the banking business and regularly made loans, primarily to poor people. Poor people were the victims not only of a flat tax, but also high-interest loans.
The gap between the haves and the have-nots was growing rapidly. The poor were getting poorer, and the rich were getting richer.
Equity was a key concept in the Israelite tradition. Torah (the law) had very specific rules about systematic redistribution of wealth. Those who controlled the temple operation completely ignored their own religious teachings. The banking operation that had developed was very good to those who controlled the system. Christians believe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world. From the perspective of history, Jesus died because he challenged a banking system that passed itself off as being righteous.
Today, bank buildings are the temples of America. Today, although banks and their controlling officers claim to be upholders of orderly American life, a growing number of people know better.
Recent surveys have asked people who in the banking business do you trust? Credit Unions came out on top, followed by locally controlled banks. Then came regional banks. Large national banks came in dead last.
Christians should thank the current Occupy Wall Street protesters. They are doing our justice work for us. The current crop of national bank leaders are being shown to be just as corrupt as were the temple bankers of Jesus day. If Jesus was walking among us today, he would be moving from Portland, to Los Angeles, to Kansas City, to Dallas, up to Chicago and on to Wall Street in New York City. He would join the protest in every city. He would be demanding an overhaul of our money and banking system. When Jesus pursued the corruption of his own day, they killed him.
And Jesus said to his followers take up your cross and follow me.
The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer. His email address is email@example.com.
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“”The Occupy Wall Street protests can no longer be ignored””
I’m working 5-6 days a week as almost everyone I know is.
This is zer0s game, Im ignoring the whole thing
If Jesus would have started a revolution against banking....THAN WHY DIDN’T HE?
Jesus fought the religiously corrupt...NOT Banks or the Roman powers...
The man’s take on the facts of the gospels betrays his main point.
He says that the anger that Jesus displayed in the temple was street theater.
He’s a fool.
Our Lord’s anger at the moneychangers, as I understand it, was at their defiling a Holy place, not that they were “capitalists.”