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Prophets, Not Profits: An Organizer's Reflection on Occupy Wall Street

111019_occupyWS
Photo by _PaulS_ on Flickr

On Friday, October 7, I took a stroll downtown to see the “Occupy Wall Street” protest that has been going on for a couple weeks now. I was impressed with what I saw and took a couple of pictures. I uploaded one to Facebook only the message that I had stopped by to see the protest (I neither stated my support or opposition for the event). However, I was impressed by the comments the photo received -- both positive and negative. Obviously something big is happening here and it is generating some strong feelings.

It would be hard for me to describe this movement because of the broad diversity of positions and issues among its members. I could embrace some of their positions, while others made me uncomfortable. However, I recognize the importance of the core critique that this movement is offering, which resonates with my own concern for the political future of this nation and politicians' positions on poverty and hunger policies.

These past two years have seen the rise of the Tea Party and anti-government positions. Along the way there have been some concerns regarding Wall Street and the inequality of the American economy, but as far as policies go, the only development has been a request for fewer taxes and less government regulations (both policies that are usually pro-big business). This past year saw the Supreme Court passing the “Citizen’s United” case that gave further power to corporations and big business by granting them easier access to influencing politics through finances. In the eyes of many who have been critical of Wall Street, this development was alarming.

From what I could see, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement consists of people fed up with the great economic imbalance in our society, which will only widen further due to the threat of budget cuts to basic social services for poor people and low-income communities as part of the deficit reduction plan. Instead, we should be placing a circle of protection around programs that benefit poor people.

On Sunday, October 9, a group of faith-based leaders came down to Wall Street with a golden calf to symbolize the state of national idolatry that many people are witnessing. (Watch the video of this here.) The idol is an ancient one: money. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus cautions us to always beware of this false idol and to be critical of an orientation to wealth over policies of justice for all people. In various Christian traditions, many churches have warned against the idolatry of wealth and profit. In the Catholic tradition we were reminded by the current pope that, “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.”

Rev. David Beckmann reminds us of the prophetic tradition and how the words of the prophets (not profits) ought to be critically heard-- especially on economic issues such as the plan to reduce the deficit. Rev. Beckmann tells us in his most recent book, Exodus from Hunger, “The Prophets repeatedly insisted that the way to national security and prosperity was to worship the real God and to establish justice for the poor and needy people.

However you decide to categorize the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, take this opportunity to reflect on our national economic policies from the perspective of our faith and raise your concerns about our unsustainable idolatry of wealth.

John-GonzalezJohn Gonzalez is a regional organizer for Bread for the World serving New York.

 

 

 

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