Occupy Evangelicalism: Why Evangelicals Aren’t Occupying Wall Street


In an article in the Kansas City Star on Monday it was pointed out that the Occupy Wall Street protest has thus far been mostly secular.  The article reports that while there have been some scattered religiously-inspired protest events, such as the moment “an ecumenical group marched with a golden calf to the camp at Zuccotti Park, turning the Wall Street bull into a biblical symbol of greed and idolatry,” Mark Tooley, of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy summed it up when he says, “I don’t see Occupation having a lot of appeal for the average suburban, evangelical churchgoer.”

One possible reason is that the movement is widely seen as a movement critical of corporations and capitalism, and so, alligned with a socialist agenda.  Evangelicals are more often than not alligned with the Republican Party, which is traditionally seen as having pro-business pro-capitalism values, and so this movement can be construed as a non-Republican sort of movement, and so by that reason, non-evangelical.  What is interesting to challenge that sense that this is a democratic-leaning movement is some of the recent suggestions that the Occupy Wall Street movement join forces with the Tea Party movement.  Both movements seem to be a bit amorphus and organic, without absolutely clear agendas, but with enough general goals in common that they might find solidarity together. 

There is also the fact that the movement is generally seen as a criticism of the establishment, and since the church is part of the establishment (it is a longstanding institution) perhaps the anti-establishment feel of the movement makes it feel anti-church and so, anti-Christian.   But it seems to me that Christians are currently as frustrated with many aspects of the current establishment (government, corporate misdeeds, etc) and that it isn’t really true that Christians are, on the whole, completely happy with the status quo of the establishment as it stands.

Another suggestion from the Kansas City article was that “It may also be a reflection of wariness on the part of churches to ally themselves with a movement that is not clearly defined and is more than a little scruffy around the edges.”  Certainly prudence would warn one against identifying with a movement which is without clear leadership, purpose and vision, but again, this has not kept many evangelicals from identifying with the tea party movement, and in fact there seem to be some pretty clear agenda items being promoted by the Occupy Wall Street movement as of late.

Again, it may just be the simple fact that people like Michael Moore have identified with the OWS protest that many evangelicals who don’t agree with Moores political views don’t want to allign with a movement he identifies with, even if they are sympathetic to some of the desires and aims of the movement.

In a book which came out about 10 years ago, Christian Smith made some claims about evangelicals which, if true, could help explain why evangelicals might not tend to support the OWS protests.  He said that in their desire to evangelize, evangelicals tend to not be as concerned with society-transformnative agendas, as that political involvement may undermine evangelism efforts.  Their focus is on converting souls, not transforming culture, more often than not.  But second, many evangelicals are insulated enough that they don’t see needs to make them feel society needs a major adjustment:

“This avoidance of boat-rocking unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic forces. It also means that evangelicals’ views to a considerable extent conform to the socioeconomic conditions of their time. Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity.”

Perhaps it is true that evangelicals tend to support the status quo– except that in recent years many evangelicals have supported fairly anti-establishment movements such as the tea-party movement. 

I do not know for sure why evangelicals aren’t occupying wall street.  I know I’m not because I’m busy doing other things like read and write and get driveways poured, windows installed, and toilets fixed.  Maybe I’m too passive.  I know that I tend towards a sort of quietism– avoiding real-world political activism.  Quietism is defined as “A form of Christian mysticism enjoining passive
contemplation and the beatific annihilation of the will” which probably describes much of my Christian spiritual journey, strangely enough.  “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”– but ask me to risk my financial status or place in society or go out in public and do something to take a stand for or against something– and I’ll likely decline.  Even if its for a good cause.  I mean, I may be willing to write a small check, or help out by praying for you, but…I mean… I’m just not an activist…

So it may be that for some of us, really considering the justice or injustice, accuracy or inaccuracy, or overall importance of getting involved in something like the occupy wall street movement may be out of the question more or less because of inertia, busy-ness with other more mundane issues, and a tendency towards quietism.  I believe those are my main reasons…

May God have mercy on us all…


6 responses to “Occupy Evangelicalism: Why Evangelicals Aren’t Occupying Wall Street

  1. Curious. Well, here are some reasons for Christians to consider becoming involved with, or at least ministering to, the Occupy protesters: http://www.patheos.com/community/mainlineportal/2011/10/14/10-things-christians-should-know-do-about-the-“occupy”-protests/

  2. As a Christian who has been involved in the Occupy movement, I thank you for writing this. The evangelical tendency to stick to the far political right is the reason why I have largely rejected the label.

  3. simplefreechurch

    Thanks Roger, and thanks Dave!

  4. I hope the Evangelical church can do better. You’re right, the real reasons for not getting involved in OWS are often pretty lame – and different from the given reasons. The church is comfortable and basically asleep at the switch. In my opinion, the Occupy Movement is “schooling” the church in a number of ways these days, to her shame. occupyevangelicals.org

  5. Pingback: Dr. King’s Legacy, Evangelicals, and Occupy Wall Street « occupyevangelicals

  6. Rajen Naicker

    Your country and my country South Africa as well as the world need another Martin Luther to rescue us christians from the financially apostate evangelical and established churches that have sold their souls for 30 pieces of silver and have soiled their habits with the sins of Scribes , Pharisees and money changers in the church.Will the new Martin Luther,please kick start his mission by reading Mark Chapter 12 verses 38 to 43.Don’t be afraid,Martin, on your side is the oppressed mighty majority.Go on David.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s