Jon Hatch on the Occupy Wall Street Movement

image “If a bunch of tents appeared in front of our church, our first words might not be, ‘you are trespassing; we’re phoning the police’, but might be, ‘In the name of the risen Christ, welcome; how do we make this work?”

That’s a question posed this week by Jon Hatch in the Church of Ireland Gazette (16 December), which features his front-page story on the ‘Occupy’ movement’s priorities.

Hatch’s article is based on a talk he delivered recently for The Churches in Ireland’s Church in Society Forum.

Hatch is a doctoral candidate where I work, the Irish School of Ecumenics. He has also been a resource developer for groups like Corrymeela and the Irish Peace Centres.

When the Occupy movement’s London protest settled down at St Paul’s, I couldn’t help but think it was the perfect location for the protesters to tap into Jesus’ radical message about challenging the rich who unjustly oppress the poor.

Apart from the Pharisees (the self-righteous religious virtuosos of their day), Jesus was most critical of the rich who rigged the rules of the economic game so that the poor stayed poor and the rich and powerful got ever more rich and more powerful.

I’ve been disappointed by the difficulties that the Church of England has had in accommodating the protesters, especially when I see so many resonances between their message and Jesus’ intensely political messages about economic injustice.

I recommend you get your hands on a copy of the Gazette to read the full story (or subscribe online for just £20 per year).

Hatch’s article offers a short explanation of the Occupy movement’s claims, followed by some theological reflection on what ‘a rigorous, public theology might look like in the midst of the Occupy movement.’

Hatch says Occupy’s four claims are:

  • Democracy is eroding
  • The ‘rules’ don’t apply equally to everyone
  • Global markets exert too much power over people’s lives
  • The situation is getting worse, not better

To conclude, I’ll quote quite liberally from Hatch’s theological reflection, which I think provides some valuable insights:

First … God identifies himself as deeply concerned with justice, peace and equitable economies (Proverbs 11:1; Hosea 12:7; Amos 8:5).

In a world where some lives seem more valuable than others, the people of faith can unequivocally declare the absolute, basic, intrinsic value of every human in the eyes of God. We can say this in a very unique way and we need to be saying it as publicly as possible, at every opportunity. It literally underpins everything else we believe.

Second … the people of faith begin from a place that affirms that all ‘space’ is God’s; there is no place that he does not already occupy (Psalm 24:1; Psalm 139: 7-12) and we are his stewards …

Third … neither the State nor the markets have any rights over life and death. Neither has the right to devastate livelihood and ruin economies. We must not bow or make the sacrifices they demand. This was the witness of the earliest martyrs of our faith.

Lastly, there is hope. We must always and everywhere, as Christ did, proclaim as publicly and as openly as possible the good news of the Kingdom of God: life, equity, peace, justice, freedom and generosity.’

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