St Francis and the Wall Street Protest?

John Couretas has a provocative essay on the Wall Street protests and how some Christians have misunderstood the protest and, more importantly, the protesters.

On the Sojourners blog, Shane Claiborne marks the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi by absurdly wondering if “he’d be on Wall Street protesting today.” … Claiborne gets me to wondering: What would the Wall Street rabble demanding an end to the market economy make of St Francis and his deep devotion to orthodox Christian belief (he was one of those dogmatic Roman Catholics, don’t you know?), and all that involves? (Read the rest here.)

First let me say, I share the frustrations expressed by the protesters even if I don’t share in the way they are expressing that frustration.

Injustice on Wall Street doesn’t surprise me anymore than it surprises me anywhere else. We live after all in a fallen world. What would surprise me on Wall Street (or anywhere else for that matter) would be perfect justice and again because we live in a fallen world.  While it is relatively easy to find injustice, correcting it is difficult and often only hit or miss. Having followed the story for a while now, I am not confident that the protesters bring much to the table besides frustration. Given this I suspect that any corrections they might offer would be more likely to make matters worse not only morally but economically.

For example, Occupy Wall Street (“the unofficial de facto online resource for the ongoing protests happening on Wall Street”) lists among its other demands free college education for all. I’m all in favor of education but if this demand is any indication the protesters have confused entitlements and human rights. This kind of confusion is also, in part, of why the economy is in the state it’s in.

More worrying, their confusion is also a recipe for social unrest and violence. At least in theory, we are on solid ground when we use force to defend human rights. But it is never morally acceptable to do so for an entitlement. Unfortunately the protesters in their confusion with the rights of all to pursue an education with an education paid for by the State, the protesters have (however unintentionally) opened the door to civil unrest and even violence.

This isn’t to say that I think violence is likely. I’m only arguing that the protesters are confused morally as to their own goals. It is in this light that I wonder WWSFD (What Would St Francis Do)? Can Francis bring any moral clarity to the protests?

While the saint from Assisi might reject the market economy (though I’m not sure history supports this), he would do so in way very different from what the protesters have done. St Francis embraced poverty for himself and he invited those who would be his followers to do likewise. Together they renounced not only a life of privilege but even the ordinary joys of marriage and family life.  And they also accept abuse and mistreatment at the hands the powerful and the weak alike.

And all this they did to preach Christ and Him crucified.

Again, like many both here and overseas, I sympathize with the protesters. There is a crying need to bring our economic life more in line with the Gospel. What Christians typically disagree about is not should our economic life be in harmony with the Gospel but the practical details of making this so.

In any event, comparing the protesters to St Francis is worse than factually wrong. It is mere flattery and it wrongly absolves them, and us, of doing the hard work needed to help bring our economic lives into an ever greater harmony with the Gospel.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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  • Servant

    When I read this and similar articles, I am reminded of the following:

    “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”It
    is disheartening to see the Church keep its distance from these
    protests, lending neither real opposition nor support to a movement against greed, materialism, and selfishness. It is true that some of the protesters are led astray. Does this not mean that they are in need of leaders?There are millions without medical care, in poverty, and with crippling debt, all the while our Government spends billions on wars and providing the wealthiest with comfort, stability and safety never experienced by the vast majority of this country.We would do well to pick a side, and remember the words of Christ:’Depart from me, you who are
    cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you
    did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after
    me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
    or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help
    you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’May Christ be with you always.

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    • Fr Gregory Jensen

      To be sure Servant, the US and indeed all the nations of the world are facing a grave economic situation. But your own comments here are simply unhelpful.

      Am I wrong in thinking you want the Church to side with OWS protesters? If so, you need to make that argument and simply toss around a few biblical citations that you have taken out of context.

      The first quote, from Revelations, pertains not to economic public policy but the necessity for a wholehearted commitment to Christ. On this score, I suspect many of the protesters would resent being told that a virtuous society that cares for the weak and the marginalized requires a virtuous citizenry–men and women who have repented of their own sinfulness and committed themselves to Christ.

      The second quote, from St Matthew, while it doesn’t exclude governmental action in aiding the poor, speaks to the Christian’s personal, and hence private, obligation to care for those in need. There is I fear a bitter irony in your citing this passage. Recent policy decisions by the Obama administration have served to increasingly marginalized those Christians who don’t agree with the administration’s views on human sexuality. The Catholic Church, for example, is increasingly not allowed to help place children for adoption because the administration demands that they place children with same-sex couples.

      Likewise, proposed Health and Human Services regulations will require ALL employers to pay for artificial contraception and abortion services as part of their health insurance coverage for their employees. There is simply no reason to do this except to marginalize (or compromise) religious based employers.

      The practical effect of all this is that religious based charities are being forced out the market by the federal government because of a difference in moral vision. It is more than a little ironic that one of the groups that the government is favoring over churches is also one of the best educated, wealthy groups in America. I am referring here to homosexuals.

      You are welcome to your views. However while there is an essential moral dimension to your concerns, it seems to me that you equate prudential disagreement with sin. There are Christians, myself included, who share your concerns but are skeptical of the solutions being offered by those on the political left. I don’t think the government should be about the business of picking economic winners and losers and I think this not simply because doing so is unjust but also because it is fraught with practical difficulties. Holding this opinion does not—contrary to what you seem to imply—put me in opposition to Christ.

      Finally, you (and others) who are concerned about the issues raised by the OWS protesters might want to look at the Poverty Cure Project launched by the Acton Institute. You can find it here

      In Christ,


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      • William Habing

        We must all love. When God’s children are oppressed the question is not so much who they are, or why they are, but maybe………………………………….. how can I help?

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