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.
- The Life of St. Francis (What Propelled Him?) (benjaminvineyard.com)
- [Video] Anonymous – Occupy Wall Street on September 17 – youtube (dars0357.wordpress.com)
- Will Today’s Massive Occupy Wall Street March Lead to Massive Arrests? [Occupy Wall Street] (gawker.com)
- Are The Occupy Wall Street Protests A Harbinger? (themoderatevoice.com)