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Probe Ministries > Probe Staff Blogs Posts & Commentaries > Byron Barlowe Blog Posts > Occupy Wall Street: Discerning Not Dismissing

Occupy Wall Street: Discerning Not Dismissing Print E-mail
Byron Barlowe

Written by Byron Barlowe

Nov. 18, 2011

Occupation is the big new thing. The social motions and explosions got bigger this week. While I believe it's a misguided, unrealistic exercise overall, I want to caution myself and likeminded observers from dismissing the protesters, but for reasons that go beyond politics.

News coverage of city governments kicking hapless demonstrators out of municipal parks implies that the very oppression they so vaguely protest is being wielded against them. Meanwhile, conservatives (many Christians included) call out the movement as insular, selfish, self-defeating and pointless. One called protesters idiots. Many characterize them as rehashed hippies of the 1960s. Yet some look like average American middle-classers. It all raises some trite as well as some profound questions.

Should individual Christ-followers welcome or even join in the universal decrying of greed, corporate participation in (entanglement?) with government, perceived favoritism and lobbying? Perhaps this is a chance to join in calling for social justice. Or maybe it's time to call out sloppy thinking and irresponsibility—or both.

That's a judgment call for each believer. But whether we join in, give modified ascent, or critique, we're called to biblical discernment. The Apostle Paul, writing to the church members at Philippi, said he prayed that they would "grow yet more and more" in God-given super-knowledge and discriminating spiritual discernment so that they might remain pure and ultimately give God glory. Paul wanted his charges to grow up. I'm concerned that well-meaning people of biblical faith not be drawn into unthinking responses either way; that is, let's be grown up even if we are sure the occupiers aren't.

Here are some thoughts as I read about the protests continuing to unfold in city parks and streets across the U.S. and Canada:

Why not seek as much common ground as possible with protesters and their sympathizers online and elsewhere? Joining them in common cause would be another matter, but empathizing with their angst over the brokenness of life and mankind (and our own brokenness) is a good way to relate human to human. And it might open up opportunities to minister like the interaction being sought by some Christ followers who are reaching out to occupiers in Los Angeles. Case McCarty and Charles Wang believe the protesters' focus on social and economic restructuring is misdirected... It's a group of people who are sick and tired of what the government has promised them and of being lied to... They're at a place where we all were before we became Christians...where Jesus [met] us. So they may not be finding much to agree on with protesters politically, but they are seeking to offer hope. That's redemptive.

Occupy Wall Street Day of Action And showing up with the gospel (and food) creates a counterbalance to the message of Hare Krishna and other religions taking full advantage at the ad hoc occupation villages. One Krishna evangelist said of Dallas occupiers, "They're trying to make the world a better place to live. But the real solution comes from changing yourself inside." Now there's a message to be countered with from a biblical worldview, which states that change must come from without, by redemption and a total rebirth through salvation in Christ.

However, I'm not advocating a closed-eyed viewpoint that shrinks from conflict with bad thinking in the service of "just giving them Jesus." Sometimes the most loving and effective thing to do is challenge another person's beliefs. Take the software developer and protester who provides updates on protests to his cohorts in Dallas. He stated, The people we're going against aren't going to give up their power easily. It's going to take time. But, a blogger at Summit Ministries asks, at what point is your cause illegitimate because you use what you rally against? Isn't it hypocritical for OWS protesters to use the products of 'big business' to get their message out: social media, smartphones, Adbusters [Canadian anti-capitalist protest group that originated the Occupy movement], brand name tents, camping supplies? Would tearing down our system solve the problems you censure? How? What is your plan? On what basis do you think it would benefit us? How effective and how moral have plans based on your ideas been before?

Teach-ins, ad hoc lecture sessions, figure into many protest groups. One taught on economics and sustainability, dealing with such in-depth topics as the monetary system, cyclical consumption, planned obsolescence, fiscal manipulation and the need to move to a resource-based economy. Impressive. Whatever his worldview, he got this correct, and I know because it is a truism across our culture—including born-again emerging adults: The movement needs more education, 'not just protesting' (Dallas Morning News, 11-9-11). If anything is painfully obvious, it's the lack of knowledge, insight, and life experience of most protesters, many of whom seem like young 20-somethings. I find this teach-in effort refreshing, albeit likely coming from a tilted political angle. Where are the conservative, biblical ones? Anybody willing to give it a go downtown?

Another point of contact with worldview thinking: in constructing new little societies complete with policing, sanitation, and food services, protesters are quickly discovering that governance takes more than pious platitudes and wishful thinking. Could it be that the very freedoms of speech and assembly being fully exploited by resident protesters, the right to redress of grievances and rule of law being appealed to, is at the root of the Judeo-Christian worldview which fumes are fast fading in the post-Christian West? It's as if protests are heavily populated with collections of ungrateful trust fund kids complaining that the world doesn't spin their way. Most Americans and Canadians have no inkling the centuries of thought, trial and error, refinement, blood, sweat and tears that went into creating the culture they rebel against. Literally for many, their life experience, curtailed by overprotected childhoods followed by myopic, secular educations and a moonscape of job opportunities, offers them little to no reality from which to compare or appreciate. I stand by that stereotype.

I thought this was a momentary phenomenon, but I'm really growing concerned if this represents a long-term social statement: defecating on police cars, pausing at Occupy San Diego for a moment of silence for the White House and the man who shot a bullet into its wall as if there is some kind of moral equivalency, gross ignorance of all kinds (yes, ignorance is normative across the board, but the collective cluelessness reported even by liberal news sources vs. any informed, coherent message represents a new low). Again, we all need to take social justice to heart. But that message is obscured by the methods.

It's not really the movement we need to take seriously as much as the deep needs groaning within all people made in God's image. Occupiers included. That's where biblical Christians, discerning Christ followers need to stand above the fray—both of the baser elements of the protests and the snarky responses and potshots we religious folks are so prone to mete out. That vast majority of people muddling through the "dailyness" of life need perspective. A seasoned Christian worldview offers grace with truth.

Like Jesus did.


Thoughtful questions for Occupiers at Summit Ministries' Rapid Responses

About the Author

Byron BarloweByron Barlowe is a research associate and Web coordinator with Probe Ministries. He earned a B.S. in Communications at Appalachian State University in gorgeous Boone, N.C. Byron served 20 years with Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC), eight years as editor and Webmaster of a major scholarly publishing site, Leadership University ( In that role, he oversaw several sub-sites, including the Online Faculty Offices of Drs. William Lane Craig and William Dembski. His wife, Dianne, served 25 years with CCC and now homeschools their teenage triplets.

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