At Occupy Wall Street, God is in the air

HENNY RAY ABRAMS AP A coalition of clergy carried a “False Idol” to the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti … Continued



A coalition of clergy carried a “False Idol” to the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011 in New York. Having started in New York, Occupy Wall Streets demonstrations now take place all across the United States, as protesters speak out against corporate greed and the gap between the rich and the poor.

Over the past few weeks, I have traveled both to “Liberty Plaza” to see for myself the young people “occupying” Wall Street and to Abu Dhabi to meet with CEO’s and business leaders at a World Economic Forum summit. While the two forums couldn’t have been more different, I was surprised to find that the heart of their concerns were the same. Both groups believe that our current governmental and economic systems are broken and that change will require both structural and moral overhaul.

In both places, it seemed that God was in the air. Side conversations with orthodox Jews and Presbyterians at Abu Dhabi indicated that religion is being listened to and reflected upon in the midst of this economic crisis. I could tell many stories now (but I won’t) of CEO’s coming to talk privately, like Nicodemus at night in the Gospel story, to privately confess the sins of their industry. And then, stories of young people who think they have rejected religion but talk fondly about Jesus and how he might be with them in the park, overturning the money changers tables and preaching a better way of life. In particular, there were questions in both places about the concept put forward in the Hebrew Scriptures of the “Jubilee” where, periodically, debts were to be forgiven, slaves set free, and land returned to its original owners for the purpose of countering great inequities. Young student economics majors and middle-aged MBA professors, who are also lay church leaders, were equally interested in this “biblical economics.”

Traveling to “Liberty Plaza” and meeting the young people of Occupy Wall Street conjured up many old feelings. I remembered four decades ago, when I was a young protestor and found myself in the middle of a movement. Each night, the activities of students were on the evening news and we started to realize the power and responsibility of being able to put 10,000 people in the streets in a few hours time. Most of all, I recall the energy of feeling that you were at the center of a national and even global conversation. You grow up quickly.

The conversations I had with the young “occupiers” were both serious and thoughtful. Of course, they have ideas of concrete things that should and could change. But they are not reducing their occupation to a series of demands as some observers are asking for. Theirs is more a cry from the heart, from the soulof the nation over things that have gone very wrong. And that is often the role of a new generation, to articulate the things that others are feeling but are not able or free enough to express.

They represent a cry against an economic inequity that has grown to become greater than any time since the Great Depression, when things also came apart. My favorite sign of my visit said, “Democracy: Too Big to Fail.” Their message is really and mostly about that-the hunger for democracy to mean something again up against a market that is neither free nor fair, but rather rigged on behalf of the most wealthy and powerful. “We are the 99 percent” has become their rallying chant deliberately designed to challenge and trouble the one percent who seem now to control far too much.

A few days later I was in Abu Dhabi, for a meeting of the World Economic Forum, with about the same number of people who were in “Liberty Plaza”. The business leaders (and the handful of religious leaders that attended) were in agreement that we have an economy that is unfair, unsustainable, unstable and making a growing number of people unhappy. Those four “uns” kept coming up whether the discussants slept on feather beds in five star hotels or underneath tarps on the cement in Lower Manhattan. Everybody seemed to know or concede that some important things have gone bad and we can’t just keep doing what we have been and going in the same direction.

The economists and CEO’s in the Emirates were keenly interested in what the citizen economists of Occupy Wall Street were thinking; even if they found it a little unnerving and even annoying. My role in this elite economic salon, in the most surreal of exotic locations, was to chair a Council on Values and Decision-Making. And the discussion in the equally surreal encampment on the pavement in the financial district was also about values and how we might decide things in better ways.

I continue to find it a little surprising and even funny that the practitioners of the global economy have turned to some leaders from the faith community to carry on a dialogue with business and politics about the meaning and goal of a “moral economy” (their language). And, similarly, in a decidedly secular environment of “20 somethings” at the Occupation it was quite astounding to see (from last Sunday), pictures of a procession of people holding up a paper machete golden calf; but after a closer look–a golden bull! On the side were the words “A False Idol.” And it was even more amazing to hear people walking alongside the human train actually chanting the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount! I can’t remember ever hearing even Christians chanting the Beatitudes in their churches!

The words to the old song from my earlier days of protest came to mind during my two trips last week: Something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. It may not yet be clear, but it sure is fascinating.

Jim Wallis
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  • ccnl1

    Follow the money trail (top 10%?) when it comes to likes of Jim Wallis, Billy Graham, Glenn Beck, Franklin Graham, Eboo Patel et al.
    e.g. –

    “In July 2010, Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of WORLD magazine, wrote that Sojourners accepted money from George Soros, who has financed groups supporting abortion and atheism.[6] Jim Wallis responded as follows: “It’s not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living. I’m sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing. No, we don’t receive money from Soros.” Wallis later admitted that Sojourners had, in fact, accepted funds from Soros’ Open Society Institute. Wallis stated that the funds made up “the tiniest fraction of Sojourner’s funding during that decade–so small that I hadn’t remembered them.”[6] The grants from the Open Society Institute totaled $275,000 from 2004 to 2007.[7] Wallis apologized to Olasky for his comments about him. Jay Richards wrote that Sojourners had received $2.2 million from various foundation grants from 2003 to 2009, including the Tides Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Wallace Global Fund, and the Streisand Foundation.”

    Maybe the Sojourners aka Jim Wallis will sponsor AIDs research with some of their funding? No donations to AIDs support were listed on their IRS Form 990. But what do we find on the Sojourners aka Jim Wallis’ IRS Form 990 (

    Jim Wallis is paid $351,140/yr which includes benefits and speaking honoraria for doing things like giving BO grief about AIDs funding. They/he also have/has ~$1 million invested in the stock and bond market. (A million dollars for AIDS support in Africa would be great.) Again Mr. Wallis/Sojourners pays no taxes on the dividends, interest or capital gains on these investments.

    And Mr. Wallis has the audacity to complain about the overpaid executives on Wall Street !!!!

  • jec1ny

    “I can’t remember ever hearing even Christians chanting the Beatitudes in their churches! ”

    You obviously have never been to an Orthodox divine liturgy. We chant the beatitudes every Sunday.

  • Casfuel90

    The solution cannot be to turn to religious leaders whose answer is to divide the world into separate moral communities based upon precepts obtained from a voice in a whirlwind, or book that was written in an era when a wheelbarrow would have been a wonderous new technology.

    Tolerance of this kind of moral nonsense leads to relativism, which is failing humanity.

    We need moral precepts grounded in our shared reality, untethered from unprovable, untestable statements of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo.

    Science has answers about what adversely affects human well-being.

    And well-being, as fully and openly and searchingly as we can define it, is what we ought to value in this world.

  • quiensabe

    Discerning God’s presence, Jim, is truly a gift. Since you believe you are a devine representative to the elite, you should also be aware that anyone can chant the Beatitudes, even those at OWS. That in itself doesn’t mean Jesus is the author of or involved in the movement.

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    Jesus is not involved in any movement. Only his name. The man died two thousand years ago.

  • quiensabe

    Yes, but He arose from His grave!

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    No he didn’t quiensabe, prove it without resorting to a book that tells you he did. That’s why it is called faith, there is no need for proof in faith. Your insistence that Jesus supports your political views is just as much a fantasy as Jim Wallis’.

  • quiensabe

    I didn’t say Jesus supports my political view. I don’t, however, think He’s behind OWS either.

  • quiensabe

    And, as far as Him rising from the grave, ezrasalias-socialize, I’m not bound to prove it to you. You should read the other posts against my positions. They demand proof that He even existed much less died and rose from the dead. It appears you are not with the current trend in Christian Bashing. Your’re making a tinkling brass sound!

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    quiensabe; No you don’t have to prove it, so then I don’t have to accept it, or have tax payers support it (through faith-based initiatives, creationism or ‘in god we trust’ in schools etc.

    As for Jesus, I don’t have a problem with the man or the chance that he existed. He was an advocate for the sick, poor and the down trodden, I can admire that. But he is not a messiah, or a god, just a radical for his time, who tried to change the inequalities of his era. That is what the OWS is all about.

    I don’t like it when anybody assumes they own the thoughts of the dead, we can only build from the great things they have done. They certainly are not perfect.

  • quiensabe

    Had Jesus, ezrasalias-socialize, tried to change the inequalities of his era He would have done what the Zealots wanted Him to do which was overthrow Rome. Because He came to reveal the One True God, as the Messiah, it angered Judas, a political Zealot, to the point of betrayal. If OWS had the power Jesus did but choose not to use, then thier leaders would be gods themselves. You don’t change inequalities by committing crimes in the streets.

    You don’t have to dislike me for assuming the thoughts of the dead…my thoughts are of The LIving God, Jesus Christ. Why should I expect anything else from scoffers like you? Jesus said they will hate me because they hate Him. It’s not me you dispise, it’s Him. That proves He’s who He said He was, doesn’t it?

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    Most of the OWS protesters are law abiding; as are the Tea Party supporters. The press enjoys the shenanigans of the minority for it is good for ratings. The viewer then pins it onto the majority. We must refrain from such a rush to judgement.

    I did not say I disliked you. You assume I do because you’re a theist and I am an atheist. I am sure you and I could have quite a robust and gentle conversation in person. It is easy to make comments in anonymity.

    It is a falsehood that all atheists hate religion and its adherents. I will concede that Christians do have their atheist detractors and vice versa. But I don’t hate Jesus (as I have shown in my earlier comment), and I don’t hate you. Why would I despise Jesus?

    Your last sentence does not prove anything at all, and makes no sense. Your belief is yours to own, and it would be wrong of me to tell you that you can’t. This does not mean I cannot defend my own position with intellectual honesty, even if it might offend the person hearing it.

  • quiensabe

    Well, I generally receive offensive rebuttals to my posts as a conservative and especially if they resemble a Conservative Christian view. You present yourself as intellectually honest so you are aware of growing anti-Christian bias in the world today. That was prophesied you know. Much of what Jesus did was prophesied which I have said proves who He was. And those prophesies were made hundreds of years before being fulfilled. That is evidence that He is who He said He was and what He said about Himself was that He was God. Thus, my last sentence.

    Rather than have a robust and gentle conversation where each of us tried to convince the other of our position, why don’t you seek the Lord? He said if you seek Him you will find Him. While I’m not trying to convince you of anything I am interested in others finding the Truth. I suppose that’s why we’re called Evangelists. Would that you had a peace and joy that surpasses understanding. I’m not saying that you are not joyful and peaceful; I’m saying I pray that you have that now and in the life to come.

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    I don’t believe in being offensive with believers, at least not intentionally. Sometimes, being an atheist is already offensive enough to others. I do not wish to provoke any individual who receives comfort and joy in whatever faith they have, that would be disrespectful. But I do have a big problem with religious organizations and politicians telling me that I am evil, or a fool for not believing, and that I am destroying this country. I certainly get very weary when politicians claim that God told them to run for office. Prove it. As I said, I require empirical evidence for such claims of the supernatural, not the suspension of disbelief.

    Many people in the comment strings talk past each other, and it is a sign of the times that people are fractious and distrustful of others not like themselves (but I am sure that has always been the case). I’m sure you know the story of Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus, who was asked by a cynic to recite the whole of the Torah whilst standing on one leg. He said, “Do unto others, as you would have done unto you, the rest is commentary,” and put his leg back down.

    I was never religious, and mostly likely never will be. I will admit that I could be wrong about the supernatural, but as of yet there is not a shred of evidence been brought forward that has convinced me. My creed is much like the agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll’s. He said “Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.”

    I wish you well. See you on the comment strings in the Faith section. I visit often.