In recent days, protests highlighting social and economic disparity have sprung up. Although the first of these gatherings took place in New York near Wall Street, many other demonstrations have followed in different cities around the nation. While I was in DC last weekend a protest ended with the arrest of several protestors, including a prominent professor, who were not following local ordinances. Though the goal of these protests is rather hard to nail down, the main cry from the protestors seems to center on standing against corporate greed and the concentration of wealth. This is communicated by their repetition of the phrase “we are the 99 percent” – that is they are not part of the top 1 percent of wage earners. Recently I have been trying to think Christianly about this movement, and I have reached three primary conclusions:

Firstly, we must recognize that the Bible has a lot to say about money, and a much of what it says is cautionary. Perhaps the most well known biblical passage about money is found in First Timothy 6:10. Here we are told that “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils…”(ESV) This verse continues by explaining that pursuing money instead of pursuing God can only result in pain. Being content with what one has is also advocated a few verses earlier.

During his earthly ministry Jesus spoke often about money. He encourages people to pay their taxes (Matt 22:21), commends a woman who gave all the money she had to God (Mark 12:41), and encourages people to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to those in need (Luke 12:33, Mark 10:21). He also comments “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23 ESV), teaching us that physical prosperity can often mask spiritual poverty.

We would also be wise to note that the primary way Jesus sought to change the status quo was not through economic or governmental means but through the spiritual transformation of individuals. When asked a trapping question about paying taxes (to a government which was massively corrupt), Jesus did not challenge the system, but instead encouraged people to give what they owed to government – and to God (Matt 22:21). While there is certainly Scriptural precedent for pursuing change through political action, this was not the primary method of Christ during this earthly ministry. Whenever we seek to use government to achieve some social or moral aim, we must remember that political “easy fixes” are not capable of changing the hearts of the people involved. The main issue I take with many in the Occupy Movement is that they seem to believe that government not God is the real answer to the problem of corporate greed.

We see the monetary consequence of spiritual change in the life of Zacchaeus, a corrupt tax collector who encountered Christ. After he admitted his sin, this man gave half of his possessions to the poor and offered to repay those he had exploited by with four times the money he had stolen from them. (Think how this principal might be applied in situations of corporate greed today!) Likewise, the true spiritual condition of one rich young man was made apparent by his unwillingness to part with his possessions when Christ asked him to sell what he owned and follow Him (Mark 10:17-31).

We are left with the undeniable impression in Scripture that a Christian belief system should fundamentally change the way we gain, view, and use our money. While many people see obtaining physical wealth as their primary goal in life, Christians must see things differently. Believers in Christ are called to put the interests of God’s kingdom above the pursuit of wealth (Matt 6:33). Christ speaks of wealth not as an end in itself but as a physical means to accomplish spiritual good. Those who place the accumulation of wealth over spiritual health will ultimately feel the devastating effects of spiritual poverty (Luke 12:21).

The second thing worth noting about the Occupy Movement is that they correctly acknowledge economic and societal issues as being moral in nature. People are being exploited in many different ways in our society today, and that is wrong. Often the desires of corporate America run contrary to what is actually right in God’s eyes. People are devalued as profits are obtained, and moral beliefs become flexible as we idolize the bottom-line. Capitalism without a conscience is a dangerous system that inevitably leads to abusing people in pursuit of monetary gain.

So are capitalistic ideals then inherently opposed to Christian morality? Some would suggest this, but I contend that one can exercise Christian morality within almost any system. It also depends how you define capitalism. If capitalism means the pursuit of wealth over all else, yes that is wrong. Capitalism can only work well when it is undergirded by a moral foundation. Where morality is non-existent, capitalism will fail, and we need look no farther than the CNN website to see evidence of this in our world today.

Whenever possible, we are called to avoid financially burdening those around us (2 Thes 3:6-15). Laziness and irresponsibility are just as sinful as hoarding wealth or exploiting others economically. This passage calls all of us to work hard and earn a living, and that is possible under a morally grounded capitalistic system.

Although I might not be sympathetic to particular claims of some in this movement who argue that everyone has a right to a certain type of healthcare, or a free college education, or a particular wage, they are correct in proclaiming the value of an individual over the profits of a company. Christian executives must live out their Christian morality in their positions, and when they do this business climates will inevitably change.

I am also concerned that some in the Occupy Movement fail to understand what makes something right or wrong. Our understanding of morality must be deeper than “this is what feels right to me”. It is exactly this attitude on morality that leads to the exploitation of individuals by those with money and power. Our understanding of morality must be based in the character of God, not in our personal opinions.

When we look at the heart of God displayed in Scripture, it is undeniable that he cares for the sick and disadvantaged. In fact, a lack of concern for the poor is cited as a reason why God judged the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Ezekiel 16:49). Jesus spent almost his entire earthly ministry being with and meeting the needs of those at the bottom of society. Christians who seek to follow the heart of God will inevitably find themselves serving the same type of people Christ served.

My last comment concerning the Occupy Movement is that we must recognize sin as the real source of society’s problems and remember that sinful patterns exist at every economic level. The wealthy are repeatedly criticized in Scripture when they abuse others and refuse to accept the authority of God in their lives. James reminds his audience of this in chapter two of his epistle: “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you” (2:6 NIV). Jesus himself tells a story in which a rich man who ignored the needs of a beggar endures the judgment of God in the afterlife (Luke 16:19-31). The rich certainly don’t get a pass from God. In fact those blessed with wealth have a greater responsibility to use it wisely. The Occupy Movement has done a great job pointing out many of the wrongs done by those who are wealthy. We would be foolish however to believe that sin is restricted to the top one percent of wage earners.

It is easy for us as people to point to someone else as the cause of our problems. We see this happening in Genesis three when after sinning for the first time Adam and Eve each blame someone else for their failure. While it may be easy to look at the “rich” as the bad guys, we must remember that sin influences the thought patterns of the poor just as much as it does the rich. Being rich does not automatically make someone more moral, and neither does being poor. For people on either side of the financial spectrum, demonizing the other group is not the best way to achieve economic equality. Class warfare is antithetical to Christian worship. The sinful heart of man, not the concentration of wealth is the main problem we face in our society today.

The rich are not as evil and the poor as not as noble as some in the Occupy Movement might claim. The non-rich are not immune to the sins of greed, envy, or covetousness. Whenever money becomes the focus of our lives it is always a problem, no matter how much we have. It is possible to serve money and possessions even when we have very little. The problem is not how much we have but what we worship. We as people are designed to worship something, and human beings at all income levels can be equally guilty of worshiping money and possessions. Christ illustrates this point for us. When Jesus was asked to intervene in a situation where two brothers were disputing over an inheritance, Jesus did not make a judgment favoring either the brother with the money or the brother without the money. Instead he cautioned them both about the dangers of greed (Luke 12:13-15).

God calls us all to sacrifice for those who are in need, and he has called some who are wealthy to liquidate all they have toward this end. I do not believe that he calls everyone who is wealthy to do this, however. Though some wealthy people hoard their wealth, I know many who do not. I have been personally blessed by individuals with great means. I attended a Christian school for ministry, and because of generous donations to my school, I received an excellent education and was able to begin my life in vocational ministry debt free. My undergraduate education was paid for by donations from individuals – many of whom are in the top 1 percent of wage owners. I also know several wealthy individuals who live off a fraction of what they earn and give the majority of their money away. Much good has been accomplished through the large gifts of the rich. Jesus himself was buried in a tomb donated by a wealthy man (Matt 27:2).

As we have seen, the cause of greed and economic disparity is not money itself but rather the sinful heart of man. God’s heart breaks for the 100 percent. Each of us, whether we are rich or poor is in desperate need of salvation from the sin that corrupts our hearts. My hope is that the Occupy Movement would cause us all to examine our own hearts and see if our attitude toward wealth and the disadvantaged is reflective of Christ’s attitude in these matters. While identity politics separates us into the categories of rich and poor, the Bible paints for us a very different picture: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). May this spiritual unity drive Christians everywhere to a greater concern for those around us, regardless of their economic status.

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