Would Jesus Join the Occupy Protests?

In the holiday season, many Christians take pride in helping the poor by donating food and toys but U.S. religious leaders have stayed in the background of challenges to an inequitable economic system, leaving that Jesus work to mostly secular young people of the Occupy movement, the Rev. Howard Bess observes.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

When the Martin Luther King Jr. monument was dedicated recently in Washington DC, I was reminded that the civil rights movement in America was led not by a politician fulfilling campaign promises, nor by a popular evangelist bent on saving souls, but by a highly trained theologian who put his religious teachings into practice with a demand for justice for those who had suffered at the hands of the rich and the powerful.

The Rev. King was a Baptist preacher who took his religion into the arena of racism, economics and social disparity. However, hatred caught up with him, and he was killed.

Martin Luther King Jr. monument in Washington DC

Now, nearly a half century later, there is another broad-based protest that is gaining momentum. The Occupy Wall Street protests echo some of King’s complaints about economic inequality and social injustice and the message can no longer be ignored.

The significance of this latest public protest movement, erupting all over the country, may eventually rival the impact of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, yet when comparing the two movements, there is one glaring difference: priests, pastors and clergy of every stripe are rarely in the forefront of Occupy protests.

Instead, secular young people are doing the very work that Jesus from Nazareth would urge us to do. Just as Jesus condemned the injustices of his own day and overturned the money-changing tables at the Temple the Occupy protesters are challenging how Wall Street bankers and today’s rich and powerful are harming the masses of people.

This week, religious people have felt proud of giving turkeys to the poor, but they should be joining the protests against the haughty rich. I maintain that Jesus would be a part of the actions in Portland, Denver, New York and many other cities. For Christians, the crucial issue should be “what would Jesus do”?

Today, Christian theologians and Bible scholars agree that the Jesus trip to Jerusalem at the end of his life is essential to understand what Jesus was about. Yet, Christian tradition has brainwashed followers of Jesus about the realities of his trip south to Jerusalem. We have all been exposed to the worship services in which children march waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna.”

Traditionally we have called the event “the triumphal entry.” However, put into the political and social context of Jerusalem in the early first century BCE, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was probably more like a protest march that mocked every leader in the city.

Political and religious “leaders” of the day probably would have ridden into town on a prancing horse, certainly not a humble donkey. So, Jesus’s choice of transportation was more street theatre than triumphal entry. It triggered a week of confrontations and arguments with the leaders of state and Temple.

The key event of the week was the incident in the Temple. Once again church tradition has given us a special name for the incident, “the cleansing of the Temple.” But It was more likely another piece of street theatre that became a bit physical.

To better understand the Temple incident, we need to understand its context. The Temple had become a lot more than a religious temple. It had become a tax collection agency and a bank. The Temple held large sums of money accumulated by collecting tithes from the faithful.

In reality, the tithe was a tax, not a freely given gift to God. In addition, fees were charged for participation in the Temple’s religious exercises.  So, the Temple collected lots of money.

With that fat treasury, the Temple had entered the banking business and regularly made loans, primarily to poor people. Poor people were the victims not only of a flat tax, but also high-interest loans. So, the gap between the haves and the have-nots was growing rapidly. The poor were getting poorer, and the rich were getting richer.

Yet, equity was a key concept in the Israelite tradition. Torah (the law) had very specific rules demanding systematic redistribution of wealth. But those who controlled the Temple operation completely ignored their own religious teachings. The banking operation that had developed was very good to those who controlled the system.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world. However, from the perspective of history, Jesus died because he challenged a banking system that passed itself off as being righteous.

Today, bank buildings are the temples of America and the financial industry is a key pillar of an increasingly inequitable economic system. Although banks and their controlling officers claim to be upholders of orderly American life, a growing number of people know better.

Recent surveys have asked people “who in the banking business do you trust?” Credit unions came out on top, followed by locally controlled banks. Then, came regional banks. Large national banks came in dead last.

Christians should thank the current Occupy Wall Street protesters for their message and their activism. They are doing our justice work for us. The current crop of national bank leaders are being shown to be just as corrupt as the Temple bankers were in Jesus’s day.

If Jesus were present among us today, he would be moving from Portland, to Los Angeles, to Kansas City, to Dallas, up to Chicago and on to Wall Street in New York City.  He would join the protest in every city. He would be demanding an overhaul of our financial and banking system. He would be standing with the poor and their allies — and against the rich and their protectors.

When Jesus pursued the corruption of his own day, the representatives of the religious and political status quo killed him. And Jesus said to his followers “take up your cross and follow me.”

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is [email protected].  

32 comments for “Would Jesus Join the Occupy Protests?

  1. Edgar
    December 7, 2011 at 11:29

    No! He would just feel sorry for so many loosers, who belive they are someone just because they make a lot o noise. The occupy people are now history (a bad one at it) we are sick of so many self rightious leftists that can’t seams to undertend that they must work to get the $$$$

  2. Morton Kurzweil
    December 2, 2011 at 17:11

    Don’t blame Jesus, or Moses, or Muhammad , the Buddha, or Lao Tse, or any of the philosophers of ethical behavior.
    Blame the next generations of devotees who used the teachings to develop a political organization for their own aggrandizement. Every religion denies the validity of another and uses every political and military means to destroy others and gain control over people.
    Religion and politics are the same. The religion of politics is the same as the politics of religion. Every sect creates an interpreting caste driven by ambition for authority.
    The definition of God and Jesus was confirmed at Nicea four centuries after internecine conflicts within Christianity found an opportunity to be recognized under Constantine for political purposes.
    Islam was fractured into sects within the second generation of believers with assassinations, vengeance and genocide the history of validation.
    What would Jesus do? He would never trust the “revelations” of self serving politicians.

  3. Bill
    November 30, 2011 at 00:24

    He occupies the heart, and His message is never to bring down, but to lift up. He came to sacrifice Himself for us and when He spoke to others it was to console and draw people to Him, never to participate in social causes involving people who blame or cast judgement on others. When he overturned tables in the temple it was to illustrate the sin of those who use God to help themselves and more…. It appears the author of this article is trying to guilt people who are believers, but those who truly know HIM, understand guilt is gone once Jesus is Occupying the Heart. Any church leader “staying in the background” is allowing free will and constitutional rights to be honored. Jesus is not to be used as some media poker chip. However unforgivable I may feel this is, Jesus Christ, Yahshua Ha Mashiach, is all about forgiveness and salvation and only He can bring true JOY.

  4. Earlaiman
    November 29, 2011 at 19:18

    An even better question is “Would the Prophet (pbuh) have joined the OWS Movement?” Or would he have led it?

  5. Jack Block
    November 28, 2011 at 14:40

    My response to Rev. Bess.
    The question, “What would Jesus do?” is irrelevant and his answers are laced with errors and misinterpretations.
    Jesus lived 2000 years ago. He was born into a Jewish culture, He spoke a different language, His needs were very different, His responsibilities were very different. He lived 2000 years ago. God’s plan for mankind is progressively changing along a time line. Just as the world changed from the time of Adam and Eve to the time of Jesus, so times have changed over the last 2000 years since the time of Jesus. If Jesus lived today, His purpose would still be to provide access to God by grace but the communication would be in the culture of today.
    The description of the temple that Rev. Bess gives is misleading. The synagogues of that day provided a place of worship. The money changers were the “scalpers” at the entrances. Paul often refers to the synagogue as the place where he preached.
    I take strong objection to the claim that Jesus died to save mankind from the “bankers”. I sense a strong commitment to socialism in the article. I would remind Rev. Bess that the charities, the hospitals, yes even the churches are mainly supported by the “heavy givers” who are the movers and shakers in a capitalistic society as we have it in this country. Taxes are there to provide for the amenities of government. We have seen a number of so called socialistic governments fail in the last century.
    I served in the Canadian army and saw a country where the economy was destroyed. I saw what happens to the people when law and order, trust and confidence, motivation and challenge are destroyed. It is horrible.
    I would remind Rev. Bess that Adam and Eve were told that they would have to earn their living by the “sweat of their brow” . They would have to work productively. I wonder how many of the “protesters” and “demonstrators” would respond to an offer to “earn an honest living by productive work.”

  6. Marvin Wagner
    November 27, 2011 at 10:22

    Religion faiths have become corporations. As a result, membership support is dwindling. Perhaps it’s too late. Perhaps man power and knowledge necessary for a reversal is not available. Perhaps it’s God overturning tables.

  7. November 27, 2011 at 09:28

    Yes, I have been wondering this same thing. Why do our so called religious leaders remain mute and too weak to stand up against the economic/political injustice befalling most Americans? What good are they if they are cowards who only give lip service to Jesus? Are they just hypocrites? I think many of them are. I don’t see them putting their asses on the line like MLK and the preachers of the Civil Rights movement did.

  8. November 27, 2011 at 03:09

    WWJD? Why is it that antinomian non-Jews, who are most ignorant about who Jzeus (misspelled per Ex. 23.13; Dt. 12.3 and Josh. 23.7) was, and can’t even read the first word of the only Bible he ever knew (Torah – it’s Hebrew & Aramaic) are always the ones asking this presumptuous question. These are always antinomian non-Jews, claiming a 1st-century Pharisee Ribi is one of their own, and that he thinks like the Hellenist Roman occupiers who killed him. Then they pretend to ask what a 1st century Pharisee Jewish Ribi, who considered Torah the only Bible, would do–presuming his endorsement of Hellenist anti-Torah, and often anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, positions.

    In fact, EVERY Christian today who presumes to “know” WWJD ignores and contradicts even the historical Christian view that prevailed as recently as the early 20th century! Even those with a semblance of education in Christian “history” cite the version of Jzeus legislated by the rabidly misojudaic, 2nd-4th century Hellenist gentile Church that taught the complete displacement (with their Greek! Hellenist NT) and contradiction (supersession) of the Judaic teachings described in all of the Judaic literature of the period (in contrast to the gentile Hellenist Greek, Roman-redacted, Christian literature) of EVERY 1st-century Pharisee Ribi.

    The historical fact, documented by historians like the late Oxford scholar James Parkes (The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue), is that Jzeus is the bizarro-world, make-over of 2nd-4th century Hellenist (antinomian = anti-Torah) Christian Church redactions–180 degrees opposite to the 1st century historical, pro-Torah Jewish Pharisee Ribi. If the 1st-century Torah Ribi is the Mashiakh then the 4th century antinomian makeover is the antichrist!!!

    The good news is: you can choose to follow Ribi Yehoshua and live according to his Torah instead.

    This means that what Christians today are, unknowingly, REALLY asking by WWJD is what would the antichrist of the 2nd-4th century, antinomian gentile Hellenist Church of Roman occupiers and oppressors of the Jews do?

    If you want to know what the authentic, historical Pharisee Jew Ribi Yehoshua would do, then find out what his only Bible–the Torah–would direct him to do and teach. Ribi Yehoshua taught Torah in synagogues. The FIRST thing he would do is instill in them the need to learn and live by the principles of Torah. As Hillel and Ribi Yehoshua both reiterated: Torah is treating your fellow as you wish to be treated–now, go and learn the rest of Torah. Learn how to keep Torah from those who can read it before presuming to speak for a 1st-century Pharisee Ribi. (For further info, see http://www.netzarim.co.il)

  9. isobel
    November 26, 2011 at 19:34

    I always get a bit worried when I see Jesus set up as a hater of Jewish bankers. I agree with Rev. Bass that people designated guardians of morality should be standing with the people at Occupy sites (some are, of course–mostly rabbis as far as I can discover.) But I’m not comfortable with the model: Jesus against the corrupt bankers of the synagogue. None too comfortable with some of the responses either. It remains too easy for Christians to fall into the old trap of associating Jews with the destruction of the community, and easier day by troubling day for Americans to associate banking and “the Jews.”

    • Alcuin
      November 27, 2011 at 09:14

      I’m not religious, but wasn’t Jesus a Jew? I mean, didn’t he live in what is now Israel? Your concern about the association of Jews with banking is warranted, but I don’t think Rev. Bass “set up Jesus to be a hater of Jewish bankers.” As an aside, if you did some reading in economic history, you would discover that Jews were a distinct minority of bankers – the vast majority of bankers were Pagan or Christian. Associating Jews with bankers is just another scapegoating trick, that’s all.

  10. Karen Romero
    November 26, 2011 at 18:48

    An addendum to my most recent post…
    I love Consortiumnews.com and so does Jesus. You know why I love Consortiumnews.com? The same reason Jesus does. It is a place where many of the writers make a concerted effort to speak the TRUTH! In other words they aren’t cowardly little pussies, bowing down to the Lucifer Worshippers that own mainstream news media!
    So, in this post I would like to thank the writers, and the editor Bob Parry for inventing this website. You are doing a brave and kind service to all, and I genuinely thank you!

  11. Karen Romero
    November 26, 2011 at 18:40

    Jesus IS demanding an overhaul of the banking system. This is a time for JUBILATION, in other words a redistribution of wealth. Ben Bernanke being Jewish knows this is commanded, yet he is spitting in the face of his own religion. So, many religions are hypocritical. Jesus is metaphorically throwing the tables on the money changers once again.

  12. rosemerry
    November 26, 2011 at 16:22

    Was it Bishop Romero who said “When I helped the poor, they called me a saint, when I asked why they were poor, I was called a communist”? Christians vary in their christian charity!

  13. Morton Kurzweil
    November 26, 2011 at 15:59

    Reverend Bess, with the best of intentions, continues to defend an organized religion as a necessary means to knowledge. The implication is that without instruction man would not learn what is good.
    The opposite of desire is charity. The opposite of belief is dignity. Dignity creates the social conscience.
    It was not Jesus, but a much later rabbi who defined Charity.

    Maimonides makes this clear in the definition of charity:
    Charity (Tzedakah)
    In Hilkhot Matanot Aniyim (Laws about Giving to Poor People), Chapter 10:7-14, Maimonides lists his famous Eight Levels of Giving:

    Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
    Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
    Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.
    Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.
    Giving tzedakah before being asked.
    Giving adequately after being asked.
    Giving willingly, but inadequately.
    Giving “in sadness” – it is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need (as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation; giving out of pity).

    Public display of giving is an embarrassment to the giver and the recipient. It may succeed for a television evangelist or a religious congregation, or a political party to buy indulgences, but it is not charity. Charity is not a tax deductible contribution. Charity has no strings attached.

  14. November 26, 2011 at 15:09

    The more I learn about Jesus, the more I learn what it was like being Jewish 2000 years ago.

    A few days ago, I noted that at Occupy San Francisco there was a large increase in homeless people. At first I thought that might be bad. But then I realized, when the homeless are at Occupy, they are part of a community and contributing just by being there. Whereas in the rest of the city they are panhandling and contributing nothing. I think Jesus would be proud of the Occupy Movement. If Jesus preached one thing, it was to help the least amongst us. Occupy miraculously is giving many homeless a place to sleep, safety, meals, and added consciousness of the problems our economic system is facing. Jesus would be (or is?) quite pleased.

    • Brian
      November 27, 2011 at 13:42

      It is a known phenomena that when in a person’s life ALL forward progress is stopped, especially by a powerful outside force which you have no control or means to appeal is responsible, such as now, the person will experience a psychotic break with unpredictable results. That is what happens with the homeless sometimes. They should be there. This is them, retaking their power.

  15. Marilyn
    November 26, 2011 at 12:55

    I’ve noticed that a lot of Christians have convinced themselves that Jesus wants them to be rich. I don’t get it, but it seems to be a trend.

  16. November 26, 2011 at 12:36

    jesus christ is in all those places because the battle has already been won, enjoy it

  17. bobzz
    November 26, 2011 at 12:32

    I am suspicious when someone writes about what WOULD Jesus do because Jesus always gets remade in the writer’s image, i.e., we know what the writer would do. I am more interested in what Jesus DID do. He was not a materialist. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own life?” If the millions of Christians had followed this sole teaching, the entire monetary base of this nation would have been more sane. Jesus called ALL people to God. The millions of Christians would have regarded all people, black, brown, red, white, or yellow, as the same humanity; the entire problem of racism would be over. These are just two of the many things Jesus DID/TAUGHT. The Christian example in these and other matters would have provided powerful moral suasion. If Jesus’ followers knew the real Jesus, things would be much different, but regrettably, we do not know him very well.

    • KishinD
      November 26, 2011 at 21:09

      Jesus loudly denounced extraordinary wealth as harmful to the soul. “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24). “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” (Matt 6:24) Mammon is the Sumerian deity of property, wealth, and greed. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” (Matt 25:34-36) ““The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt 25:40) Or John the Baptist: ““What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”” (Luke 3:10-11)

      • Johan
        November 26, 2011 at 22:19

        He also ordered his followers to steal a donkey.

        • MerelyAmused
          November 27, 2011 at 14:18

          The donkey was borrowed with the stated promise it would be returned (per the Gospel of Mark). I don’t know where you get that it was stolen.

          • Johan
            November 27, 2011 at 15:00

            Luke 19:29-34 “[Jesus] sent two of his disciples, Saying, Go ye into the village . . . ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither. And if any man ask you, Why do ye loose him? thus shall ye say unto him, Because the Lord hath need of him. . . . And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose ye the colt? And they said, The Lord hath need of him.”

            If God wanted Jesus to have a donkey he could have made a wild donkey walk up to the group of disciples. The disciples were not told to ask if the owner was willing to give it up, they were told to take it and make the usual “God told me to” excuse if they were caught stealing. IF they were caught. That’s a big if!

            I understand that this is hard to accept for believers but put yourself in a similar situation nowadays and you will certainly call that theft.

            Jesus ordered his followers to steal a donkey. The owners didn’t know until after it was stolen.

            Seems pretty clear. Jesus is guilty of gang related crime. Conspiracy to commit theft.

          • Johan
            November 27, 2011 at 15:03

            BTW… was the donkey ever returned? If it was you’d think that would be mentioned.

    • Kathy van Praag
      November 27, 2011 at 09:52

      You are so right!!!

    • Brian
      November 27, 2011 at 13:38

      You could easily know him better.
      Jesus did not “call all people to God”. He called his followers.
      There are still followers of the original religion of Jesus today, Judaism. If you want to know Jesus, study some of that and not the “Christianity ” that is prevalent today, because Jesus was not ever a “Christian”.
      The ways he taught to his followers, who were not Jews, are also still adhered to by the original sect of that “religion”, which is not any American or vatican version of Christianity. There is an African sect that still does it the way he taught it. You could find a gnostic sect today if you looked hard enough.

      • Johan
        November 27, 2011 at 15:04

        His followers were Jews. All of them. He did not preach to gentiles.

    • Earlaiman
      November 29, 2011 at 19:12

      I think the proper question is not whether Jesus would have joined the OWS Movement, but rather would it have made a difference whether he did or did not?

  18. equity
    November 26, 2011 at 12:27

    This is the sort of article we need to see more of. It places Christianity where it should be but which is too often forgotten–by its adherents as well as those whose ignorance engenders hostility toward it.

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