Occupying Jesus and His Church

It is an inconvenient truth for mainstream and right-wing Christians that Jesus was crucified for taking his protest against income inequality to the power center of Jerusalem, where he challenged how money had perverted religious principles. Now, that tension is returning with the Occupy protests, Rev. Howard Bess says.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a magnificent building. Visitors swarm to visit this 400-year-old architectural wonder that is known as England’s Cathedral. Until recently people did not take note that it was located in London’s financial district, where it seemed God and mammon existed quite comfortably next door to each other.

Then came the protesters. The Occupy Wall Street movement has not simply spread all across America. It is a worldwide protest movement that covers the globe. More and more people of conscience do not believe that the wealth of the world should be controlled by a relatively small group of greedy, selfish super-rich.

In Christian teaching, greed is one of the seven deadly sins. From a more secular point-of-view, few believe that billions should live in poverty while the elite rich live in flagrant luxury.

When the protesters arrived in The City (as London’s financial district is known), their banners read “Occupy London Stock Exchange” and they encountered London police, who protected the banks and trading houses, as expected.

Jesus driving money-changers from the Temple, as depicted by El Greco

However, when the protesters took over the spacious courtyards of England’s Cathedral, another dynamic emerged. After all, Jesus was a protester in the courtyard of Jerusalem’s great Temple where he disrupted the business of the money-changers. Now, two millennia later, a new tension between Christianity and excess wealth was arising. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Would Jesus Join the Occupy Protests?

It takes a lot of money to support an operation like St. Paul’s. The Cathedral collects fees from it visitors and sells them memorabilia of their experience, clearing about $25,000 a day for those sources of income.

In an unintended consequence, the protesters shut down the entire operation, sending losses of income into hundreds of thousands of dollars. The graffiti they painted on the walls of the Cathedral was very upsetting, too. Probably as disturbing as Jesus overturning the money tables in Jerusalem’s Temple.

Should England’s Cathedral resort to calling in the London police? Should the Episcopalian authorities try to negotiate with their newest neighbors? Should their uninvited guests be allowed to use the Cathedral’s restrooms?

The Cathedral’s vacillation is recorded in their daily news releases. The Dean of the Cathedral has resigned. So also have other staff members. For the present, the Cathedral has decided to allow the protesters to stay through the end of the year. The final chapter has not been written. The conflict between God and mammon can become very real. (A similar standoff is developing between the ousted Occupy Wall Street protesters and Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan over a potential new protest site on church-owned Duarte Square.)

I confess that I would not have taken any note of the drama in London were it not for a friend of mine, Owen Vigeon, a retired Episcopal priest, who lives in London. Owen is a very fine poet who occasionally sends me some of his work. I like poetry, but I love poets.

I am reminded that almost all of the Old Testament prophets were poets. Poets can effectively speak truth in a way that mere preachers or politicians can never master. They say things so very nicely until you really think about it.

Owen sent me his latest poem. It is obviously inspired by the occupation of St. Paul’s. I am privileged to share it with you all:


A Song of the Word Made Flesh

“And the word was made human, and he pitched his tent among us.”  John 1:14

When I pitched my tent in the human race

And stirred in my mother’s womb,

Her soul was roused to prophetic grace

As she warned of impending doom.

When the mighty will lose their seat and power

And the meek and humble joyfully flower.


When the rag tag and bobtail pitched their tents

On St. Paul’s Cathedral holy gate

To register their discontents

With an un-egalitarian state,


My Clergy seemed somewhat perplexed

To know what ought to happen next

And truth to tell the English nation

Showed both disgust and admiration.


Yet in Cathedrals everywhere

There hung on the November air

The echo of My Mother’s prayer

That tells what Heaven thinks is “fair.”


Each waft of Chorus Evensong

Conveyed God’s sense of right and wrong

Who stuffs the hungry with bonus pay

While the rich he is sending empty away.


This, as My Dad confirms to me,

Is what life is like in eternity.

Til then I fear My Mother’s vision

Will still be met with indecision.

But those whose banner now display


Had better learn the gospel truth

Which I have practiced since my youth.


Whatever the questions you may have selected,

My answers will always be quite unexpected.



Merry Christmas to all.

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

14 comments for “Occupying Jesus and His Church

  1. December 19, 2011 at 13:24

    blessings to all…
    the Judgment will fall…

  2. stanchaz
    December 19, 2011 at 02:33

    You don’t need to be religious to understand -and embrace- the idea that “Whatsoever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” But the 1%, in their blind greed and schemes, have forgotten and closed their eyes to what the word “society” should really mean. Because of Occupy Wall Street, we are finally talking less about CUTS and more about BLEEDING. Instead of demanding m-o-r-e budget cuts -to be borne by the middle class and poor- we are FINALLY focusing on the shameful bleeding that the poor and middle class has endured for all too long. Instead of talking about even m-o-r-e cuts in the taxes of millionaires….we are now talking about fairness and justice – about an economy and a political system that is increasingly run for the rich, and by the rich. Instead of talking about LESS government, we are talking about a government that WORKS FOR ALL OF US, not just a favored few. Thank you OWS, for reminding us that people -ordinary working people- really DO matter, and for helping open our eyes to what’s really going on in this country. Trinity Church should look deep into its collective soul, and at its ultimate mission. It should do the right thing, and help OWS. For I would bet my life, that if He were physically with us today…as He was 2000 years ago, He himself would be among the FIRST to climb those fences, and occupy Trinity’s Duarte Square. Of this I am certain.

    • Lester Shepherd
      December 19, 2011 at 13:45

      Thank you stanchaz, and, BTW, Martin wd have been right there with him, and, sister Mary, and, sister Parks…

  3. December 19, 2011 at 00:56

    Actually the first time the queston was asked
    “what would Jesus do?” I could not believe the question dealing with bankers and money changers.”what do you mean what would Jesus do?” “Do what he did”
    The answer was in his action.He did not like money changers because they were making a profit without producing any thing in return. Interestingly, until they learned usury from us, Islamic banks only uses “equity” Money is loaned for a purpose you risk your money on its success and share a profit. We had equity loans not sure if still there. The Bank issue is that the Banks used our money to gamble. The stock market became a big casino. In smaller community banks if they stick to loaning for necessary purchases and the buyer can afford it we would have no problems. So, lets look at the real criminal here and we will find the marketing specialists. They job is to push purchased of often unnecessary items. The old saying in construction was “build it and they come we will see to it” Remember those subdivisions in the desert without guaranteed of water? I do, in the 50s many veterans lost their retirement on them. Some country have too many teachers or preachers or lawyers, we have too many developers. Then came the Government Redevelopment Agency, the first open door to scams, they did not want to redevelop run down neighbourhood and houses, not enough ,money in it and too much real work. Illegal labor was cheep but not educated or experienced so, they still took government money but closed down small local businesses and build the “shopping centers”. At my age of 86 with a good memory the whole sad disintegration of this great country and proud people passes through my mind like pictures of Ayn Rand visions of the future she helped to shape.
    What do you think Jesus would have done with so much corruption and immoral behaviour. He went to the source of it all. That is where the 99% are going, close down the stock market and open a proper stock equity market as it was intended to be. I am a Christian Agnostic, Christian because Jesus, God or not he preached a philosophy of life opposite to what the Jews at the time were following, Agnostic because Religion reflects the opinion of the writers as to what God said or wants. So I read the Jewish book of Genesis.
    Followers of Evangelical teachings would be really confused.

    • Ted Seeber
      December 20, 2011 at 16:33

      If the borrower could afford the purchase outright, why would he borrow?

    • Gregory L Kruse
      December 21, 2011 at 14:45

      I really like that “Christian Agnostic” thing. It helps in the sense that it separates me from so many who call themselves Christian, but practice the opposite of what Jesus taught while it retains the confession that I prefer to be ruled by a king whose nature is the opposite of the richest and most powerful entity on earth.

  4. Lester Shepherd
    December 18, 2011 at 22:57


    It is people like you that are ridiculously flawed and mean spirited. I’ll bet you go to Trinity or St Barts in N.Y.
    I’m a Christian Atheist now because of comments like yours. I started out as a whiskeypalian for 40 long years. No More.

  5. December 18, 2011 at 19:29

    Yeah flipping over a table is the exact same as graffiti on a wall… Also Jesus flipped over that table in the church because the church was where the problem was and he did not occupy it. However Wall street is not in that Church, the logic is ridiculously flawed.

    • Gregory L Kruse
      December 21, 2011 at 13:11

      You remind me of the Jewish bystanders watching Jesus turn over tables; too weak to confront him, but full of resentment toward him and thinking about ways to kill him without paying the penalty for murder. Like graffiti, the clattering tables and the scattering coins are no more than an inconvenience to the financial church, but the symbolic power of it is so great as to strike fear into the hearts of the rich. They will use their devices and methods to remove the threat at all cost because the one must be destroyed to save the many.

  6. lin
    December 18, 2011 at 12:44

    I approach religion as an empirical eclectic believing Truth often gets buried in the details and can be found in the essence of most religions and sects. My earliest training suggested that the Jesus should be approached as a wise bigger brother to emulate to the best of our ever-expanding understanding; not as one who died to secure a place in the glorious “after-life” where challenges melt like lemon drops. My younger son came up with a great theory that “Jesus died because of our sins or misjudgments” and not to deprive us from learning Life’s lessons from mistakes. I think that is what Jesus meant when he warned

    “Put no man above another for nothing good can come of this!”

  7. Morton Kurzweil
    December 18, 2011 at 12:28

    The Jesus of every organized religion is not the Jesus of the early first century. Every Christian church has established itself as the instrument of the ruling political class. What Jesus would have done is not what has been done in his name. More wars and deaths, more ignorance and fear has been done to secure political advantage by one sect or another claiming to be the true religion than all natural disasters befalling humanity.
    To claim divine authority is the trick of politicians attempting to control behavior for their own use. It is a fact that people who are without prejudice will not defend unjust, inept, and corrupt systems. Those who would do so because of insecurity, ignorance, and fear, seek system justification while uncommitted people with no opinion will make more democratic collective decisions.
    This separates the ‘religious’ from the ‘independents’, the objectives from the bigots.

    • bobzz
      December 18, 2011 at 20:02

      Amen, Morton. The powers that be have duped the evangelical church since Constantine. Evangelical Protestants and Catholics fell right in line with Hitler’s propaganda machine. Had all professed Christians in Germany truly followed Jesus, Hitler could not have raised enough an army to fight a war. Think about it. Some good spots exist in Christianity, but not enough.

      • Ted Seeber
        December 20, 2011 at 16:32

        If Catholics fell in line with Hitler, how do you explain the life of St. Maximilian Kobe?

        Most true Catholics were in the Concentration Camps along with the Jews. The rest joined the new “German Catholic Church” that Hitler set up.

        Now, beyond that, I find the first paragraph of the original article very interesting, since a major Hollywood movie for kids commented on this nearly 50 years ago- Mary Poppins.

        • bobzz
          December 21, 2011 at 13:17

          exceptions do not make the rule

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