Occupy Wall Street according to Jim Wallis

Posted: November 13, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I’m a Jim Wallis fan. I think he is prophetic in the best sense of the word, speaking truth to power based on a Biblical witness and frame of reference, and he is wise, setting his experience up against the ways in which we go about what we do. He’s done so in a recent column in Sojourners (December 2011) in which he addresses those involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

So the first thing is that I trust the instincts of Jim Wallis. The second thing is that I am sympathetic to the issues raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement, if not their strategies and tactics. I believe that they are addressing a fundamental issue of economic injustice in our society. Few of us are not concerned with the enormous gaps between great wealth and dire poverty, the corporations sporting executives making 400 times what the average worker is making … and laying them off. Few of us are not concerned that the very corporate entities responsible for much of the economic melt down, bailed out with tax payer money, are now padding their coffers in exorbitant ways, as though nothing ever happened. Well, there is something fundamentally wrong and we know it. Human nature being what it is, and greed being one of the deadliest sins, I don’t expect it to stop or alter course unless someone speaks loud and clear.

Lacking any other voice, a rag tag disorganized bunch of discontented souls have done so. What began as a protest mushroomed into some kind of self-organized movement. Unlike the Tea Party, which has been funded by huge big money behind the curtain, there are no resources to speak of in the Occupy movement, just people gathering and speaking out. Maybe that’s why it has a certain quaintness to it; the mosquito is trying to agitate the elephant.

So that’s why I have sympathies with the attempt. I’m not out there myself, but I appreciate that there is a sound in the streets.

Jim Wallis, on the other hand, is simply smarter and more savvy than I. After making some general statement of solidarity, he states some pretty clear suggestions that I find compelling.

First the general statement: “You have given voice to the unspoken feelings of countless others that something has gone terribly wrong in our society.”

But then the suggestions. He doesn’t mince words:

“Keep pressing the values questions, because they will move people more than a set of demands or policy suggestions.”

“Try not to demonize those you view as opponents, as good people can get trapped in bad systems.”

“Instead of simply attacking the establishment economists (you can come up with) new approaches for society’s investment and innovation.”

“Keep asking what a just economy should look like and whom it should be for.”

“Avoid utopian dreaming about things that will never happen. Look instead at how we could do things differently, more responsibly, more equitably, and yes, more democratically.”

“Keep driving both the moral and practical questions about the economics of our local and global households.”

“I know you believe that leaders on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C., have failed you. Indeed, they have failed us all. But don’t give up on leadership per se. We need innovative leadership now more than ever.”

“There is much to be angry about, but channeling that energy into creative, nonviolent action is the only way to prevent dangerous cynicism and nihilism. The anarchism of anger has never produced the change that the discipline and constructive program of nonviolent movements have done again and again.”

“Cultivate humility more than overconfidence or self-indulgence.”

“Do not let go of hope. Popular movements are the only forces that truly bring about change in society.”

“Change requires spiritual as well as political resources and any new economy will be accompanied by a new spirituality.”

So ends the lesson.

  1. Menina says:

    And so begins the task. I admire those with the courage, if that is what it is, or the desperation, the feeling of nothing more to lose, that has driven Occupy Wall Street to this point; I hope they can find the reasonableness to hear Wallis’s advice.

  2. David McGee says:

    Thanks for your posts, Tim. I thoroughly enjoy them.

    Sometimes I feel that Wallis’ comments are geared too much at blaming the system and demanding change at the government level while failing to inspire individual Christians / Churches to actively take part at a local level (although maybe this is true of many prophetic voices throughout history). For instance many of his arguments (but not these) would be rendered nearly invalid if it was decided that the Church as a whole should be on the front lines of resolving many of the “issues” facing society and government… and the government should provide a secondary level support, a safety net of sorts. In other words, if we are going to help the poor and disenfranchised, let the church and society SHOW the government how to do it well, not just complain about the establishment’s obvious failures.

    However, these quotes that you listed from Wallis (and much of his best work) challenge both the system as well as the individual responsibility we each have as Christians and whether or not we contribute to the injustices of the world or are at work dismantling them in our everyday lives.

  3. Audrey says:

    Jim Wallis is my hero too! His suggestions are beautiful and worthy. Worth printing out and reading again and again. Praying for success of the Occupy movement. That pressures will be placed at the proper place/moment and that change will come peacefully.

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