Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Occupy and the church

Mark Barrett and Ginger Haag explore how the Occupy movement has re-opened a debate within the church on the gap between markets and morals.

January 9, 2012
5 min read

“What would Jesus do?” asked a pithy placard at the Occupy the London Stock Exchange protest recently. It seems rather obvious in a way. For some the answer was given in another St Paul’s placard, carried by a man dressed as Jesus “I threw out the money-lenders for a reason”. Of course we’re not in Jerusalem, nor are we technically in a temple.

But according to David Cameron’s speech to mark the anniversary of the King James Bible, we have a dire need to “return to Christian morals”, and we the people should revive “what we stand for” and go back to the Bible to define ”the kind of society we want to build.” Some Occupy supporters may agree with some of these sentiments. We are a ‘broad church’ and the Bible, and the Jesus it portrays does contain a lot of progressive political references. Plus the idea of  reformulating what we are about as a nation sounds quite democratic.

There is, however, a dissonant note associated with a politician – the politician – lecturing the masses on returning to Christian morals. As Luke 16:13 has Jesus himself saying: “No servant can serve two masters.. you cannot serve God and mammon.” Cameron’s economic nationalism should also grate on Christian souls.The world needs international co-operation to solve its many problems, and Christendom was never ‘Little England.’ In fact, for most of its history it was associated with Europe as a whole ,and further afield. Yet Cameron retreats pointlessly from the European project just when we should be pulling together against the dictatorial power of the financial markets.

David Cameron’s visionary idea for Britain was ‘the big society’. Revd Giles Fraser says “one can imagine Jesus being born in the protest camp” and the early Christian movement was one of the biggest ‘big society’ movements in history. In a way those hardy souls camping out, in an effort to transform the system are the closest thing we have to a functioning global – big – society. Yet Cameron’s government has recently legislated to ban political camping!

The energy, practices and idealism Occupy embodies is a potentially huge, productive motor around which to build a new, enlightened economy. Yet no major politician has been willing to engage with the movement on its own terms. All we ever hear from them is words of demonisation or co-option.

However the church is quite a different matter. As Giles Fraser put it recently: “Occupy ..  begins .. with the idea that lasting change is only possible if more people are sucked into the conversation, more of us educate each other as to the workings and effects of a dysfunctional economy… Remember the total non-event that was Tony Blair’s Big Conversation? Well, this is how you do it properly”

Or, as the Archbishop of Canterbury himself put it earlier in the year: “A democracy going beyond populism or majoritarianism but also beyond a Balkanised focus on the local that fixed in stone a variety of postcode lotteries; a democracy capable of real argument about shared needs and hopes and real generosity: any takers?”

It is now commonly agreed that debt-based finance capitalism has failed us, and from within Occupy that we need alternative, civic institutions to develop our collective understanding, and transform society. Unlike the state and the market, civil society does not yet have a recognised political form, but through the promotion of its egalitarian Assembly model of decision-making, that is exactly what many in Occupy are hoping to create.

The roots of organised religion are radical and quite relevant today. The early Church was a decentralised, counter-cultural and international movement in which persecuted Christians promoted forgiveness of sins (including oppressive debts), interest-free lending, mutual support and common ownership. Going back further, the Old Testament refers repeatedly to ideals of economic justice and in particular of debt-cancellation and ‘jubilee’.  So, in the spirit of the recent Christmas season, and right at the start of a new (‘Diamond Jubilee’) year, an interesting question comes to mind. Could Occupy and the church join forces in 2012?

Working together, nationally and internationally could we not make alternative civic institutions to develop, quoting the Archbishop of Canterbury again a conversation about  “who.. we are as a society”  and “a long-term education policy at every level that will deliver the critical tools for democratic involvement, not simply skills that serve the economy” ? On the wider, European level, this would chime with the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s recent call for European Jews and Christians together to “rediscover .. faith and prophetic voice” and to “recover the Judeo-Christian ethic of human dignity in the image of God. Humanity was not created to serve markets. Markets were created to serve humankind”

In our broken times, with people neglected and the community fabric undone, a well-organised common endeavour between the church, Occupy and other civil society actors could help revitalise the true spirit of our culture, and the church, and transform our ailing European and UK political economy.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi


34