Raising questions in Philadelphia

October 20, 2011

Members of the Simple Way, an intentional Christian community in Philadelphia, took on Wall Street more than ten years ago, when 90 people staged a celebration of the Jubilee, complete with a drop of hundreds of two-dollar bills.

I asked co-founder and author Shane Claiborne for his reactions to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Are members of the Simple Way involved in the protests?

Yes. The beauty of being part of a community like Simple Way is that there's room for members to creatively discern how they are to do ministry. One of our members, an accountant, is on the financial team for Philadelphia's protest community; others are praying daily for the effort. I took some neighborhood college kids down to the site. They are aware of the civil rights movement, and we talked about how this movement might be echoing the earlier movement.

I personally will be joining the Occupy Wall Street "Move Your Money" Campaign. On November 5, I will divest from Bank of America, moving my money to the nonprofit credit union here in Philadelphia. It's one way to continue trying to get the log out of my own eye--to be a little less of a hypocrite tomorrow than I am today.

What did you see when you visited the Philadelphia site?

I saw wide diversity: 80-year-olds and 18-year-olds, people of all colors, homeless people, military people and professionals. It looked to me like a crowd that Jesus would have engaged. I didn't see cynicism. I saw a real sense of hope and the possibility of dreams becoming reality.

What to you think of the protests?

What an opportunity to create conversation! Jesus' own parable in Luke 12 is relevant to the entire effort. Why build bigger and bigger barns?

Occupy Wall Street may not come up with solutions, but at least it is asking the right questions in a nonviolent setting. I don't believe that love can be forced, but I believe it can be provoked. I don't believe that generosity can be forced, but it can be provoked. Occupy Wall Street is provoking generosity.

What would you like to see happen?

I'm hoping that Christians will see this as an opportunity to proclaim that God's heart is big enough for the 100 percent. It matters to God that some people are sagging with food while others need $3 for a mosquito net. It also matters to God that many of the oppressors are, in spite of their money, desperately lonely and suffering. God cares for both and can set both free.

I believe we're building something new, proclaiming something else as possible. God wants to see us systemically dismantle disparity.


Occupy Wall Street Protestors Goals

According to published reports, some Occupy Wall Street protestors want student loans forgiven. Others want home loans forgiven.

The Bible teaches us,
Psalm 37:21-40
New International Version (NIV)
21 The wicked borrow and do not repay,
   but the righteous give generously;
22 those the LORD blesses will inherit the land,
   but those he curses will be destroyed.
Exodus 20: 15
New International Version (NIV)
15 “You shall not steal.
We are not to use deception to steal money from others. This includes borrowing with no intention of repaying.
“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right”  - Abraham Lincoln
Since “God is always right,” we should ask President Obama, Democrats, Progressives, Liberals, students, recent grads, and Occupy Wall Street supporters to ask themselves whether they are on God’s side? We should ask whether they are seeking to lead others into sinful and wicked ways? Do those seeking a full or partial default on those pesky student loans consider their ways sinful and wicked?
I would hope that future articles in this publication would actually try to understand the actions of others by reference to Bible teachings.

You are quite right, in

You are quite right, in exodus God says "do not steal." But in the same book God also says

“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest." (Exodus 22:25) 

Making a living off of interest on loans to poor people used to be seen as a moral abomination, but our society has made greed a virtue, and riches earned that way something to be admired.

The prophets had many things to say about growing rich off of other people's suffering, such as Habakkuk:

Habakkuk 2:9-11

New International Version (NIV)


 9 “Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
   setting his nest on high
   to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
   shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
   and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.

Or another translation

Habakkuk 2:9-11

Contemporary English Version (CEV)

9You're doomed! You made your family rich  at the expense of others.  You even said to yourself,  "I'm above the law."

10But you will bring shame on your family and ruin to yourself  for what you did to others.

11The very stones and wood in your home will testify against you.

Who do you think this admonition reflects on most? People who's houses are being forclosed and students who are in debt 3 times more than the loan they took out because of interest, or the bankers who are giving themselves bonuses from taxpayer bailouts? 

Did you know for example that student loan industry is the least federally regulated and protected type of lending in the US? That college seniors who graduated in 2010 carried an average of $25,250 in student loan debt. Meanwhile, unemployment for recent college graduates climbed from 8.7% in 2009 to 9.1% in 2010 — the highest annual rate on record for college graduates aged 20 to 24? And that student loan debt is the only type of debt that doesn't go away when you declare bankruptcy? (http://defaultmovie.com/)

Take the time to watch these Occupy Philidelphia activists "forclose" on the local Wells Fargo and pay attention to their reasons why they are there. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-x4cuw2Yo6w

Habakkuk would be proud.

Year of Jubilee

Asking for loan forgiveness is not the same as stealing. And if you don't like that idea, then you probably don't want to learn about the Year of Jublilee!  See Leviticus 25. 


You know what I am going through school right now and I'm commuting to my local university so that I can save money. I have friends who went to the community college that offered 2 yr. of free tuition to local graduates to save money. It is beyond me how people think that it is someone else's fault that they went and spent 10's of thousands of dollars on school and can't pay it off.  What I see lacking in the speech of the protesters, of Shane himself, and others is a lack of a grounding of their theological beliefs in a good foundation of philosophy and a lack of a good enough grasp on economic reality.  Maybe if everybody learned what things like prudence and justice really were they wouldn't go foolishly indebting themselves beyond return or go demanding that some bank -- which has employees whose paycheck and families depend on the money paid back on the loans or they might not have a freaking job -- to pay off a loan they voluntarily took.  I swear I see no balance on either side of the isle.  You've got the people who are on the other side who might not have the greatest amount of love but have a good bit of economic logic & knowledge, and then you have the protesters and their supporters who have big hearts and no grasp on how economics actually works. My advice: bankers and the like (and politicians even moreso, the fact that they are looked at as less culpable in income disparity is absurd, they are the ones who help these banks and whatnot game the system [them and the Fed]) learn the virtues of love/charity; protesters - learn how to make the right decisions in your life like not being greedy yourselves for a better home and being content w/what's affordable, and hit the books to see how economics and politics work...and no I don't mean reading Che Guevara or Friedrich Nietzche like Shane Claiborne quotes, I mean like reading the Foudning Fathers, Friedrich Hayek, Plato & Aristotle, and the like.