Jesus, #OccupyWallSt, and the Rich Young Ruler

What would Jesus say to a Wall Street financier who declared his desire to follow Jesus? We see in Matthew 19 (and parallels) that Jesus said to the seemingly-ernest Rich Young Ruler that, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me.” But, “When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

It is often said that Christians should approach the world with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other hand. And recently I have found myself unable to read the Bible without thinking about the Occupy Wall Street protests that are cropping up across our nation.

As someone who was raised in the free church tradition and who is member of the progressive Christian network the Alliance of Baptists, whenever I wrestle with the intersection between religion and politics, a deep part of me is committed to the separation of church and state. At the same time, radical Baptists such as The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenge me that Christians do not have to remain silent in regard to politics. In his book The Strength to Love, MLK said that,

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

As reported on CNN recently, we should also remember in our church history that,

During the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist minister, inspired others to fight against the economic inequality of the time with the “Social Gospel.” Social Gospel ministers helped inspire President Theodore Roosevelt to break up business monopolies and abolish child labor, historians say. During the Great Depression, Father John A. Ryan built such a national following condemning the excess of capitalism that he was invited to deliver prayers at a presidential inauguration. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spent the last three years of his life focusing on poverty. When he was assassinated in 1968, he was on the cusp of leading a nonviolent, interracial army of poor people into the nation’s capital to demand a fairer distribution of wealth.

In this spirit, Jim Wallis, the bestselling evangelical Christian author and public theologian, said the following about the Occupy Wall Street movement:

There is a lot of speculation as to who the “Occupiers” are and what they might accomplish. There is much I still don’t know about the movement, but undeniably it has caught the imagination of a generation — and that matters. Here are a few things I do know about the Occupy Wall Street protesters:

When they stand with the poor, they stand with Jesus.

When they stand with the hungry, they stand with Jesus.

When they stand for those without a job or a home, they stand with Jesus.

When they are peaceful, nonviolent, and love their neighbors (even the ones they don’t agree with and who don’t agree with them), they are walking as Jesus walked.

When they talk about holding banks and corporations accountable, they sound like Jesus and the biblical prophets before him, who all spoke about holding the wealthy and powerful accountable.

To continue to reflect theologically on the Occupy Wall Street protests, I invite you to listen to the following song from the Quaker singer-songwriter David Lamotte titled, “Butler Street.” Listen for any words or phrases that stand out to you:

(Note: You can listen for free to David Lamotte’s song at

There’s a neon cross on a mountain, saying “Sinners Best Beware.” That means that somebody went to the trouble to run power way up there. These mountains speak to my spirit. I guess it kind of blows my mind to think that someone could look at the vista. And think God needs a neon sign.

The old man asked me if I was saved, and I turned to check his eyes. Well, I didn’t see any concern there, and it’s sad that I wasn’t surprised. No, he was just trying the secret handshake, where you push until push comes to shove. His hands were deep in his pockets, and his eyes said nothing of love.

Sing me a song about Jesus, but please don’t sing about the poor. It’s already been a long day; I really don’t want to hear anymore. Sing me a song about Jesus that will make me feel happy inside. Sing me a song about forgiveness that will make this lifestyle feel justified. Sing a song about Jesus.

Ran into Jesus this morning. He was down on Butler Street. He was carrying his bedroll. He was standing in line for something to eat. He got splashed by the muddy water, when the shiny hubcaps rolled by. He brushed himself off and chuckled and looked over at me, and said, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Sing me a song about Jesus, but please don’t sing about the poor. It’s already been a long day; I really don’t want to hear anymore. Sing me a song about Jesus that will make me feel happy inside. Sing me a song about forgiveness that will make this lifestyle feel justified. Sing a song about Jesus.


For Further Reading

  • Marisa Egerstrom, “My Take: Occupy Wall Street Looks like Church to Me.” CNN Belief Blog – Blogs. An excerpt: “At its heart, the Occupy movement is about creating a democratic society in which everyone matters, there is dignity in working together across differences, and there is enough for everyone. Is this vision tantamount to socialism? No. Once upon a time, we called this ‘American.’ It also sounds pretty Christian to me.”

I welcome your comments about this blog or the linked podcast.

The Rev. Carl Gregg is the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook ( and Twitter (@carlgregg).

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