The Powers That Be, the Gift of Enemies, and #OccupyWallStreet ( #OWS )

The Powers That Be, the Gift of Enemies, and #OccupyWallStreet ( #OWS ) October 25, 2011

The Powers That Be by Walter Wink speaks to our day in profound ways.  The broad theme of the Domination System is helpful in my reflections about issues of justice and equality in the world.  One quote that really stood out to me comes from page 68:

A society with an unfair distribution of goods requires violence. Violence is the only way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. Inequality between rich and poor can be maintained only by violence. Jesus rejects violence.

The results of a Domination System are manifested in many ways, including the unfair distribution of goods.  The Occupy Wall Street Movement recognizes this and is invigorating the imagination of people in our country and world who understand that financial power must be distributed in a just fashion.  A simple protest that began through social networking has spread into cities across America.  It’s a movement of resistance to the status quo – that economics based on a “trickle down” philosophies.

The interesting connection I see here is that on the surface it would be quite easy to say that violence is not connected to our distribution of resources.  The problem with such a view is that it lacks integrity.  The United States is maintained through economic practices that are secured through various forms of violence.  We use violence to strip nature of her beauty in order to secure the best “resources” for production, we pay the poor throughout the world wages that come close to slave labor, we reduce the lower-class of Americans to robotic repetition while refusing to pay them a wage that empowers them to rise above their current reality, and ultimately we use our military machine to perpetuate these things.  And when “national security” can be used as a front, Americans are quite good at justifying violence in order to make sure that economic interests are not threatened.  This truly is the Domination System of “empire.”

Yet as Christians, Jesus calls us to another way.  The way of peace.  The path of justice.  The journey toward humanization of all people in all places.  According to Matthew 5, all forms of violence to secure this Domination System are opposed to the Christian life.  Wink rightly reflects on this both theologically and practically.  He states: “Violence can never stop violence because its very success leads others to imitate it” (134).  In other words, violence may temporarily intervene to stop some immediate threat, but that it only contributes to justifying its use by others in the future.  Jesus stops the cycle by inviting the Christ follower into nonviolent resistance.  A “third way” approach disarms the violator.  In doing so, we also can expose the evils of the Domination System through the use of various forms of civil disobedience.  Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are wonderful examples of this.  Occupy Wall Street seems to have this sort of an approach as its aim as well.

In our current economic climate, it would be easy for those involved in the current protest to “project” their own images on to the “enemy” of corporations.  This is true, not only in this moment in history, but in any moment.  When we find ourselves in a situation where an enemy is present, creating oppression through use of Domination; the temptation always will be to project on them all forms of evil.  The problem with this approach is that history shows that such means often lead to demonization, which eventually can justify various forms of militancy.  Wink says that we are invited to view our enemy as a gift.  His example (expounded on page 168ff) is from Matthew 7.3-5:

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The above text reminds us that until we can see clearly by removing the log out of our own eye, a path to our full humanity, the temptation of projection will remain.  We project because we are unable to see our oppressor as they truly are: flawed image bearers of God.  Wink states:

How wonderfully humiliating: we not only may have a role in transforming our enemies, but our enemies can play a role in transforming us!  As we become aware of our projections on our enemies, we are freed from the fear that we will overreact murderously toward them (171).

Only when we see our oppressors as gifts, as objects of love in spite of their un-love, will we be able to become the kind of just peacemakers that the way of Jesus invites us.  Our task as followers of Jesus, when we understand the dynamics at work in the Domination System, is to humanize our oppressor and in turn become more fully human ourselves.  “Nonviolence presents a chance for all parties to rise above their present condition and become more of what God created them to be” (172).

Whether it’s Occupy Wall Street, the Civil Rights Movement, GLBTIQ political rights, or any other justice initiative; the people of God have a gift to offer the world – the gift of the “third way” between inaction and violence.  The way of Jesus exposes the dehumanizing systems of the world, while seeking to raise the humanity of all parties involved in any conflict – even one dealing with economics.


IF YOU LIKED THIS ARTICLE, YOU MAY WANT TO READ YESTERDAY’S POST AS WELL: Am I Part of the 99% or the 1%? (Scattered Thoughts on #OccupyWallStreet and Global Poverty)

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  • Well done.
    Importantly Wink uses the word “unfair” in the quote given, not “unequal”.  Perhaps he implies “unequal” in the context.
    But what makes a distribution unfair?
    When power-over is exerted in the distribution, we get allocations based on association with the power-over.  Jesus clearly renounces the power-over.
    And Wall Street has been very close to the power-over.
    But they haven’t always had a choice.  When the political system makes it possible for taxation and distribution to occur arbitrarily, it is only natural for most people to appeal for favors from the state.
    In economics we have the idea of regulatory capture.  It basically means that every time a new regulation is passed that regulation creates a new privilege in the process of trying to correct some other imbalance.  For example, some years ago Duke power was among the top advocates for a new environmental regulation requiring a certain type of scrubbers be installed on all coal power plants.  But Duke Power had a patent on the new technology.  The regulation looked good on the outside, but it generated a huge profit for Duke, and hurt their competition unfairly.
    The source of inequality in the economy is not the marketplace, it is in the state.  Regulations can’t help, they create new problems.
    What you have identified is the third way, that is, Christians making sacrifices for the sake of justice.
    Christians spend so much energy on politics, but mostly they are just playing the same game as everyone else, appealing to the state for favors, instead of casting down our privileges and asking that they be revoked.
    We can cast down the privilege of marriage and ask that the state only recognize civil unions, not matter the orientation of the partners.
    We can cast down the privilege of citizenship and ask that the borders be opened to the oppressed of the world.
    We can purchase these things by working hard to have something to share.
    Nathanael Snow

  • Chris

    All you can ask for is equality of opportunity.  When it comes to economic freedom in this country we are pretty close to it.  The laws you would need to redistribute wealth kill equality of opportunity. You punish success.  You choose what level of prosperity the country will accept and rob people of what they gain above that. The regulation you peacefully ask for becomes violent.  If people won’t willingly give you what you view to be their excess you take it form them under penalty of law and threat of prison.  

    The government cannot fix this problem in a non-violent way.  All the government can provide is equal freedom.  The rest is a heart issue.  If the wealthy won’t give how can you justify forcing them to. Its interesting, the desire to provide for the poor and weak is in line with the heart of Christ, but I don’t believe the Bible tells of Jesus leading protest – peaceful or not.  I wonder how many of those demanding others give to them have ever really given to another person.  I find the whole thing misguided and little hypocritical.   If you are really passionate about equality you should start be giving of your excess, the first step is not demanding others give its giving of yourself.  

    • Jasdye

      I find it unfortunate that you reply to such a well thought out essay about non-violent resistance against economic injustice with heavy-handed tropes about the government and unfounded accusations about what OWS is actually saying. As far as giving of themselves, some people I know involved in OWS are some of the most gracious people I know – including (horn toot) ourselves.

      • Chris

        I’m sorry, I didn’t feel like anything I said was heavy-handed.  I also don’t  see a single accusation in anything I said.  I don’t know what OWS is saying, I can’t find a clear message in anything I’ve read about them. If you can prvide that or a resource to it I would love to see it. 

        I simpy would like to point out that there are consequences to every action.  I agree that the way wealth is distributed in the Country is unbalanced.  I just don’t think government policy can fix it.  Government madates are backed by police and military force.  If you, even in a non-violent way, effect change in policy then the government carries it out in a violent way.  Protesting, in my oppinion, doens’t change ones heart.  You may get what you ask for, but it will be unwillingly and the relationship will remain broken.  If you want people change show them a better way.

        Also, explain how what we have is injustice.  Unbalanced, yes.  Unfair, maybe, but what isn’t?  I just don’t see injustice.  The system isn’t perfect, but it isn’t unjust.  There is excess greed, but protesting won’t eliminate that.  Demanding to be given what you haven’t earned is greed.  Again, I don’t know what OWS wants, but it seems to me like you are asking people to have a change of heart.  Government Policies of wealth redistribution can’t be what you are aking for, that would cripple our system and have violent implications.  If you want policy change in the private sector you need to impact their wallets.  I’m not sure protesting, in this instance,  does anything that is going to change anything.  I may be wrong, I hope I am. I would love to see more equality in America.  I just think all the government can provide is protection and opportunity.  I don’t believe our government is doing either very well, but I’ve seen people come from pretty bleak circumstances to do really great things.  There is opportunity here. 

        Again, this is a heart issue.  I think your heart is in the right place, I just think you are spinning your wheels and tooting your own horn.  This is not a battle you can win be demonstrating anything other than compassion.  That’s not what I’m seeing.  I see a lot of anger, anger is never going to create a long term solution to our problem. 

  • Brad Thomas

    Hey Kurt – nice thoughts.  I sent you a speech a while back I gave for graduation at the school where I teach last year that touches on these same ideas.  In Ecclesiastes, Quoheleth writes:  “I saw the tears of the oppressed – and they have no comforter; power was on the side of the oppressors – and they have no comforter.  And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive.”  The point Quoheleth makes is that the oppressor, whether aware of it or not, has no comfort as well.  Take a look at Ghadafi – what happened to him is simply a result of years of trying to maintain the monster.  Gandhi writes that tyrants always fail because their entire system is built on lies and hate, rather than the way of truth and love.  Mandela’s work in South Africa (as the film Invictus tries to show) was a recent example of the way of truth and love, when Mandela said, “We must forgive those who perpetrated the monstrosities of Apartheid, otherwise we simply replace the monster with more monsters” (and Mandela had a lot to be angry and vengeful about). Bono talks about the danger of becoming a monster to defeat the monster.  The problem is that if the oppressed rise up and become the oppressor of those they rose up against, the monster still exists and no comfort exists.  There is a different way – the way of love – but this kind of love, as Dostoyevsky writes, cannot be understood philosophically.  What’s interesting about the current system, according to Quoheleth is that we’re all walking dead men (the dead who haven’t died yet as implied in the Ecclesiastes quote).  Gandhi and MLK, as you write, were on to something.  Ultimately, the Revolution begins inside the heart of each person, and must be lived out one person at a time.  A shift is occuring in our world and it will be resolved in one way or another – but one resolution simply promotes the current cycle we find ourselves in.  The other way will make all people truly free.  His name is Love.  He is Jesus.  He is God!

  • Brilliant, Kurt! I’m flabbergasted largely because I wanted to write this. Heck, I may just steal it and post verbatim on my own blog!

    • @1ddee844368bb91d0c31146c2f7389fb:disqus … Thanks! Feel free to repost it and point folks here. Always love that kinda blog lovin’ 🙂

  • Shari

    Your writing on this is Mr. Willems is a breath of fresh air!!   Another fb friend linked to a different viewpoint by a Dennis Babish (“A Christian Response to the OWS Protesters”) which claims the protesters are motivated by “covetousness” of the rich and are they are lazy and should just get a job.  Why are many Christians opposed to creating a society with safety nets put in place by the government?  Why do they see this as “forced charity”   I’m baffled and horrified.  Thanks again for what you wrote!!

  • Just to let you know, Christianity is sun worship – you worship the sun, of God, on a sunday, on the 24th december the son comes from the constillation virgo (or born of a virgin), its rise is pointed to by the 3 kings (3 stars on orions belt) and the son dies (or lowers) for 3 days on the Cross (or crux constillation). That is all of christianity summarised. ‘Jesus’ (the anointed one – not an actual name) did miracles with fish because he was a piscean sun God. The 12 disciples are the 12 constillations the sun passes through. That is all. Mystery solved.