- (Photo: The Christian Post/Brendan Giusti)
In a country that is 78.4 percent Christian, it is not extremely strange that when a big social movement like "Occupy Wall Street" (OWS) swoops through, someone will ask the question: What would Jesus do?
The debate of whether the Christian community should endorse the movement or condemn it has already proven to be a divisive issue.
Tuesday, one more conservative voice joined such outspoken OWS nemeses as Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich or televangelist Pat Robertson: the voice of Tony Perkins. Perkins is President of the Family Research Council (FRC), a Washington, D.C.,-based conservative think tank that has been skeptical about the movement so far, save for vaguely agreeing that colleges overcharge American students.
In a statement published on FRC's website, as well as on CNN's Belief Blog, Perkins uses the biblical parable about the king and three servants from the Gospel of Luke as an analogy to how he thinks the Christian community should perceive the OWS movement. Perkins quotes the passage: "He called his ten servants, and gave to them ten minas, one mina each, and he then told them to 'Occupy till I come.' " (Luke 19:13, KJV).
The protesters are wrong to do what they are doing, he claims.
The idea that Jesus chose the free market system as the basis for this parable should not be overlooked, according to the outspoken Christian advocate. The obvious application of that parable in today's reality seems clear to him. Perkins writes that while "the story lacks specifics on whether [the first servant] invested the money in a herd of sheep or a hedge fund, we do know that he made his gain by engaging in business transactions of some sort." He used a "free market system to bring a tenfold return on investment."
"But just what does Jesus' order to occupy mean?" he asks. "Does it mean take over and trash public property, as the Occupy movement has? Does it mean engage in antisocial behavior while denouncing a political and economic system that grants one the right and luxury to choose to be unproductive? … No, the Greek term behind the old English translation literally means 'be occupied with business.' "
Through that parable, Perkins claims, Jesus tells his followers that everyone is responsible for his or her own career (the king gave an equal amount of money to each servant, and it was up to them how they handled it). People are not to blame anyone but themselves for their financial failures.
"From a spiritual perspective, the mina in this parable represents the opportunity of life; each of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives, and each of us shares the same responsibility to invest our lives for the purpose of bringing a return and leaving a legacy," Perkins writes.
The 99 percent movement participants are being compared to the third, unlucky servant who "had apparently either slept through his economics course or was just indifferent to the work delegated to him." Perkins recalls how the king was disappointed with that servant and asked him "Why didn't you at least put the money in the bank and draw interest?" (He does not mention how the savings rates of the time compare to those after 2008.)
But such antagonism towards the 99 percent movement is not rare among conservative Christians .
Pat Robertson, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of "The 700 Club," advised Christians not to support the movement, which he called "rebellious," "angry" and "pointless."
"I think this is a rebellion," Robertson said on his program in late October. He also suggested that President Barack Obama is "inciting" the protesters.
Conservative Catholic presidential candidate Newt Gingrich caused a storm in late November when he suggested that members of the "OWS" movement should take a bath and get a job.
But there are also influential Christian newsmakers who have been supporting the movement since its beginnings, because they think it is exactly compatible with their beliefs.
Two members of the group of religious leaders who were arrested over the summer for holding a prayer vigil in Capitol's rotunda in D.C. told CP (separately) they feel Christians should help the underprivileged, and that is what the movement is doing.
"If you read the Quran, Torah, the New Testament or the Old Testament, you can't read those documents without discovering God cares for poor people," the Rev. Bob Edgar, CEO of the advocacy group Common Cause, told CP in mid-October. "We have a righteous obligation to stand up and speak out on behalf of the poor. It's our vocational call."
"One of the things I am convinced of is that faith has a role to play in the leadership of these movements," the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, said around the same time.
Even Pope Benedict XVI, who is reported to be very liberal on economic policy, has indirectly supported the movement by noting that economic "inequalities are on the increase."
The Bible reference that has been a part of this discussion -- "Occupy till I come" -- can be interpreted in various ways.
For example, a humble Long Island, N.Y., minister whom CP spotted in Wall Street's Zuccotti Park last month sees the words as God's instructions for him to save the "little people" from getting "stepped on by the big people."
"God wants you to use your resources to do what he wants you to do, which is, among other things, to stand up for the poor and disenfranchised, so that they can have a voice," the minister told CP.