Conservative Leader Tries to Distance Christianity From Occupy Wall Street Protests

Religious leaders who align themselves with the Occupy Wall Street crowd should not make claims that the nationwide uprisings have anything to do with Christianity, says the president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy.

Mark Tooley, whose advocacy group works toward reaffirming the church’s biblical and historical teachings, said in a statement from IRD that the “Religious Left” has heaped too much praise on those whose “demands range from cancellation of all debt, open borders, government control of health care and free college education, among other expansions of Big Government.”

Tooley aims his argument at leaders such as Sojourners’ Jim Wallis, who Tooley said “has lavished praise during a visit to the occupiers.”

He is also weary of pacifist activist Shane Claiborne, who “has compared them to St. Francis of Assisi,” and Massachusetts clergy who have “joined them wearing saintly white robes.” He also stated that he has a problem with officials of United Methodist Women who “flocked to the occupiers with their own similar placards urging class warfare.”

Tooley is only sympathetic toward some of the occupiers to a small degree.

"The many college-age Wall Street occupiers concerned about college debt and real world responsibilities can be possibly excused for youthful naiveté,” Tooley stated in the IRD release. “But middle-aged church activists, some of whom may be trying to relive their street activism of 40 years ago, should show more discernment and wisdom.”

Crowds of varying sizes occupying cities and town squares around the country seem to be part of a leaderless movement with many complaints, say observers. Many on the sidelines are having a hard time deciphering what message OWS is trying to send.

However, emerging from protesters is the proclamation that "corporate greed and corrupt politics" must be stopped.

At an interfaith gathering at Zuccotti Park in New York Sunday, the Rev. Michael Ellick of Judson Memorial Church promised that he and others in the faith community would support the occupiers for the long haul.

"We will not tire. We will not falter. We will stand with you in every city, every state, every country," Ellick said. "And whatever [the protesters] need, the faith community of New York will be there to give it to them."

Tooley disagrees with Ellick and others who share his sentiment.

"Covetous battle cries for class resentment and even greater coercive wealth redistribution through an ever-expanding Big Government do not resemble traditional Christianity,” Tooley stated. "Unlike the Religious Left, voices who have hailed and even romanticized the Wall Street Occupation, wise religious leaders should call their flocks to the common good. They would know that in a fallen world, no government or system of laws can seize property or massively redistribute income without creating even greater injustice.

"The Scriptures call for believers to put away childish things. Religious activists who have aligned with the Wall Street Occupation should model mature Christian discernment, not echo angry resentments that dream of a secular utopia," he added.

In addition to working to reaffirm the church's biblical and historical teachings, the IRD strives to strengthen and reform the church’s role in public life, protect religious freedom and renew democracy at home and abroad, according to its mission statement.

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