As the Occupy Wall Street Movement continues to demonstrate in major cities across the world, an increasing number of United Methodist Church members are joining the cause.
Methodism’s involvement in the protests is seen with churches in states like New York and California encouraging parishioners, as well as Facebook groups like “Methodists @ OWS.”
“The United Methodist church has no official position about the Occupy movement. However, there are a growing number of United Methodists taking part,” Jim Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society told The Christian Post.
“In our United Methodist Social Principles, we claim all economic systems are under the judgment of God. We believe corporations are responsible not only to their stockholders but to their other stakeholders.”
Winkler believes that if alive, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, would at the very least support the aims of the Occupy Movement.
He pointed out Wesley’s criticism of 18th century English merchants over their business practices as an indicator of that support.
“There is no question in my mind that Wesley would have protested greed and the neglect of the poor. He would support the goals,” said Winkler.
While some Methodists look upon the Occupy Movement as having amiable goals, others doubt that the message of the demonstrations is compatible with Christian teaching.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, told The Christian Post that certain views of Occupy Wall Street conflict with mainstream sentiment.
“Thoughtful Christians should be wary of OWS' utopianism, call to class warfare, conspiratorial view of the world, entitlement mentality and, at least on its fringes, some anti-Semitism,” said Tooley.
Tooley also believes that the Methodists involved in the Occupy Movement do not represent the views of most UMC members.
“The small numbers of radical United Methodists activists drawn to OWS obviously are attracted to OWS' calls for coercive wealth redistribution, its conspiracy theories, its resentments of private industry, and its utopianism,” said Tooley.
“The faith-related people who are affiliated with OWS typically are old style Social Gospel liberal Protestants who believe the church's chief purpose is social justice achieved through Big Government, especially wealth redistribution and coercive regulation.”
Unlike Winkler, Tooley did not believe Wesley would support the protesters, noting that Wesley was “a conservative Tory” who would see wealth redistribution as “thievery and covetousness.”
“No doubt John Wesley would have offered OWS the Gospel! His chief interests were always evangelism and discipleship, not political action,” said Tooley.
Though the United Methodist Church does not have an official position on the Occupy Wall Street Movement, other mainline Protestant Denominations have declared more overt support for the efforts of the protesters.
The United Church of Christ’s Collegium of Officers issued a statement on Oct. 21 stating that the Occupy Movement is “a reminder that thoughtful, faithful, and committed people can make a difference when voices are united for the common good.”
A few days later, the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church passed a resolution in support of “peaceful protests in public spaces in the United States and throughout the world in resistance to the exploitation of people for profit or power.”