On Christians, Poverty, Occupy Wall Street, and Liberation Theology

Kato Mivule | November 1, 2011

Recently, a number of protests dubbed “Occupy Wall Street”, have taken place in the USA , centered around issues of increasing poverty, lack of jobs, increasing disparity between the poor and rich, the unfair tax burden that seems to let the rich walk away without paying their dues in taxes, and excessive greed and capitalism among big financial institutions in the USA.

The protests that begun in New York City have not only spread around the USA but also in many other capitals around the world. While there is no central theme in the message conveyed by the protestors, the core content seems to be  against excessive greed and injustice towards the poor.

However, of lately some evangelical leaders have come out openly and condemned the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, calling it among other things “socialists”, “evil”, “mobs”, “anarchists”, “neo-1960's hippies”, and “rebels”. Some of the evangelical leaders have gone to length in warning their members not to participate in the protests, noting that the occupy wall street protestors are simply “jealous” of the rich and with a socialist agenda to take over the USA.  

Some christian leaders claim that any christian who joins in protesting or voicing against the injustices done to the poor, is engaging in “Liberation Theology”, a clever term re-coined by some evangelicals leaders as a slur against anyone who raises their voice to speak out for the poor and the injustices done against them.

The roots of Liberation Theology begun by a Roman Catholic in the 1950s, actually by Priests protesting the injustices done against the poor by the Catholic Church itself. The Roman Catholic Church then outlawed some of teachings of Liberation Theology inside the Catholic Church. However, in the 1960's, the civil rights movement in the USA included voicing against injustices done to the poor among the message of racial equality; black christian churches and other christian denominations took on this message.

On seeing this, some wealthy white evangelical leaders were quick to condemn the outcry as a “socialist Marxist movement”, and a “Black Liberation Theology” movement. Some of the rich white evangelical leaders taught that black christian leaders who voiced against black social injustices, like racism and  poverty were teaching “Black Liberation Theology”, a “doctrine of devils”. This was done in part as a way to silence any Christian who voiced for the poor, from offending the wealthy capitalists who by large bankrolled most of the wealthy white evangelical churches and projects.

So, the basis of demeaning, degrading, and slurring anyone opposed to mistreatment of the poor by some of the rich white evangelical leaders had to do with securing their source of income and money but not because the Bible and especially the New Testament had anything to do with objecting to the poor crying out for justice.  

This is not to say that the New Testament is a blueprint for a socialist economic framework. Yet while the New Testament does not speak in terms of “outlawing capitalism”, it does speak out against the mistreatment of the poor, and calls on the rich and wealthy to treat those not their equals with justice, fairness, and generosity. This is clearly spelled out in the Teachings of Jesus Christ and Book of James for example. To discard such teaching under the slur of “Black Liberation Theology” is a shame and a reproach by those who do so.

Luke 6:20 KJV
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.

Luke 14:12-14 KJV
 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.  (13)  But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:  (14)  And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

James 5:1-6 KJV
1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. 4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.

It is very clear that James, was speaking out against injustices, mistreatment of the poor, and greed by wealthy “Job Creators” of his day; for they had engaged in withholding the wages of the laborers and God in Heaven had listened to their cry. This story is not so different from the financial injustices being committed by some so-called “Job Creators” today.

Luke 4:18 KJV  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised

While Jesus Christ does not tell His followers to go and legislate His teachings as secular law, it ought to be the duty of Christians, at least to take action as a Church in helping the poor and weak of our society and yes, speak out against the mistreatment of the poor and weak, peacefully and with none violence. The point is not to place trust in governments or man, as some evangelical leaders love to dismiss anyone voicing for the poor. However, if there is a possibility for governments to wake up and reconsider their conscience towards the poor, then it is a good thing, yet even if governments do not help the poor, the Church and Christians ought to.

Besides, this is an opportunity for Christians to reach out and do good, and help the poor do the fishing for themselves, after all, that is what they are asking, not some new Limousine, or million dollar house. It is certain that while Jesus Christ might not legislate anti-poverty measures today, He would certainly stand with the poor, the orphans, widows and those most maligned by today's materialistic society.

One reason why some Christians have taken part in the Occupy Wall Street protests, is to voice against the injustices done to the poor and to highlight the excessive greed that seems to be a source of the economic downturn in the USA. While many political motivations and self-interests might be behind Occupy Wall Street, using that as an excuse to slur all those who voice for the poor and those who speak out against injustices done to the poor is basically shortsighted and a way to ignore the bigger problem.

While some evangelical leaders see very “big problems” with Christians raising their voice against injustices done to the poor, again, I do not see anything wrong with Christians raising their voices to call for justice and fair treatment of the poor in our present societies, as long as Christians voice peacefully, lawfully, and with none violence.

It is clear that some evangelical leaders have positioned themselves with those who practice excessive greed at the expense of the poor, while condemning the poor folks who raise their voices against such injustices as being guilty of “Black Liberation Theology” and “jealousy”. In doing so, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been tainted by such evangelical leaders who are seen as one in bed with the pushers of injustices towards the poor. Those who are engaged in “class warfare” are not the poor but those who deny them their due wages and institute structures that ensure that those who are poor not only stay poor but become poorer.

As Christians and followers of Christ, even while we might not be engaged with the Occupy Wall Street protestors, at least we can join in voicing against the mistreatment of poor people just like Jesus Christ would certainly do. We must remember that part of preaching the Gospel involves helping  the poor, calling this “Black Liberation Theology” is a slur not just to the poor but a slap in the face to Jesus Christ, a thing that some evangelicals leaders are busy doing by disparaging and despising the poor.

Galatians 2:9-10 KJV  And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.  (10)  Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.