Occupy St. Paul's? The Occupy Movement Descends into Farce

UPDATE: I’ll warn you that this post is cranky. I’ve left it as I wrote it so that the comments that follow will make sense, particularly those that rebuke me for my tone. (See the exchange with my friend, former student, and Christian sister Beth, at #11.) I also need to leave it as I wrote it to make sense of the blog post that followed on November 5.

The “Occupy” movement continues to baffle me. I’m not old enough to have participated in the civil rights movement, the political demonstrations, and the antiwar campaign of the ’60s and ’70s. But as a historian of modern times I’ve tried to understand these events and they had one important thing going for them: focus.

Not always, of course. May 1968 saw the boiling over of a lot of inchoate rage in Europe, and a lot of what happened Stateside was also just a lot of adolescent self-differentiation from Mom and Dad expressed with particular vehemence and extravagance partly because the generation gap was so wide and partly because the Older Generation was almost monolithically resistant to anything the youngsters were saying.

But there was actual decolonization to support, ugly racism and sexism to attack, blatant hypocrisy to expose, and a war (and draft–don’t ever forget that element) to protest.

The “Occupiers” today instead seem upset with one or another item on the long, long list of What’s Wrong with the World. And to that I say, So What?

I don’t say, “I don’t care” or “You shouldn’t be upset” or “Everything’s fine.” I literally ask them, So What? You camp out in public for a few weeks and give loud speeches to each other and argue between meals about, well, whatever. But to what purpose? To what end? What would constitute a successful outcome of your movement, besides the sudden arrival of Happy Valley everywhere for everyone?

The occupation of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London seems to me especially preposterous and in several respects.

First, Oo, how brave of you, Occupiers, occupying a churchyard. That certainly took courage, staring down befuddled clergy and getting in the way of tourists. For it is clergy and tourists who are mainly What’s Wrong with the World, right? And by annoying, confusing, berating, and inconveniencing them, you’ve struck a mighty blow for, uh–what?

Second, what century do you think you live in? The era in which the Church of England played an important role in British politics and society such that a protest at St. Paul’s would make any truly influential person bethink himself or herself is long gone. It’s like finding Mom and Dad much too powerful to deal with, so as soon as they tell you to shut up and shove off, as the London Stock Exchange did, you find old Uncle Charlie, quietly resting in his rocking chair under his favourite quilt, and you park yourself at his feet and start yelling at him. (And, yes, it’s bitterly amusing to read cleric after cleric in Britain sounding off about what’s happening at St. Paul’s as if it matters to the powers that be in the slightest. Guys, your church isn’t important anymore. Not in this respect, at least. And it hasn’t been for several generations.)

Third, and along these same lines, what did you Occupiers expect to happen once you camped out at St. Paul’s? That the Dean of the Cathedral would convene an emergency meeting of the movers and shakers in the City for a prayer service, that they would be cut to the quick by your sharply worded placards and prophetic tenting, and that they then would emerge onto the portico of St. Paul’s with cheques and jobs for everyone and promises of never, ever being bad and self-seeking ever, ever again?

Fourth, this movement seems to me almost entirely an exercise in self-indulgence. You get to do something you perceive as brave, when all you’re doing is simply trying the patience of powerful people and more or less hampering the lives of decent people trying to get on with their lives. And once the powerful have had enough, they’ll send in the cops and off you’ll scatter.

You get to state something you perceive as startling, when all you’re doing is stating the obvious. Friends, it’s not news that a minority have most of the money and power in the world. That’s been true since, um, ever.

And you get to enjoy the company of likeminded people for a while, stoking each other’s sense of moral outrage and importance, when all you’re doing is wasting your time and everyone else’s. I mean, come on. If you want the powerful to change, you must either persuade them or coerce them. How is plunking yourself down and making a nuisance of yourself for a few weeks going to effect either outcome? And how, in particular, is it going to either win over, or push around, the powerful by lolling about in the way of tourists and worshippers at St. Paul’s–or, here at home in Vancouver, in the way of patrons of the local art gallery?

I can’t imagine real radicals, serious advocates for social change, thinking all this is anything other than, at best, a possible recruiting opportunity for other, later efforts that will have some focus, some objective, some actual chance of accomplishing something. But the Occupy movement itself makes social protest look just ridiculous, like so much dressing-up and trying to act like Mom and Dad did in their putative hippie days.

The world is a serious place with serious problems. Greece’s prime minister looks this week like he’s inclined to wreck his country, perhaps the European Union, and possibly the global economy. Repression is a matter of state policy in dozens of countries affecting millions upon millions of innocent people. Tax regimes make it far too easy for rich people to concentrate even more of the world’s wealth in fewer hands. Meanwhile, prostitution, slavery, drug trafficking, arms dealing, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, environmental despoliation and exploitation, torture, corruption, and just plain stupidity proceed apace around the globe. So, then: What?

I’m a big fan of the movie “Network.” And I agree with the premise that for social change to occur, the first step is to get up out of your chair, go to the window, and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” But once you’ve roused yourself and had a good yell, beware the splendid consolation of catharsis. Don’t settle for getting that off your chest, by God, and returning to your La-Z-Boy with a small glow of self-congratulation to brighten the rest of the evening.

With no direction and therefore no productive channelling, the result of all this Occupying eventually will be either hollow capitulation to The Way Things Are or bitter and possibly violent resentment of The Way Things Are. That’s what happened to far too many of the children of the ’60s and ’70s, and they had much more focus than the protesters do today.

No, better to pick some particular thing and work at it. Don’t like sex trafficking? Join the International Justice Mission. Don’t like starvation? Link up with World Vision. Don’t see a group doing what ought to be done about this or that? Start one.

But don’t settle for the excitement of a vigorous cursing of the darkness. The darkness doesn’t care a penny about your curses. It will still be there long after you’ve shouted yourself hoarse. Find something it does care about, and do something with it.

Or just go home and let people enjoy St. Paul’s again, please.

(A shorter version of this piece appeared today in The National Post.)

0 Responses to “Occupy St. Paul's? The Occupy Movement Descends into Farce”

  1. Robert

    A wonderfully balanced piece.

    I must admit that half of me appreciates the need to speak honestly about the greed and immoral practices of so many world leaders in finance who work on Wall Street (though it is clearly symbolic, a lot are in Conneticut.) We need to challenge their practices and corruption which have led to an extended season, generation?, of loss for the overwhelming majority of the world.

    The other half sees that a lot of the movement is now a rambling group of dissenters who have nothing better to do with their time. As synthesized in your article it lacks the nuance of the 1960s (I wasn’t around for them) and seems a disparate lot of individual voices yelling at the same time. More of spectator protest than a meaningful one.

  2. Stephen

    I’m sympathetic with some of the gripes of the Occupiers, but they deserved this trip to the woodshed. For a similar take on it read Conor Friedersdorf’s Oct. 14 piece in The Atlantic.

  3. Carol Kingston-Smith

    This piece, it seems to me is unfortunately tainted by a sneering arrogance which does not seem to be in touch with the reality of the St. Paul’s protest or of the “consolidated catharsis” of many of its very high functioning professional supporters. There will always be a need for public outcry and public catharsis (however inconvenient to those who like business as usual) because there will always be imbalances of power which merit public lament. It is not a case of an either/or response but of both; public lament and protest along with seeringly-focused action.

    • John Stackhouse

      Sister Carol, saying, “You’re wrong and you’re mean also” isn’t an argument. It’s just saying wrong, mean things to me. ; )

      If I am misrepresenting the St. Paul’s protest, SHOW that I’m misrepresenting it. If I’m not, then why the attack?

      And as for what I take to be your other point, I’ve already said that lament is valid and that then it’s time to focus that concern into action.

      So I don’t really see that you’re saying very much here, yet, besides “You’re upsetting me,” which, again, isn’t an argument and doesn’t advance the conversation.

      • Carol Kingston-Smith

        Brother John ;)…In your original article you have not laid out your criteria for what constitutes a successful protest in any detail and yet you presume to judge (perhaps prematurely) that the St. Paul’s protests bear the marks of an unsuccessful protest. You also do that, not in a “mean” way, as you infer from my first post, but in a way which appears arrogant and disrespectful (there is a qualitative semantic difference) and which, as others have pointed out, appears to mirror the attitudes which uphold the status quo, whether or not you meant to.

        Protest is usually characterised as a developmental process, sometimes starting with clumsily articulated rage and violence which, most will agree, whilst expressively valid, is a bad form of protest and generally socially counter- productive. Non-violent protests in my book are always de facto “good” protests with a secondary sliding scale of qualitative measures of poor to excellent attributable in measure of how the protest develops its objectives in the medium to longer term . If we were to ask the protestors what their objectives are then we would be better in a position to judge whether or not they are achieving those objectives. From your article it does not appear that this is your starting point and it is primarily this with which I take issue; you are judging outcomes without firstly knowing what the objectives of the protestors were and secondly without seemingly engaging with the wider possibility of the varied nature of what those outcomes may be and thirdly, without appearing to recognise the developmental trajectory of protest where outcomes are best gauged a later points.

        May I also point out that since a large part of your berating relates to the location of the protest outside the cathedral and your judgement of the invalidity of that location, that, in fact, the protestors had attempted to encamp at the London Stock Exchange but had been forced to withdraw to the nearby Cathedral grounds early on (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15322134).

        We have mentioned public lament as a valid feature of protest (in antiquity you could get a paid job lamenting!), embodied and presenced protest is hugely affirming to many who have become choked into silence by status quo in that it witnesses to the causes of their distress and affirms and invites them to process that sense of outrage. IN this respect, the mere presence of the St. Paul’s protestors is effective in embodying not only national but international dis-ease. You are quite right in identifying this important catharsis as needing to develop and that is precisely what a good protest achieves- a maturing sense of momentum and desired outcomes. However, the fundamental characteristic of the St. Paul’s process, it seems to me, is one which is founded not only on protest but on embodying an alternative vision of “what life could be like”. A stated part of this experiential conscientisation is an experience (for both the protesters and those who want to join in the experience) of non-coercive, shared vision casting and objectives planning. Of course, by its very nature, this process is a slow one (taking time to listen to the “little people” will always be time-consuming) but that it is judged ineffective would be ill-conceived. That the St. Paul’s protest appears passive/toothless to you is to overlook not only actual documented demands being advanced by protesters (both on site and supporters off site), but also to overlook the broader contextual nuances of protest as a developmental process which is both embodied and networked with the whole spectrum of validity from catharsis to strategic outcomes possible.

        The point is…your post does not “measure” it judges and from the arm chair at that…but we’re all guilty of doing that
        sometimes. I hope that goes some way to clarifying my objection.

        • John Stackhouse

          Thanks for this, Sister Carol. I sincerely hope you’re right about all this. What I’ve heard and seen so far, alas, is a wildly disparate gathering of wildly disparate worries, agendas, attitudes, policies, strategies, polities, leadership styles, and goals. Of course there are “documented demands”–from this or that person or subgroup. But what does the Occupy movement itself want? What positive outcome would cause those in it to say, “Yes, we got what we wanted. Hooray! Now let’s go home”? Can you tell? I surely can’t. And despite all the boring insults about armchairs and ivory towers from you and others, I’ve actually done more than I’ve indicated to find out. Still don’t know. It still seems to me a congeries of people who are unhappy about this or that. And I don’t see what good getting all these people together is going to do, besides charge them all up for a while in a burst of fellow-feeling and then dissipate their energies when they find they don’t share concrete concerns and are not pursuing them the same way.

          I’ve studied and taught the Puritan Revolution, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution. I have a nodding acquaintance with 1848, with decolonization in Africa, with Indian and Israeli movements toward independence, with the history of suffragism, abolitionism, and civil rights. From this vantage point, I’m writing with genuine concern–not mean-spirited mockery, but a deep worry that this whole thing has been badly conceived and is taking the place of a genuinely fruitful protest movement.

          What I also know is that it is disruptive to other people, and I am dismayed that none of the Occupy defenders in the comments here has even acknowledged that fact.

          I was in London last week and it is not at all evident to me how taking over space that does not belong to you–folks, “public space” does not mean “Oh, that belongs to me, too, to do with whatever I like because I’m a member of the public”–and interfering with the work and leisure of your neighbours is itself okay. It is not okay. In a liberal society–let alone on the grounds of Christian morality–you have to have an awfully good reason to interfere with your neighbours. And just being upset about injustice of one sort or another isn’t enough.

          So I hope you’re right and I’m wrong. I hope this movement will metamorphose into some clearly focused, effective resistance against what I said in my original posts are indeed serious problems in the world. So far, though, I don’t think I’m wrong–and every day the Occupy movement hassles other people, it incurs responsibility.

  4. Steve Wilkinson

    Good article. I agree with much of what you have said, with a bit of caution. As I’ve interacted with friends who have passionately argued for and against the movement, I’ve found myself being sympathetic to both sides. As a Christian apologist, I see some parallels with what is going on in the representation of this movement with what apologists have to deal with.

    From what my pro-movement friends tell me, the foundations of the movement are a) a reaction against Wall Street due to what happened in the financial sector and the government bailouts of the financial sector (while more complex than that, a valid criticism IMO) a few years ago. and b) the corruption in the government which basically turns a democracy into a puppet vote, where the real power lies with special interests via back-room deals. The problem here is that while true, the special interests in question are more varied than the 1% of the most wealthy or their corporations. That said, I think the point is sound (even if closing that back door would hurt a lot of the causes which have now jumped on the Occupy bandwagon (ex: big unions).

    As for goals, they do seem to vary. Many want something to be done about the above. Point (b) could be accomplished with enough pressure on the government to put some laws in place around campaign reform and some others to close that back-door as much as possible. Point (a) is probably too late this time (legal retribution), but we could certainly fix the regulation to help keep it from happening again (and IMO that they aren’t kind of makes it look suspiciously like that ‘1%’ would like to rinse and repeat in some other way again, as I think these economic collapses have been a nice way to extract a bunch of $ from the middle by a clever few.) But, at least at the origination of the movement, they are hoping to clearly communicate to that ‘1%’ the amount of damage they are doing to not just the poor, but even the average person, through their actions. They are also sounding a bit of an alarm as to what the world might become if things aren’t changed. (I’d have to agree here. The US is teetering on the edge of a pretty bad collapse IMO. If that happens, things are going to get pretty ugly.)

    However, when I look at the movement in the media, they don’t seem to very well represent the above. (I can’t tell how much of that is media distortion though, as my friends have sent me a few video clips of the protests that don’t match the media portrayal.)

    So, the parallel. When I have to defend Christianity, I often have to defend what Christians actually (or at least should) believe, not the portrayal of Christianity in the media, what a typical Christian might do or believe, or how the skeptic presents Christianity. The ‘Right,’ when speaking about the Occupy movement, do a great job of mischaracterizing it or focusing on the actions of some of the protestors, rather than on what the movement is really saying (though I admit this is a bit hard to determine). The media seems to be doing what media often does, focusing on the fringes that feed the controversy. And, like many Christians, many in the movement don’t clearly know, or represent in their actions, what the movement is about.

    I am growing more skeptical of the movement as time goes on. The more Leftist causes which jump on board (and to the extent that this begins to warp the movement in that direction), the less credibility and more problematic the movement becomes. However, I’d strongly caution against the mischaracterization I see in the portrayal of it from the Right and their not taking it seriously enough. I think you hit on that with your outcomes… just throw in an economic collapse and think of how that kind of crowd is going to react.

  5. Spencer Capier

    I think of these occupy movements as sort of a “Father Gabon” moment, when a peaceful petition was brought to the Tsar in 1905. How the current system responds to the rather unfocussed but still legitimate concerns of the people will determine what happens next.

    I’m more optimistic that even if activist groups use this mass of inchoate protesters as a resource for recruiting, that will be enough to call it a success. I don’t expect people who have just woken up to be particularly articulate until after a few cups of coffee.

  6. jwheels

    I hear what you’re saying, and I appreciated the constructive bits at the end, but overall I’m surprised at the apparent level of cynicism.

    I see these Occupy protestors who don’t know what they’re talking about (many do, by the way, but we never hear about them) as lost, not as stupid. Yes, they don’t have direction; yes, their statements are often ignorant; yes, they need someone to focus them. But in the meantime, we have a whole lot of people calling them down for their lack of focus, and nobody providing that much needed focus.

    Prof. Stackhouse, I’d like to turn your argument around: if you agree that there are problems in the world, and you see people aimlessly and ineffectually trying to change them, don’t settle for the catharsis of calling them idiots! Teach them something, give them focus! Join with the unions in empowering the protesters. Give them a real target that actually matters (like Occupy Oakland, which closed down a port – and did it peacefully!). Better still, bring some more Jesus to the protests: care for them, clean them up, feed them, and then mobilize them into a massive movement of non-violent resistance. A dirty mob on a church doorstep might not change the world, but a visible community washing each other’s feet sure might.

    The purpose of Occupy, the symbol behind the name, is a reaffirmation of public space and property. Wall Street is an obvious target, because it’s the Mecca for the biggest proponents of private property, yet the street itself is still public space. St. Paul’s Cathedral is less powerful a target than the London Stock Exchange, perhaps, but it’s a space that is well and truly public – what space could be more public than a church, and most especially a state church? It might not be directly effective to make your important statements in places where the people in power don’t need to hear you, but it’s something that Jesus did all the time: he stood silent before his accusers, even though he spoke against them to the people. Speaking truth to power, without the rest of the world hearing you, is a quick death sentence. But speaking truth to the world undermines the legitimacy of those in power. If everyone who walks past St. Paul’s gets the message, the stock exchange will go down without a fight. If even 1/10 of them get the message, in an age of minority governments and coalitions in Britain, it could swing a vote.

    So Mr. Stackhouse, while I appreciate your frustration with the aimless movement, So What?

    • John Stackhouse

      I’m not sure I’m understanding your point. Are you saying I’m ONLY criticizing these protesters and not doing anything positive? That seems strange when (1) I do offer constructive alternatives in the piece itself; (2) you have no idea what else I do in the rest of my life–like teaching Regent students about the world and how to engage it fruitfully, or writing entire books about that subject, or speaking to CEOs, lawyers, physicians, and other powerful people about justice, or standing up for institutions such as InSite, or raising three sons to take their place in the work of the Kingdom, or donating to World Vision, Haiti Partners, Amnesty International, and other useful institutions…; and (3) your own advice seems a little, well, underdeveloped: “clean them up…and mobilize them into a massive movement of nonviolent resistance.” (Sure. Just do that. But I think “just” doing that is rather more difficult than you imply.)

      Again, I’m all for protests, resistance to evil, speaking truth to power, etc., etc. My point is that the Occupy movement, and particularly but not only St. Paul’s, seems to be doing an especially bad job of it.

      So criticize me, sure, but for what I’m saying, not as if I’m defending the status quo! That’s exactly what I’m NOT saying.

      • jwheels

        Actually Prof. Stackhouse, I’m quite a big fan of many of the things you do, and I don’t assume that you don’t do other things I don’t read about either. I just find it interesting that, given an opportunity to provide direction to this collection of confused and hurt people, I’ve seen article after article lambasting them instead. You are much more constructive than most, but as I said, your constructive comments come near the end; I merely suggest that if we spent a bit more time helping them and focused a little less on trashing them, perhaps they’d be making a bigger difference than they are. After all, the power of protests is in the public perception of them – their message(s) get heard primarily through popular media. At the beginning of this movement, there was a lot of positive media coverage, and it grew very quickly; now I see three negative articles for every positive one, and the movement seems to be stagnating.

        As for 3) my own advice, I’m hardly free from blame. I could be out washing feet at Occupy Winnipeg, but I’m sitting at my computer waxing intellectual about the whole thing. I suppose my response to you was as much a challenge to myself, but I need to see something positive to build on before I’ll be likely to join the movement. There IS a lot of positive things in this movement, and I’m concerned that if we kill the momentum on this misguided movement we’ll just be killing our chance to guide it instead.

        And once again, I’d like to reflect your comments back at you: I didn’t mean to imply that you don’t do anything to advance causes in the world, but perhaps we should extend the same courtesy to the Occupy protesters. They’re often being portrayed as lazy, greedy welfare bums looking for a handout, but they have families too. Among their ranks are seasoned activists, union organizers, people who volunteer for all kinds of charities, and even philosophers. While your article doesn’t portray them as greedy or lazy, it certainly portrays them as stupid, whiny kids trying to follow in their parents’ footsteps without any real idea of what that means – should we make such claims about people like Cornel West, who was there at the beginning of this protest and has been protesting injustice all his life? You are not the only one who is working behind the scenes or on other projects, and rarely does a serious activist or protester have only one form of action that they take. Perhaps International Justice Mission and World Vision should be down at the rallies too, recruiting. More than likely, they’re well-represented there already.

        My concern, Professor Stackhouse, is that what you’re saying IS (indirectly) defending the status quo. Constructive criticism, which you included toward the end of your article, can be a very positive thing. But not all criticism is constructive, particularly when it portrays its target so one-sidedly. As I said above, what the media says about this movement will determine its success or its failure. Media condemnation of this movement will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        Furthermore, criticism of any kind is less effective than a good counter-example, and a poorly executed protest is an excellent opportunity to build up, rather than tear down. If we want to judge evil, we should do good; if we want to judge a protest as poor, we should promote a protest that’s effective. I’m learning a lot lately about the difference between judging and acting – when we’re doing one, we tend not to do the other. I see a lot of media criticism – judgment – and I see a few clergy showing up to serve the protesters. Most organizations that seek social change know the way, but lack the will (i.e. mass support); this movement has plenty of will, but doesn’t see the way. As long as we’re critiquing the intelligence of their actions, we’re not engaging them in ways that will further ANY of our causes.

        I’m sorry if I implied that you’re doing nothing, or that I’m any better in any way than you are (I know I could do a lot more!). What I’m looking for is an opportunity to encourage and build up, rather than discourage and tear down. The Occupy movement is a golden opportunity.

        • John Stackhouse

          Well, you say a lot of things here, some of them I’m glad to hear, not all of them in focus for me.

          But my point, I trust, is plain: the Occupy movement so far seems to have hassled a lot of people to no good end. Furthermore, it is not clear what the good end would be that would satisfy the protesters and end their disruption of their neighbours’ lives–short of Utopia. And if I’m right about that, then a lot of energy is being wasted. Worse, it is substituting for real work that gets real results.

          Whether I go down to hang out with the protesters or whether World Vision does is entirely beside the point I’m making. Sure, good people are participating (including friends and relatives of mine) and I’m sure they are being salt and light among those who can benefit from their care. I’m talking about the movement as a whole, and I haven’t read anything yet actually responds directly to the points I’m raising. Instead, I’m being told, by you and others, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, let’s wait and see, I’m just opining from a comfortable distance, all protest movements start this way (which isn’t true), and so on.

          I’m open to being argued with. I’m not terribly open (as you can see!) to alternatives to argument.

          • Steve Wilkinson

            “Furthermore, it is not clear what the good end would be that would satisfy the protesters and end their disruption of their neighbours’ lives–short of Utopia.”

            While I’ve heard few protestors able to articulate it, if I understand the founding motivations, I think they would be quite happy (in the US) with some good campaign finance reform and laws to try and restrict the influence of special interests in Washington.

            Since those are two things I think are very needed in the US (and probably many other places), I can get behind them in that respect. However, I agree with much of your critique about how they are going about it and whether they will be successful. And, as time goes on, I’m getting less comfortable with where this is headed.

          • jwheels

            Thanks John, I appreciate your response 🙂

            I share your concern that participation in this action might become a substitute for more effective action. My hope for the entire movement is that those who know a thing or two about effective action would tap the incredible momentum of this movement. I don’t know exactly how to do that, but I have a hunch that raining on their parade won’t accomplish it, and I don’t think people are really willing to accept “shut up and go home” anymore, no matter how well it is worded, or even how logical it is. I get a sense that this movement is the outburst of a lot of people who’ve felt for a long time that they don’t have much of a voice in our society – and now they’re making noise to show that they still can, that they don’t have to sit back and take whatever scraps fall from the tables of those above them. They’re going to keep shouting until someone hears them, and they’re going to go where someone points them, and the longer we debate what their real point is, the less unified it will become.

            The unifying notion of Occupy is that government looks out for big business, not for citizens. The symptoms of that corruption vary from place to place, which is one of the reasons the protests seem so diverse and unfocused. I’m not sure if we’ll see anything that satisfies the entire movement short of revolution, and given the path that we’re on, and the view we have of Greece right now, revolution looks mighty good to a lot of people. I’m hoping it won’t come to that, but there seem to be two alternatives: we either tell them to go home and stop inconveniencing people, or we help them make a difference – use our voices to give them a more compelling argument than simply repeating “we are the 99%.” If we can give them a boost by clarifying their message, it might bring about real reform short of revolution.

            So this is my proposal: rather than reinforcing the image of the protests as a loose band of unintelligent rioters, let’s look at the unity that DOES exist. You mentioned in another comment that you’ve looked for unifying messages and haven’t found them; I’ve found them, primarily in the official statements of the original Occupy Wall Street group, the articles of organizers like Cornel West, Chris Hedges, and Max Berger, and even on CBC’s The Current. Yet I recognize that these positive, focused ideas are hard to come by amidst the sea of criticism. That’s my whole point!

            I’m not saying that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Your critiques, while pretty harsh, seem to be an accurate portrayal of the worst of Occupy. What I AM saying is that, for the rest of us armchair activists, Occupy will be whatever the media says it is – so please, find something positive to say, so we can all make the best of this and see some positive change in our society from it. Otherwise, you’re right: it IS all a waste. This movement will be whatever we make it into, so let’s make it into something powerful.

      • nate

        John, you seem very defensive. I don’t do much blog or internet stuff, but I think that these comment conversations can get a little bit sad. -I don’t mean pathetic, I just mean literally sad. Maybe you just didn’t need to include in point number two all of this stuff:
        “like teaching Regent students about the world and how to engage it fruitfully, or writing entire books about that subject, or speaking to CEOs, lawyers, physicians, and other powerful people about justice, or standing up for institutions such as InSite, or raising three sons to take their place in the work of the Kingdom, or donating to World Vision, Haiti Partners, Amnesty International, and other useful institutions”.
        I would hesitate to be so cavalier when discussing my works that demonstrate my faith. I also would imagine that this jwheels guy knows that you have written books if he is reading your blog. I’m sorry if this sounds rude… I guess it is also conveniently anonymous. Sorry again. This really is none of my business -perhaps it is always like this in blogs.

          • nate

            I’m sorry John. I shouldn’t talk about stuff that I don’t understand or know much about. I guess I got carried away. I think you are insinuating that I was a bad example here and I agree. I hereby will not use a blog comment area again (I’m serious, based on this attempt, I think I will write it off). If I want to say something in the future I will try to find the person’s email and tell them that way. Ideally we could even talk about our differences in person. I’ll let you know if I’m ever in the country and maybe we could meet. I have heard good things about you from various people. I shouldn’t have responded that way to your posts/responses. God bless.

    • Steve Wilkinson

      @ jwheels – Your post seems to confirm a bit of the confusion I’m seeing in the Occupy movement. For example, why would he, “Join with the unions in empowering the protesters.”? The unions aren’t empowering the protestors, but hurting them. The huge (corrupt) unions in the US are actually part of the problem the protestors face. If the Occupy movement were smart, they would be distancing themselves from the union involvement, as that just paints it as Leftist, or at least gives detractors ammunition.

      You say, “like Occupy Oakland, which closed down a port…” OK, so what did that accomplish? It got them noticed I guess, but shows a lack of understanding among those participating (and directing) the movement. If they are to be successful, they need to be focused in their targets on companies who are doing the damage they claim (like some of the financial institutions), not harming business and productivity in general. They also need to be protesting the White House as that is where the biggest problem lies!

      You say Wall Street is an obvious target because they are the, “biggest proponents of private property…”. Does this movement have a problem with private property? If so, then that is incredibly problematic and fits the stereo-type the opponents are painting it with. The problem isn’t capitalism, but capitalism which isn’t properly regulated, or where ‘back-door’ corruption in the government with these special interests (note, not only big business here!) creates injustice.

      You say, “the stock exchange will go down without a fight.” Do we want the stock exchange to go down? If so, again, this is problematic. I’m a HUGE critic of the stock exchange, but I’d like to see it reformed, not taken down. Once again, this seems to be more Communistic than fighting injustice… which is exactly how the opposition is painting it. My understanding of the guiding principals of the movement (in my earlier post) are far from Communistic, but my fear is that the opposition might be right in that it might be where it is headed. A lot of Leftist movements are jumping on for the ride, and the movement itself doesn’t seem to have enough sense to kick them off, if not embrace them.

      • jwheels

        Good points, Steve, but I think this highlights the diversity of the group even more – we’re obviously seeing different parts of the protest. I’ve been listening to interviews with unions such as the union that represents public transportation in New York: they’ve been marching with Occupy Wall Street for quite a while now, and are challenging in court the city’s requirement that they drive buses full of arrested protesters. There have been many unions that are marching with the protesters in many of the cities that have protests.

        Unions are not always good (just as people are not always good), and I agree that some unions are too powerful or greedy or whatever other adjectives apply. As in any situation, the poor actions of a few give a whole group a bad name: without unions, we’d be in the race for the bottom with the third world, something we quickly forget when we see union workers making more money than us and getting more holidays.

        Shutting down a port shows the power of the movement, something that’s increasingly lacking in our part of the world. Union-busting campaigns have been going on in the US for quite some time now, and it’s begun in Canada as well: collective bargaining rights are being overruled by government that is ideologically opposed to the very existence of unions. The last and greatest power a union can assert in their own defense is the right to strike, shutting down the commerce of their particular trade. Occupy is supported by many unions, but it is not itself a union, and cannot strike – but it utilized peaceful protest to achieve the same ends. Note that they didn’t shut it down forever – less than a day, as far as I know. Occupy isn’t anti-wealth, or anti-business, they’re simply not content to watch all of it get funneled to a few.

        Again, they’re not against private property, but protection of private property gets used all the time to victimize the poor. People in the US have been forced out of their homes, and had their jobs cut, while the lending institutions that sold them a bad loan and the employers that laid them off make record profits, all in the pursuit of private property. What they protest isn’t the existence of private property, but the system that is supposed to protect them being used against them in the name of private property – the property of the few.

        And the stock exchange itself is at the centre of the entire, corrupt, unfeasible system. Corporations, inherently, put profits ahead of people – it’s a part of their mandate. And trading stock has led to a system that rewards risks and speculation, creating an entire industry that produces nothing and funnels cash to the elite. The stock exchange is both a symbol and the chief mechanism of a system that cannot work in our finite world – perpetual growth is Utopia, a myth that always turns into Dystopia. Can we really reform the stock exchange in a way that is sustainable and in the best interests of the people?

        And you say Leftist as if it’s a bad thing. In the US, Leftist still falls somewhere right of the Canadian centre – they call Obama a socialist, when he hasn’t implemented any policies that his predecessor wouldn’t have done. Socialism and Leftism don’t have to mean Soviet Communism, and allegations of “leftist” leanings shouldn’t hurt a movement – unless of course we’re all dyed in the wool hard-right capitalists. At this point, I’d be very happy with a shift to the left – maybe then we’d have some moderates for a change!

        • Steve Wilkinson

          jwheels, Sorry for the long delay in response…
          I agree with much of what you have said actually.

          I think the thing with ‘leftist’ in the US is that it is only left on a number of controversial social policies (ie: abortion, same-sex ‘marriage’, etc.) but not really much different at the core of economics from the ‘right’. It is probably just harder to categorize the US ‘left’ as it isn’t consistent. I’m not familiar enough yet with the Canadian ‘left’ to really comment on a comparison.

          re: unions – I should be clear that I’m against a certain type of unions, not unions in general. (A Christian union puts food on our table!) Most of the big unions in the US (and Canada to my knowledge) are based on Marxist, adversarial principals in regard to the relationship with the company. That simply doesn’t work… it’s like the cutting off the nose to spite the face thing.

          I’ve seen family and friends get hurt because they were under a strike for *important* things like additional deer-hunting days. I’ve seen family and friends get hurt because they broke the ‘code’ and worked harder or with more excellence than they were supposed to. I’ve seen family and friends experience property damage and fear (though fortunately never experience) physical harm (though others they knew did experience it).

          I’ve sat at a negotiating table with union reps from two large national unions, who refused to allow their members to work in an environment where they might learn some skills from the other trade (much to the dismay of some of their constituents who were also present). It quickly became clear the unions themselves was big-business, with little actual concern for the workers, more than the company they were locked into combat with.

          So, I certainly realize their place and the need for them, but I think many of the present ones are out of control and in some cases worse than the alternative considering the laws that are now in place to protect workers… if they ultimately ruin the companies and economy.

  7. Glenn Runnalls

    Sitting here in my ivory tower, i can imagine that we are witnessing a recent phase in the “evolution” of critical theory (Frankfurt School). needing to do something, but afraid of the criticisms that have been leveled against “emancipation” and even “social justice”, this might be the future of “leftist” activism under poststructuralism.

    saying what they are against and using their time and bodies to make it clear how against it they are, they refuse to take responsibilty for the solution lest they participate in the birth of a new hegemonic regime. what can they hope for, that in the negative space of critique, those who already have their hands dirty might deal a little justice and maybe in the midst of it all a new nonoppressive social order will emerge.

  8. Joe

    Hi John,

    First, you make a good argument for “Occupy St. Paul’s” representing a somewhat farcical development of the Occupy movement. But I’m not sure if it’s fair to dismiss the entire movement on that score alone.

    You write: “You get to state something you perceive as startling, when all you’re doing is stating the obvious. Friends, it’s not news that a minority have most of the money and power in the world. That’s been true since, um, ever.” This doesn’t strike me as an accurate characterization of the core message of the Occupy movement. It seems to me that the driving issues are (1) the lack of legal accountability for crimes (i.e. fraud) committed by the literal and metaphorical “Wall Street” over the course of decades in the process of them enriching themselves, and (2) the near complete co-opting, at least in the U.S., of the existing political processes by some of these same elites in order to further their own interests at the expense of the basic welfare of the rest of the country. I doubt that those in the Occupy movement would equate, say, Apple making billions of dollars by developing and selling things that people want to buy, with Citibank receiving billions in government bailout funds only to turn around and report record “profits” and give huge bonuses to its (still private) employees.

    Perhaps you’re right that there are more constructive ways for those in Occupy to attempt to bring about change. But I get the sense that the “occupy” theme is in part coming out of a helplessness that people feel with respect to the existing economic and political systems that constrain them. They perceive, rightly or wrongly, that their options have been taken away from them, that there is little hope of change within the conventional channels available. So they’re doing the only thing that is left for them to do–physically show up at the steps of corrupt power (Wall Street makes much more sense than St Paul’s in this regard), and stand their ground.

    • John Stackhouse

      Well, my point is that this is NOT the only thing they can do. And if they think it is, and it doesn’t accomplish anything, then they have just wasted their time AND interfered with their neighbours as well. Worse, they’ll be embittered and less likely to join a truly worthwhile cause. That is my concern.

      And, please, I do know the difference between Apple and Citibank–although Apple has certain competitive advantages in the world that could bear some scrutiny as well, I daresay. (And I’ve run Macs since 1985, so I’m not anti-Apple!) I did say “money AND power” and so we don’t disagree.

      What no one so far has acknowledged is that the real-world decisions about bailing out banks weren’t all about the elites. I mean, where is YOUR money? Where is YOUR pension fund or mortgage or other investments? If you don’t have any, of course, it’s easier to complain. But most of us do, and most of us don’t want our banks to simply disappear, taking our money with them.

      It’s this conspicuous lack of real analysis and of realistic choosing among real-world options that discredits this movement and many of its defenders. I’m not defending massive bonuses to bank executives after bailouts, but such bonuses are not insane: they make sense within a particular game, and if we don’t trouble ourselves to understand that game, we’ll just be yelling at them, impotently, and hoping for–what? That our rage will prompt them to change their ways? Does anything in the Bible or history prompt you to think that that’s how powerful people act?!

      No one likes to be told that their well-meant efforts are in fact beside the point. We naturally respond with charges of condescension, ivory-tower abstraction, lack of compassion, arrogance, et cetera. But if in fact the well-meant efforts of the Occupy movement are beside the point, and worse than useless for the reasons I’ve said, am I a Bad Person because I’m calling for a rethink?

      Even if I’m wrong, furthermore, if I truly believe what I’m saying, shouldn’t I say it? Isn’t it my duty to do so? I encourage commentators to think about that before they launch their next missile at me or at any other critic of the Occupy movement.

      • Steve Wilkinson

        Where is the LIKE button!!!
        re: bailouts – while I’m not an economist, I have to wonder if some of these institutions should have been left to fail and the bailout money used to fix some of the repercussions (like raising the FDIC type insurance that would protect people with money in that bank). Maybe the scale of it all is just too grand. But, I am pretty unhappy with rewarding companies for their failed practices, only to have them foreclose on people having a rough time paying their mortgage (even illegally!). If we were going to bail them out, we should have at least put some heavy restrictions on them so they couldn’t do something like that. It feels more like we bailed them out largely to protect the [stock market] investors, and left many of the repercussions happen anyway. (And, if the company was being run that poorly, the stock market investors SHOULD lose their money, as that is what an investor should be paying attention to.)

      • Joe

        If I came across as sounding like I was attacking your views, I apologize–that’s really not my intention, and in fact, I do appreciate this forum in which to sharpen my views on the matter.

        As you say, there’s much on which we agree. I’m not even in the first instance arguing about how the bailout should or should not have been conducted (which would be a long and technical discussion for which I don’t feel entirely well-equipped). My mention of Apple vs. Citibank was simply intended to point out that the Occupiers aren’t protesting wealth per se (as is frequently portrayed in the media), not at all to suggest that you yourself did not perceive the difference.

        My other point could probably be articulated more clearly as well: from what I have read and seen from interviews, etc., I gather that the Occupy movement is far from aimless, but carefully conceived and purposefully “obstructionist” or even “disruptionist” in its character. They don’t (yet?) have a list of specific demands because their ultimate goal is a deep, structural reform of the entire system, and they perceive that having a list of ‘demands’ too early (before building up enough momentum) would jeopardize their ability to achieve this. You or I can disagree about whether their strategies are good, and about whether a more pragmatic approach would be superior to theirs (as you discuss in your original post), but I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize them as directionless.

  9. CJW

    John, I normally find much more agrrement with your posts, but not on this occasion. Many protest movements start out vague, and some, like the May 68 protests fizzle out in the same way. I find Rowan Williams’ approach much more constructive however, and more in line with the positive and engaging considerations I’m used to on this blog. He states, in part, “Many people ate frustrated beyond measure at what they see as the disastrous effects of global capitalism; but it isn’t easy to say what we should do differently. It is time we tried to be more specific.”

    Yes, things should be improved (includIng the ability of protestors to articulate a desired resolution), but is not being able to do better really a sufficient reason for not doing some good? Conversations about moving from abstract notions of fairness and transparency to concrete instances of justice and accountability are exactly the kinds of conversations church leaders should be having with sympathetic others.

  10. Beth


    Gotta say, I’m kind of disappointed in this post, after all the encouragement your Insite fight has brought us in the DTES.

    As someone who’s spending quite a bit of time in the DTES “picking a particular thing and working at it” (as you say), I applaud the Occupiers. I believe, in their own way, they are working at something – truth-telling and justice. I am sorry to have not yet offered my support publicly or in person.

    I see the actions of the Occupiers as acts of prophetic justice. As you know, the Old Testament prophets communicated the word of God to the people, words of truth. At times they condemned evil systems and realities. Other times they offered hope of deliverance. At times they were vague, and at other times, bitingly specific. Sometimes they performed acts to accompany their words, and sometimes those acts were strange. Would we have similar criticisms of Ezekiel, who lay on his side for 390 days? Would we say, “How is plunking yourself down and making a nuisance of yourself for a few weeks going to effect either outcome?” Maybe the fact that the protesters look “ridiculous” is a sign they’re on the right track.

    The Occupy folks are telling the truth. You acknowledge this, and you say that it is in fact “stating the obvious.” I disagree with this. They are actually pointing to rather specific injustices in present-day finance and banking systems, things that I had no understanding of prior to their Occupation. Though the media has been slow to give them voice, they have succeeded in communicating a prophetic message. Like the OT prophets, it has sometimes been vague, but it is slowly finding focus.

    It’s harder to tell the truth than you’d think – many people misdiagnose the darkness, or can’t find the courage to call it what it is. We should at least applaud these people for acknowledging darkness and sin that that the majority of the church hasn’t addressed. And perhaps their location at St. Paul’s is appropriate, for it hits home the fact that we in the church are better at treating symptoms than we are at diagnosing root causes for the disease and working to prevent the symptoms from happening in the first place.

    No, the Occupiers are not perfect. As you say, some of them are out there because they’re lazy, self-indulgent, self-important, whiny, simply enjoying the company of likeminded people. But I could say the same thing about some Regent students, and some professors. And I could also criticize the motives of many people who are going the IJM and WorldVision routes, or working at Jacob’s Well, like I do – many of us are wrongly motivated by guilt, fear, and god-complexes, and these are just as destructive and condemnable. I tend to agree with the earlier comments of jwheels – condescension and criticism are not the most helpful responses.

    Finally, I’ll note that many of my marginalized friends on the DTES are finding immense hope and encouragement in the Occupy movement. They see Occupy Vancouver as a group of people addressing their concerns, standing in solidarity with them, and giving them the chance to contribute. Though you dismiss it as “arguing between meals,” like Carol Kingston-Smith pointed out in her comments, much of what the Occupiers are doing is about experimenting with a new system – a non-violent, fair, leaderless system that welcomes and provides space for the voices of those who are often excluded. This is more than I can say for many protest movements.

    • John Stackhouse

      And, my dear, I’m disappointed in your reply also. You don’t acknowledge that the protesters are doing damage to other people. Why not?

      You don’t acknowledge that they don’t agree on the desired outcome, nor on the means to get there. That seems to me not just problematic, but fatal to any serious political effort.

      You don’t acknowledge that the scandal of Ezekiel was precisely that he was differing not only from the practices of the people around him, but also from the tradition of prophecy. So he had to hear a direct word from Yhwh to validate what he did. You’re not claiming that for these folks, are you? And you’re not implying that because Ezekiel did wild things, anything goes–at least, in a cause you believe in?

      Lots of people have been doing excellent work to acknowledge the darkness and, better, to analyze it and respond to it. I mention International Justice Mission and World Vision. I could also mention economist Paul Collier’s book, The Bottom Billion, and many more of this sort. These people recognize that only focused, informed, and sustained pressure is going to make a difference. The Occupy movement seems quite the opposite.

      And, since I share your concern for the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, although you are much more active there than I am, I want to assure you that I have you and your friends in mind when I write as I do. I do NOT want them pumped up and then disillusioned! How much more disappointment can they take?! I want their energies and concerns and heartaches directed to where they will do some good, whether Jacob’s Well or in some form of political action that might actually accomplish something. Until I see the Occupy movement taking on those characteristics of cohesion, focus, and realism, I’m going to worry that it is worse than useless: it is a displacement of genuine political action and will merely discourage or embitter those involved when it fizzles out.

      So can I disagree with the Occupy movement as I have and still be a friend to the poor and oppressed? I hope so, even though most commentators on this blog seem not to think so.

      • Beth

        John, my dear, I notice your language of being a friend “to” the poor and oppressed – this may be mere semantics, but the preposition seems condescending and suggests your sole initiative. You may be able to hold these views and be a friend “to” them. But I’ve found that in order to be a friend OF the poor and oppressed, you’ve got to try to stand in solidarity beside them, on even ground, both giving to and receiving from them. And maybe that’s where you and I are talking past one another – in the power dynamics at issue.

        In the Occupy movement, my friends have people sleeping outside under the rain beside them. They have people asking them what they think and listening to their suggestions. They have a place of welcome. For the most part, they are not condescended to. They are treated as people whose experiences and struggles have made them both strong and wise. They are not regarded as fragile, hopeless people who will be pushed over the brink into breakdown if the Occupy movement fails.

        International Justice Mission and World Vision are doing amazing things, but when I picture these groups, I see mainly upper-class white people coming in from above to rescue poor victims who cannot help themselves. This is one valid response to the darkness, though I would push for us to find the most empowering ways to do this, ways that don’t perpetuate dependence.

        But when the darkness you’re facing is unjust imbalances in power and economics, you can’t swoop in from above and tell the powerful people to behave, because you’d be making the same kind of power play you’re railing against. Instead, you have to rise up together from below, and you have to model the change you want to see. No, the Occupiers don’t yet agree on the goal or the way to get there – they only agree on the fact that the present system is unjust. But because they’re modeling a new way of holding power, they’re going to figure out the end and the means together, without excluding anyone, without simply electing a leader to tell them what to do. This method will take a lot of time and patience, a lot of messy, frustrating General Assemblies. I don’t know if they’ll have enough patience to keep going, to keep listening and working for consensus, to keep amplifying the voices of the marginalized people in their ranks. Maybe this time around, they’ll just work out some of the kinks only to rise up stronger and more equipped next time. But I know that for my friends, this solidarity and sharing of power has already been a victory, no matter what happens.

        And no, I was not using Ezekiel to imply that we have license to use any and every means to get our point across. I was using Ezekiel to show that even divinely-commanded means of communicating prophecy can seem ridiculous and irrational to us, so perhaps we should not be so quick to judge. He spoke through a donkey, so surely He can speak through a bunch of whiny kids if He wants to.

        Exactly who are the people you believe are being damaged by these protesters? The St. Paul’s and Vancouver Art Gallery patrons who are forced to look at their ugly tents? Or are the protesters damaging themselves? You seem very worried that they are wasting time they would otherwise spend doing what you call “genuine political action,” but earlier you implied that they would otherwise be spending their time on their La-Z-boys, in which case even unfocused protest would be better for its kinesthetic and educational value. You’re also worried that they will fail and be so discouraged that they will never try to change the world again. That’s possible. But it is equally possible that they will fail, see their mistakes, and find more confidence, focus, strength, and creativity for their next uprising. Who knows? They may even come up with something that meets your standards for genuine political action.

        But you seem to have no word of encouragement for the Occupiers to persevere toward focus and cohesion, no hope for these kinds of good outcomes. This leaves me wondering what exactly these well-meaning, truth-telling folks have said or done to get you so riled up. Calling the movement unfocused and unrealistic is one thing, but calling it “worse than useless” seems extreme.

        • John Stackhouse

          First, and most important, I bless you, Beth, and other commentators as well, for your love for the Occupiers, your sympathy with their sense of frustration and marginalization, your literal sharing of space with them, and your giving of yourselves to them in comfort, humility, solidarity, and encouragement. These are all really good things and I rejoice in them.

          Second, I am sure that many of the Occupiers are good people with good concerns. I know that some among them are articulate, while others may not be such but still deserve a hearing as fellow citizens and human beings.

          Third, I, too, hope that something positive will emerge from the Occupy movement. I acknowledged in the original post and subsequently that there is much that is wrong in the world that deserves protest and that warrants serious change. If the Occupy movement can accomplish some good, I’ll try to be among the first to celebrate it.

          Fourth, I write as I do without pretending that I am in a different social location than I am. I am not living among the poor. I am not myself poor. I know very few poor people well–some, but not as many as you do, Beth. But does that mean I have nothing worthwhile to say about these matters? Must I share your vocation to fulfill my own? Is anything I say necessarily condescending, necessarily not what is needed, because I don’t live as you do? I don’t think so. In fact, I think people like you need people like me to get done what you want to see done, even as people like me need people like you to get done what we want to see done. Can we appreciate that we each bring good resources to the common project of making shalom?

          Fifth, the question then is how best to participate in what God is doing in the world–as opposed to what other powers are doing in the world. And I have written as I have because I fear that the Occupy movement is generally (not in every particular, but generally) the wrong response to a wide range of valid concerns. It’s wrong because I think it not only will not change anything good, but it will only harden hearts of those who might otherwise have been sympathetic–both inside and outside the movement.

          And this question is one of analysis, not of intention or good feeling or condescension or anything else. (Not incidentally, the charge of condescension tends to be a boomerang, doesn’t it? Who is condescending to whom in the above?) I WANT most of what I understand the Occupiers to want! I am disagreeing about means, not ends. And despite the vigorous pushback I’m getting from you and others, I’m not seeing historically and theoretically grounded analysis that says my assessment is wrong, that what’s happening is truly likely to accomplish something. I’m mostly being berated for not being hopeful, or not being down there, or not getting details accurate. But those observations, however true they are, are beside the point. Show us why you think this movement will succeed, rather than just saying you hope it will and you’re upset with me for not being hopeful–when I have given reasons for why I’m not.

          And if I honestly think it won’t succeed, then how am I serving these people by swallowing that concern and encouraging them anyway? How logical or helpful is that advice? If you’re going in the wrong direction, the first thing you need to be convinced of is your error. That’s what I’m trying to do. What SHOULD be done instead is mostly for minds better furnished than mine in politics, economics, activism, and the like. But I think I know enough to make a decent case that THIS strategy isn’t a good one, and I’m making it. I’m wide open to an alternative case, but so far, I hope I’m making clear, I haven’t gotten much of one in response, have I?

          • Beth

            John, first of all, thanks for the change of tone in your last comment. I humbly receive your criticism that my comment was also condescending, and though I justified it to myself as a way of standing back up to someone who I felt had been condescending towards me, I still agree that it isn’t right. For that reason, this will be my last comment on here – it’s just too tempting to write things I would not say in person.

            I will finish by saying that I do not expect you to live as I’m living or do what I do. I can write honestly that you are an excellent prof, and you should continue teaching and writing. I do believe God has given you vocation and skills to provide sharp analysis and careful theology to inform me as I pursue my vocation and wrestle with difficult questions of praxis in the DTES. You are right in saying we each have resources we can use to work together for shalom, and this is why I attended Regent.

            My issue is not in your analysis. I have not studied social movements in history, as you have, and I have no idea what works. My issue is that the analytical resource you tried to offer in this blog post was poisoned by your condescending and inflammatory tone. Your blog was not “necessarily condescending” because of your location in the academy. Your blog was condescending because of your choice of condescending phrases, like “Ooh, how brave,” and many other words I have quoted in my comments above.

            John, you are always disarmingly self-deprecating, but the truth is that you wield a lot of power and authority, in this blog, and in the National Post and other publications. I realize that using phrases like the ones I’ve mentioned and exaggerating your tone are rhetorical devices that increase your readership. But if you are honest in your belief that at least some Occupiers are good people, and that you hope something positive will come of Occupy, and especially if you want to bless me, and be part of working with me for shalom, then please reexamine the way you communicate your truths. You don’t have to swallow your concerns or give people false hope – this would be abandoning your vocation. I expect you to be honest, and tell it like it is. But when you do so, please don’t be unfair to people, or treat them with less dignity than they deserve. I fear that if you continue writing blogs with this tone, the people who could be most helped by you in their shalom-making efforts will close their ears, and your much-needed resource will no longer be useful.

            Thanks for engaging with me on here. I’d be open to chat further in person if you’d like.

            • John Stackhouse

              You’re right, Beth, and I’m sorry. I’ve said so already, actually, in a new blog post that appeared before you could send along this sisterly rebuke. But thanks for doing what Scripture says you should do with an erring brother, rather than flaming me or turning away.

              And thanks to other commentators for keeping things civil, even as we all clearly have strong feelings. I’m sorry for poking you, also, more than I should have.

              At this rate, I look forward to being entirely sanctified in only another two or three thousand years. –Which is why Roman Catholics believe in purgatory, while we Protestants hope very much for an express elevator we don’t deserve…

  11. Tricia

    Hi John,

    After reading and agreeing with many things you’ve written over the years, I have to say, I think you’re wrong. It could very well be that we’re being shown the St Paul’s situation through the eyes of very different media outlets, but I’m not seeing what you’re seeing!

    Quickly – in repsonse to your points:

    1.They were welcomed at the cathedral as mentioned by Carol above.

    2. Bishops in the UK get a surprising amount of media coverage and every major newspaper is convering Rowan Williams’ FT article calling for the Tobin tax.

    3.Senior church officials have been forced to declare in public where the church stands on issues of wealth and poverty and that has led to good debate.

    4. You’ve not grasped the anger in the UK over the banking crisis. We’re REALLY angry and for good reason. Many support the protest for that reason alone.

    Finally – and this is from my post:

    I’m one of those “advocates for social change” and I’m too busy getting on with trying to sort out illiteracy amongst teenagers to pitch a tent in London. However, I’m not too busy to be listening out for a prophetic voice in our greedy selfish world.

    Although they lack the specific vocabulary, I think what we’re hearing isn’t really a call to end capitalism; it’s a call to repentance within the financial world – to a change of heart about what they’re making money for.

    We can stand around saying “shut up; you’re idiots and nothing’s going to change” or we can echo their call and keep it echoing until someone hears it.

    • John Stackhouse

      Sister Tricia,

      I followed your pingback to your own blog–I liked your fuller post even better then this digest, but thanks for posting the digest here!–and I’ll repeat what I said there for readers of this blog:

      I hope you’re not saying that all I’m saying is “Shut up; you’re idiots and nothing’s going to change?” That would be untrue and unkind. I’m saying something quite different: Let’s by all useful means challenge the status quo, and I think (so far) that the Occupy movement isn’t challenging it usefully.

      In particular, you and I rank the importance of what the Abp of Canterbury and other senior clerics say much differently. And so what if the mainstream media feature them? I wonder why they would do that–do you wonder?

      Blessings on you in your worthy work among teenagers. That ministry reflects the kind of focus, realism, perseverance, and usefulness I’m not seeing yet in the Occupy movement.

      • Tricia

        I’ve changed that, John, and you’re welcome to edit my comment here. Thanks for the encouragement.

  12. Lisa Salazar

    For more perspective:

  13. Lukas

    I normally like your blog, but you’ve made three mistakes here:

    1) You have misunderstood the geographical location of St Paul’s – it is right next the Wall Street of London. The protest isn’t targeting the church, but being hosted by it.

    2) You don’t realize how frequently public debate in the UK is fueled by the comments of bishops and church leaders. Churchgoing may have been declining until a few years ago, but the senior clergy are still quoted, and not just so they can be mocked.

    3) These aren’t just a bunch of would-be hippies. They are reflecting a popular mood against the excessive power bankers. They have exploited the masses for profit.

    • John Stackhouse

      Actually, Brother Lukas, I do know at least that part of London reasonably well. (I was there again last week.) The protest was originally of the London Stock Exchange–as I wrote in the original post! Then it was forced to decamp, and St. Paul’s allowed the protesters to relocate there. But what you don’t then say, which you should, is that when St. Paul’s asked the protesters to leave, they didn’t. They are no longer acting as guests, but as squatters. And that’s wrong–unless they have a compelling reason to interfere with the rights of their fellow citizens, which I don’t see that they do.

      I do know that public debate in the UK involves church leaders. (I read the British press more than you evidently think I do.) The question is whether that matters much. As a comparative historian and sociologist who tracks such things in the UK-Canada-USA triangle, I’m not convinced it does–not about the concerns of the Occupy movement, which is our focus.

      I agree that many powerful people, including many bankers, have exploited many other people. In fact, I have said that this has been true of world history for a very long time. In fact, I have said that this in an obvious and perennial truth. My point in this post is to say that exploitative bankers are not likely to stop exploiting people because of the strategy of the Occupy movement. That’s where we need to be arguing.

  14. Kate

    St. Pauls is situated right in the middle of the banking district, and is possibly the only part of pavement big enough for people to camp on without getting trampled by the city folk during the morning stampede to work. The nearest tube to St. Paul’s is called ‘Bank’, named after the Bank of England. In fact, go to St. Paul’s mid-week at lunch time and the place is teeming with people in suits… This is why they’re at St. Pauls; it the location, nothing to do with the fact that there’s a church there. Just to clear that up.


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