Last evening I ventured to City Hall in Austin, TX where a mass of people gathered for the Occupy Austin General Assembly which is being held each night until the actual Occupation on Thursday, October 6th.
In the midst of the meeting, an upside down hat was passed around the group to collect donations so that flyers could be printed. As the hat was circulated, I overheard a young man quietly suggest to his friend that the occurring event was “like church, but for a good cause.” The assertion caught my attention as I was just thinking to myself how the experience unfolding before me was very similar to what the church intends to be.
In a sanctuary of sorts, I sat among the most diverse group of people present in one setting that I have seen in some time. The space was one in which each voice was valued. The agenda of the meeting was voted on by all present and those leading the meeting were volunteers who have to switch out after two meetings are complete. There is no one person in charge of the movement, no one person with the “right” perspective. As the meeting proceeded, a young man carried around a bag of granola, offering each of us the opportunity to partake in the snack. As our stomachs and our communal hunger for justice were fed, we discussed the mission statement, tactics, and ambiguities of the days ahead. People were encouraged to watch for newcomers, filling them in on the story thus far and it was made clear that every person present was necessary for the job to be done well.
I don’t mean to claim it was a utopian experience. It took us two hours just to approve the agenda for the evening, and let’s be honest--honoring every voice is hard work and often frustrating for everyone. But in and through the struggles of the evening, the vision was maintained, the meeting was a success, and all were included.
Throughout the meeting, I found myself reflecting on the Christian Ethics class I had just that morning. We’ve spent a lot of time lately discussing churches which are more concerned with maintaining safety and security than being a prophetic voice in society. The church has an incredible opportunity right now to be a forerunner for justice, but for the most part, it is only acquiescing to the status quo – if not reinforcing it. Poverty, political and corporate corruption, the whole long list of –isms beg for people courageous enough to speak out in response to their religious claims, even if that results in loss. In theory, the church is a counter-cultural space founded upon love and righteousness.
Yet, the young man who was present at the meeting sat amongst others who were concerned with equality, justice, and inclusion and the only connection he made to the church was the fact that money was being collected.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is growing quickly because people are sick and tired of nothing being done in response to mass injustices and a national framework which does not allow for the flourishing of all people. I am curious to see how the church will respond to this movement. Will it recognize the congruencies and be empowered to live into its own confessions by participating in the movement or creating a parallel response? Or will it let yet another opportunity to exhibit the love of Christ in the world pass it by? Whatever the means employed, I hope we soon give the young man at the meeting a reason to believe the church too is a “good cause.”
Mary Ann is a graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is currently working as the Youth Director and Justice Associate at a United Methodist Church. Her primary interests reside in the intersections of church and society, particularly in realms of sexuality, gender, race, and ecology. You can follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/ladygadfly.