Acton Institute Powerblog

Christians Must Occupy ‘All Streets’

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Occupy All StreetsOver at the Patheos Evangelical Portal, I write about “How Christians Ought to ‘Occupy’ Wall Street (and All Streets).” My argument is that the occupiers that ought to be foremost in the minds of religious leaders are those who “occupy” their pews on Sunday mornings and jobs in the world throughout the week. Indeed, “Christians therefore must occupy the world in their occupations.” That’s where the renewing and reforming presence of the church in its organic expression finds its greatest work.

As I note, the “Occupy” movement has created some distress for religious leaders. The perennial question reverberates: What would Jesus do? For some, it’s clear: there must be an institutional embrace of the Occupy movement by seminaries and churches.

But the implications of my call to recognize that Christians already occupy “all streets” is that Christians must learn to, as Jonathan Chaplin puts it, embrace institutions, and not just those that are “sacred,” like churches and seminaries. As Chaplin writes, “Christians need to reckon with the fact that all institutions are in some sense faith-based, and that Christians should be unapologetic both about working to shape existing institutions from within according to their own vision of hope or, where necessary, founding their own institutions.”

So, with respect to Wall Street in particular, for instance, a recent letter published in the Times of London notes that Christians already “occupy” Wall Street in their occupations: “Many Christians today work within mainstream business, attempting to be ‘salt and light’. Others run organisations…that are committed to using business and finance to bring social benefits, raise living standards and create jobs.”

Contrast all this with Makoto Fujimura’s advice to the Occupy movement to resist positive embrace of institutions: “The moment we institutionalize, the local movement dies a slow death as it consumes the very resources we are trying to release.” On this view institutions and systems are by definition exploitative and dehumanizing. To this type of view Chaplin responds that while there is much that is true in such a diagnosis, the proper response is not to flee institutions but to work to reform them, and where necessary recreate them. Chaplin speaks of

institutions that, even in limited ways, can embody the central norm of love, a norm which in turn needs to be fleshed out in more specific directives about justice, solidarity, peace, stewardship, and so on. Our challenge is to work toward developing institutions that can serve as conduits of this kind of love, with all its differentiated concrete applications on the ground. Such institutions we should indeed learn to love.

The payoff here is that one of the ways the church fails its members (and its business people in the case of Wall Street), is that it does not usually provide them with the worldview, the tools, and the sense of responsibility for living out their Christian faith in a responsible way in their occupations. Thus, says John C. Knapp, “Many Christians struggling to make their faith relevant to their daily work find the church oddly indifferent to their lives on the job.”

Part of the answer is to get these institutions (churches, seminaries, businesses) and their representatives to start talking to one another again. And that’s something that the Acton Institute has been doing for more than two decades. One of the best starting points for this conversation that I know of is Lester DeKoster’s little book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Rmckinney

    OWS has the zeal without the knowledge, as Paul wrote of many Israelis. Christians must understand Biblical economics before they can help or fight OWS. Biblical economics is summed up in the sanctity of private property and free markets as the only just system of exchange.

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  • John Gage

    Jordan – Thanks so much for the article.  As someone who works on Wall Street, I appreciate your views on this.  While there are many mixed messages coming from the OWS camp, I actually resonate with their general view that things are not right with the world, especially the financial world.  I don’t blame them for not totally understanding what is wrong – I am an investment banker and I don’t totally understand everything that went wrong in the financial crisis.  While I agree that occupying wall street and all streets via work is the productive and practical approach to moving forward in a positive direction, I think we also have to acknowledge that the OWS camp is right in that there are many problems on Wall Street, and we will do everything we can to make things right.  Also, simply occupying jobs on Wall Street is not enough – that is apparent when we look at the financial crisis and the fact that many Christians were involved in the event.  We must do more than occupy – we must work to change the industry for the common good and for the glory of God.  Thanks again for the post.

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  • Joyce Ribbens Campbell

    Amen and amen — I love it!  A fresh expression of the idea of sphere sovereignty and of being the answer to the prayer that Jesus’ taught us to pray:  “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  His Kingdom is as wide as creation and certainly includes occupations and institutions.

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