Wallis: Invite the 99ers to church

A church sanctuary for the Occupiers

Jim Wallis

Originally published on Sojourners site.

It’s time to invite the Occupy Movement to church!

And  Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion. Have some of the young protesters —  the “99ers” as they’re becoming known — from this rapidly growing  movement over for a big holiday dinner!

Our faith communities and  organizations should swing their doors wide and greet the Occupiers  with open arms, offering them a feast to say “thank you” for having the  courage to raise the very religious and biblical issue of growing  inequality in our society.

Concentrations of wealth and power,  unfairness in our political process, the loss of opportunity —  especially for the next generation — and the alarming rise of poverty in  the world’s richest nation are all fundamental concerns for people of  faith. So let’s invite the young occupiers into our churches and  ministries for good conversation and a great meal.

If our mayors  and police departments are making the Occupiers feel unwelcome, why  don’t we welcome them to stay on our church property if they need  someplace to go?

Open our church basements and parish halls as  safe places to sleep — shelter and sanctuary as cold weather descends  upon many of our cities.

It’s time both to embrace and engage  this hopeful movement of young people who are articulating the  underlying but often unexpressed feelings of a nation which, by a  three-quarters majority, believes, with the protesters, that the  economic structure of the country has become unfair and skewed to  benefit the most wealthy.

These are gospel issues, and are therefore the business of the churches.

So  let’s invite them to our Thanksgiving dinners all across the country,  and have “table fellowship,” because that’s what church people do!

Bring  them in out of the cold, and offer them the appreciation and warm  hospitality of a thankful faith community. I’d imagine they must be  tired of pizza by now and a turkey — or vegetarian — dinner with all the  fixings is likely to attract a crowd (with vegan versions available, of  course).

New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he  “takes full responsibility” for unleashing hundreds of his police in a  highly militarized early Monday morning raid that evicted the young  people encamped in Zuccotti Park. So let’s give him that responsibility.

Bloomberg  is the poster child for the “1 percent.” He is the archetypal wealthy  man who bought political power, and the uprising in his city to challenge  what he himself stands for has made the mayor uncomfortable about the  protests since the beginning.

That the protests in New York  became the flagship of a global movement must be personally embarrassing  for Bloomberg, and his clear signal that this movement for economic  equity is not welcome in his city likely now will be mimicked by mayors  and police chiefs around the country.

The Occupiers in New York  already have returned to Zuccotti Park, but tensions and perpetual  conflicts between their movement and city administrators and police will  likely become the status quo dynamic in New York and across the nation.

The  Occupy movement needs a sanctuary. And what better safe and welcome  place could these young people find than with communities of faith?

As  we provide that safe sanctuary for a new generation of protesters who  dream of a better world, let us also engage them in the spirituality of  the change they seek.

My experience with the young protesters in  several cities suggests that they are open to that kind of conversation.  Many have been studying other social movements where faith,  spirituality, and moral sensibilities played a central role.

Jesus  is a popular guy among the thousands of Occupy sites around the world,  and faith is a lively topic — even if religion is suspect as an  institution of an unjust society.

So as the young protesters are made  to feel unwelcome by the municipal authorities in cities around the  country, let us make them feel very genuinely welcomed in our faith  communities.

This could be a great opportunity for hospitality, for  ministry, for solidarity, for faith conversation and, yes, for prophetic  witness as churches and people of faith speak up for the economic  justice that is at the heart of biblical faith and is an integral part  of the gospel.

It’s also a way to connect the generations in the  context of a community for people of all ages. Because all social  movements inevitably generate tension and even outright conflict, they  need safe space, places to rest and rejuvenate. They need sanctuary.

Offering that sanctuary to the Occupiers — at our tables, on our  property, in our parish halls and church basements, and in our  sanctuaries for the quiet prayer and reflection that every movement  needs to sustain itself — could be the beginning of a powerful  relationship between the faith community and the leaders of an emerging  generation that is so clearly and passionately committed to creating a  better world.