This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Mennonites and the Occupy movement

From the editor

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is going to be with us for a while. Mennonites who are not ignoring it are trying to figure out how to relate to it. Some joyfully participate. Some angrily reject it. But it may be God at work.

Thomas Everett 2Nathan Graber-McCrae participated in an Occupy Denver event. We published his letter on the magazine’s Facebook page.

“I was amazed to see and hear,” Nathan says in both places, “the protesters expressing sentiments that Mennonites, Anabaptists and other Christians have been claiming for decades, even centuries—hunger for social justice, solidarity with the poor and struggling, resistance to increasing corporate control of government, and deep suspicion of Wall Street and banks that are too big to fail. As I watch the OWS movement gain in strength and popularity nationwide, I can’t help wondering, Where are the Mennonites?”

The Facebook post sparked a record number of responses, primarily because one person argued with nearly everyone who expressed support or sympathy for the Occupy movement.

For those of us who came of age during the Vietnam War era, this brings back memories of the antiwar movement. We discovered that suddenly our pacifism was in vogue. Some Menno­nites marched in antiwar demonstrations, burned draft cards or moved to Canada to avoid the draft. Other Mennonites wanted nothing to do with these new pacifists whose resistance to war had little to do with following Christ as a disciple.
The same dynamic is again in play.

After years of advocating for the weak and disenfranchised in society, we suddenly discover that the way we view the world’s needs is again in vogue. But the problem during the antiwar movement 40 years ago was the troubling values and questionable lifestyles of many who wanted the Vietnam War to stop.

So how might Mennonites engage the Occupy movement? As usual, the answer will not be the same for everyone.

On page 32, Anna Groff reports on several Mennonites who have been participating in the Occupy movement. Kara Bender organized an action in Chicago on Nov. 7, 2011, that called on public officials not to cut funding to programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Bender is a member of Reba Place Fellowship Community. Twenty members from Reba Place Church attended the Chicago Occupy event. Six, including Bender, were arrested and ticketed, but not jailed.

But others want no part of the Occupy movement and are angry that some Mennonites participate.

“There aren’t any true Mennonites in Occupy,” wrote the Facebook participant whose first rebuttal sparked dozens of responses, “unless you identify Mennonites as people who flagrantly violate the law and have no respect for any type of authority and who … love violence. I would not call anyone associated with this movement someone who truly embraces the Mennonite faith.”

I disagree.

If we are becoming a missional church, then the question we ask about any Occupy activity is this: Are there signs that God is at work in the particular event? If—in consultation with other brothers and sisters in the church—the answer is no, then back away. If the answer is even a qualified yes, then engage thoughtfully, offering God’s healing and hope.

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