I confess I have trouble with the “Jesus was a socialist” claims. Likewise, I am disturbed by those who conflate capitalism with democracy and Jesus. Jesus’ times had no sense of democracy or socialism. When we make these claims, and others like them we’re creating Jesus in our own images. We are manipulating the faith for our own purposes.
Still, there are indeed things that we can glean about Jesus from the biblical texts. This is best done in conversation with the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, what Christians typically call the Old Testament and the culture of the time. The most significant core part of Jesus’ teachings is about having loving compassion for others and a sense of hospitality, of welcoming the outsider. In the literal words of the text, Jesus makes it clear that God’s people are to show their love for God by caring for the “least of these” (Matthew 25).
Jesus, and to an even greater extent, the Acts of the Apostles and the letters attributed to Paul, advocate a communal living. A sense of community and hospitality was not new in Jesus’ time. It is a theme found throughout the Hebrew Bible. In fact, the punishment meted out at Sodom and Gommorrah was due to the failure of that community to be hospitable to the stranger.
Jesus’ Teachings Reflected in Occupy Portland Document
I was reminded of Jesus’ teachings about dealing with conflict within community by the, “Collective Agreement on Community Safety and Well-Being” developed by Occupy Portland. This ostensibly secular occupation in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street in New York, is a living community that seeks to welcome all people. (See my previous post about some members who draw too great a separation with “the 1%.) In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is quoted as saying,
Compare this biblical passage to the Steps for Dealing with Threats to Safety and Well-Being developed to address conflict within the community by the Occupy Portland General Assembly earlier this week. Notice that the individual is “empowered to tell the person to kindly stop the behavior” (compare to “point out the fault when the two of you are alone” in the Christian gospel.) A little further in the document the Occupy Portland General Assembly addresses actions to take if the person with whom the individual has conflict does not respond: “If you approach the person and the threat continues, ask for community support (2-3 others, not a mob) in re-approaching the person posing the threat.” Again, compare this to the Gospel, “if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you.”
If the individual brings other community members along to assist in reconciliation and the person still does not act in good faith, the Occupy community agreed that the person will be barred from the camp. This, too, is similar to the gospel in which Jesus is reported to have said “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” In essence the gospel means that the person is to be treated as an outsider to the community.
Much to Learn from Portland’s Occupy Community
I am convinced that the Divine, by whatever name we refer to it, is moving in our era. I share this view, this intuitive sense, with many others. It is reflected in multiple writings within the Christian community (e.g.; see the writings of Phyllis Tickle) as well as in other spiritual traditions. The similarity between how Occupy Portland has agreed to deal with conflict and the teachings of Jesus is one place where I see the Spirit moving. (Spirit is the term I use for the Divine luring and movement within and between people.)
In what has been called a “post-Christian” city, a community has formed in protest of the dominant culture’s economics. This secular protest has developed a nurturing, non-violent method of dealing with conflict which is similar to the teachings of Jesus. Admittedly, Occupy Portland may be subtly influenced by Judeo-Christian cultural values as is all of western culture. Yet, unlike too many churches which have embraced the non-Christian values of rugged individualism, Occupy Portland is reflecting Judeo-Christian values in its method of dealing with conflict. Unlike too many churches which have rejected inclusive community, the caring for the “least of these,” and communal living, Occupy Portland has inadvertently “developed” a process for dealing with community conflict that mirrors Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel of Matthew.
Indeed, the Spirit is afoot. The Divine is once again changing the world in surprising places.