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Christian Stewardship principles echoed in ‘Occupy’ movement

Population of Christians at 2.18 billion

placeholder January 9, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers
Christian Stewardship principles
echoed in ‘Occupy’ movement

As we begin 2012, it appears that the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to spark public debate.

When I consider OWS, there are several principles of Christian Stewardship that seem to be relevant to the discussion.

First is the inviolable principle of human dignity. Because each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, there is a minimum standard of dignity that every human society must insure for all people. This principle is particularly related to the attitudes and interactions between protestors and civil authorities, issues such as workers’ rights to humane working conditions and fair compensation and the plight of the marginalized among us.

“In Catholic teaching, human rights include not only civil and political rights, but also economic rights. As Pope John XXIII declared, all people have a right to life, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, education and employment.” (Catholic Update CU 0187 Economic Justice for All.)

The next CS principle that I hear echoed in OWS is that we share our gifts generously in justice. Great wealth for a few is not necessarily a moral issue unless; in the presence of that excessive wealth, there are also people who are not taken care of.

“Private property [is not] an absolute or unconditional right. No one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use [luxuries] when others lack necessities.” (CU 0187)
As OWS points out, when these inequities exist, all of us within our society must share what we have to care for the least among us. This was the standard that ancient Israelite cultures used for measuring their righteousness and holiness as a people — how the widows, the orphans, the crippled and the infirm were taken care of.

Jesus illustrated this point in Luke 16:19-31 when he discussed the rich man and his treatment of the poor man named Lazarus. The story’s message speaks to the obligation we have to be aware of those among us without enough, envision how our gifts and talents can be used for their benefit and take action to minister to them and substantively improve their condition.

The last principle that comes to mind with regard to the OWS movement is the inherent connectedness that exists between all of us within our society. It should be clear from the bailouts that occurred for the banks, auto companies and financial institutions that we are connected and our common good is affected by the welfare of others.

This same principle is what should also be exercised to address the condition of so many in our society that have been harmed by this deep economic downturn. They are our brothers, our sisters, our friends, family and colleagues — our neighbors. As long as one of us is suffering, we all suffer — we all are harmed — we all are diminished. We will not be truly well-off, truly prosperous until everyone is taken care of — at least to a minimum standard in keeping with human dignity.

“The obligation to love our neighbor has an individual dimension, but it also requires a broader social commitment to the common good.” (CU 0187)

Though we live within a secular culture with others who may not subscribe to the religious values and principles that guide us as Christian Stewards, we have an obligation to add the voice of CS to the larger debate. “[L]ay men and women have the vocation to bring the light of the Gospel to economic affairs, so that the world may be filled with the Spirit of Christ and may more effectively attain its destiny in justice.” (CU 0187)

(Walt Sears is a member of the diocesan stewardship commission.)

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