LDS progressives need to #OccupytheBible

I just read a book that changed the way I think about both religion and politics. The book is entitled #Occupy the Bible: What Jesus Really Said (And Did) About Money and Power” by the Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite. Those who have read the works of Hugh Nibley will find much that is familiar. Dr. Thistlethewaite challenges Christians to #Occupy the Bible by reading the words of Christ from the perspective of those he was preaching to: poor itinerant day laborers and artisans who were suffering under the tyranny of Roman rule, abetted by the Jewish theocracy.

The author finds her inspiration in the Social Gospel movement during the Gilded Age between the Civil War and World War I, and how the movement worked with the leaders of the Progressive movement to fight for social change in America. The problem then, as it is now, are the social ills in America resulting from the ever widening gulf between the rich and poor in our nation.

Dr. Thistlethwaite calls on followers of Christ to #Occupy the Bible by reading it from the street level; when the modern equivalent of Jesus’ original audience dwell today. She promises that if we do so, we will see that the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth was not a prophecy about a future coming of the Kingdom of God, but was an admonition to reject the Kingdom of Caesar to bring about the Kingdom of God in the present. I was led to understand many of the Lord’s parables and much of his preaching in a new light. Foremost is the call from Jesus, in his very first public sermon in Nazareth, to bring about a return of the Old Testament Jubilee; to do a “reset” of the Jewish economic system by forgiving debt, freeing slaves, and returning property taken from the poor. (This is especially reminiscent of Dr. Nibley’s teaching.) And it becomes clear that this call for Jubilee, which threatened the riches and power of the ruling class in Jesus’ day, was the root cause of the fierce anger against the Savior that ultimately cost him his life.

“#Occupy the Bible” is a clarion call for followers of Christ to take upon them the mantle the followers of the Social Gospel fulfilled during the Progressive era. The book challenges us to be on the streets, among the poor, and to speak out bravely and passionately in our communities and churches for social justice. Praying for the poor and dispossessed is important, but must be followed by action. When I closed the last page, I had the feeling that maybe progressive Latter-day Saints need to speak up a little more, to be the disciples on the right hand of the Savior that the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats talks about. Here’s a final quote from Dr. Thistlethwaite: “All Christians, left, right and center, as well as Unitarians, can come together around the simple truth that the biblical message as taught by Jesus of Nazareth was the love of God and neighbor acted out in the Jesus movement. What Jesus and followers did was build up communities of equality and mutual support, economic fairness, gender equality, and live a life of celebration of one another and our love of God. And where those values were not realized in His society, Jesus and his followers protested. That’s real, and that should be the message that the church not only teaches, but also lives.”

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