Bishop Robinson: ‘We’ve Got Every Religious Reason to Argue for Redress’
New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson says he wishes the church had started the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“These are the birth pangs of something,” Robinson told the Center for American Progress, our parent organization, in a recent interview. “We still don’t know what it is, but it seems to be pointing in the direction of asking some bigger questions about what is our responsibility to one another? And do we really want to live in a society in which a very few people benefit at the expense of the very many?”
Robinson, the first openly gay, non-celibate bishop in the Episcopal Church, has been an outspoken religious proponent of the Occupy movements across the country. He appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show in early November, conversing with Maddow about what the protests mean to him as a religious man.
To Robinson, the religious support for the Occupy Wall Street movement is rooted in the call of the Old Testament prophets—specifically one portion of Micah 6:8: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
In a society defined by greed and massive structural inequality, Robinson said he believes that Micah’s message has a very powerful call:
There’s a famous saying, “It’s not enough to pull the drowning people out of a raging stream, you have to walk back upstream and see who’s throwing them in in the first place.”
The justice part [of Micah’s message] is figuring out what is wrong with the system that makes this happen? That causes people to be drowning, almost literally, certainly drowning in debt, in the richest nation on earth. And so I think to be true to our own tradition, we can’t just provide food, provide clothing, and even housing to those who have hit really hard times, we have to figure out what the system is that is causing that in the first place.
Religious support for Occupy Wall Street has been slow in coming (at least by Robinson’s standards), but faith now has a significant presence at Occupations across the country.
The web magazine Religion Dispatches has published numerous stories about the religious resonance of the movement, including a roundtable with religion scholars. And groups such as the Protest Chaplains (one sign: “Blessed are the Poor”) and Occupy Judaism serve as loci of religious organizing within the movement.
Robinson told CAP that he doesn’t think the Occupy movement is anti-capitalism, but reiterated from his Maddow appearance that Wall Street no longer represents capitalism—the rewarding of innovation that supplies what people need.
More than that, he said, we are a capitalist democracy.
“Our democracy is built on the notion that the winner doesn’t take all, that the top 1 percent of the earners in this country don’t actually get everything,” Robinson said. “A democracy says, though there will be disparities of wealth, the incredibly wealthy will be asked to contribute their fair share to the common good.”
Constructing a society that values the common good, Robinson says, is a religious mission akin to that of the Biblical prophets. That’s why he says he wishes the church had led the protests—though he’s very aware of the perils of co-opting the movement.
“You know, when you see a parade, it’s awfully tempting to get in front of it and claim you’re actually leading it,” Robinson said. “But, you know, I have to say, the church often brings up the rear rather than leading, but better late than never. And I think we have an appropriate role to play.”
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.