Wednesday, October 19, 2011

why i went to jail and why you should too

They who swallow up the property of widows and then mask their wickedness by making long prayers: these men will receive far greater condemnation. -Mark 12:40

So Jesus made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. -John 2:15

These are the words of the Lord: For crime after crime of Israel I will grant them no reprieve because they sell the innocent for silver and the destitute for a pair of shoes. They grind the heads of the poor into the earth and thrust the humble out of their way... -Amos 2:6-7

Woe to you...who make unjust laws and publish burdensome decrees, depriving the poor of justice, robbing the weakest of my people of their rights, despoiling the widow and plundering the orphan. -Isaiah 10:1-2

The last shall be first. -Matt 19:230

The humbled shall be exalted. -Luke 14:11

Ye cannot serve God and mammon. -Matt 6:24

This following is, in part, a haphazard description of why I believe it was my Christian duty to be arrested last Tuesday.

If you would like to read a story on the action, there is one here.

The theological and ethical notion that one can not serve God and Mammon, as reflected on below,

is not a theological concept, alone—or simply a nice Christian bumper-sticker.

It is a reality manifest in a number of ways in our communities and our nation today.

One very clear way humans are being sacrificed so that Mammon can be worshiped is this:

If you walk around or bike around or whatever around Chicago's South Side (and other sides), you will quickly realize that on many many many many blocks, houses are no longer homes.

They are boarded up boxes.

They've been foreclosed on.


(Please forgive my use of layman’s terms here if your are an econ person)

Folks on the South Side and other places are paying mortgages.

They owe money to the banks, who gave them loans to buy their homes.

Depending on the estimated value of the home, the amount paid back each payment period goes up or down, in relation to the home's estimated value.

If the banks estimate the home's value high, they ask for more money each payment period.

If the homeowner responsible for payments can't afford to make payments, overtime their house will be foreclosed upon.

They will be evicted.

This is where Mammon worship comes in.
(Remember Mammon, the god of wealth, is a false god who always demands human sacrifice in exchange for material blessings).

The banks are protected in such a way that,
whether they foreclose on a home or not, they still get money.

They get money.
And they don't have to deal with homeowners.

So folks get foreclosed on
(a disproportionately larger amount of black and brown folks than other races, by the way).

Those folks are displaced from their homes and/or are made homeless,
while the banks still make a profit.

Mortgage bankers continue to be blessed by Mammon.
As long as they make human sacrifices.

This practice is sinful.

It is idolatry.

Not only is this an ethical issue. It's a spiritual issue.

It is the ministry of the Church to call for repentance, for the sake of Love.
And for the sake of God's Kingdom.
Where the lowly and the poor are lifted up.

Already, the bankers who use these sinful methods have been approached individually.

But they haven't repented.

According to Jesus' advice in the Gospel of Matthew,
it is now time to bring the whole assembly before them (Matt 18:15-20).

The Assembly, in our broad context,
can be seen as the 99% whom the 1% have sinned against.

In a more local context, the assembly are the members of our communities--and we who symbolically represent our communities/parishes.

Because we all suffer when the members of our communities are hurt.

And if the transgressors still don't repent... Jesus says in Matthew 18: Let them be as tax collectors.

Which is funny.

Because banks have collected our taxes via the bailout.

They are tax collectors!

They're just not paying any... Hmmm...


Why get arrested?

Our group, SOUL, brought demands before the MBA. We were there to talk to the president, in person. To the person who had the power to meet the demands we were making in order for a right relationship to be restored between him and us—in order to be reconciled to one another (in the words, again, of Matthew 18).

After all, we were simply asking the bankers to let our people pay them back.
Lower their rates so they can afford to pay!
Not incredibly radical.

Of course we pretty well knew that we would not get an audience with David Stevens, and that neither he, nor the MBA would condescend to our demands.

We knew that we wouldn't leave until we could speak to him.

So we knew we would be trespassing.

So we knew we would likely be arrested.

As a part of our action, we set up tents, and cardboard box art in the shape of a house and Pickett fences, along with posters listing our demands, and pictures of folks facing foreclosure.

Those planning on getting arrested sat along the window of the second story walkway that connected the two buildings of the Hyatt Regency Hotel where the MBA was assembled.

From the street, we were to look as if we were a family in a living room/house.

In order to arrest us, the cops had to tear down our houses first.

The crowd gathered below to witness and support this event got to see the folks at the top tear down our home and arrest us.

They got to see, in real time.
A foreclosure being acted out.
While they sat below.
On the other side of the glass.
And shouting.
And angry.

As we left, some shouted, “Now arrest the real criminals.”

Now arrest the real criminals.

I think it is important, especially for clergy, in our clergy outfits (so we are identifiable),
when a law is unjust, and allowing the poor to be exploited while the rich benefit from exploitation,
to get arrested.

To give a visual.

To act out, clearly, the injustice.

Spiritual leaders, ethical guides, pastors, rabbis, missionaries:

They're all getting arrested.

Those called to care for the poor and marginalized are getting sent to prison by the rich.

Often folks say about foreclosures,
(and a million other things people suffer from),
“Well... That's the law! They should have known better.
There's nothing we can do about it.”

The assumption is that the law is always good.
That assumption is very wrong.
It's often not at all.
There are many, many awful and unjust and oppressive and racist [etc.] laws.
And there is actually something we can do about it.
Challenge it. Change it. Reform.

We (The Soul 16) were charged with criminal trespass, but it is clear that those who devour widows homes are the true transgressors, who need to pray, earnestly: Forgive us our trespasses, our sins,
as we forgive our debtors.

But they are not forgiving debtors. They are creating them.

As long as laws are unjust, it is important that those who work for justice get arrested visibly, in public, and reported on by the media.

To demonstrate actually, and symbolically, by virtue of our office, that injustice.

Because as long as those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
(those who Jesus calls blessed in Matthew 5:6),
are being carried off to prison at the command of the rich,
ethically, there must be resistance.
There should be moral and spiritual outrage.
There should be people of faith calling out our government, our banks, and our businesses,
when they are worshiping a god who demands that we, God's people, be sacrificed.

And, by the grace of God, there should be repentance and liberation.

Until that happens, I encourage all clergy and seminarians to be arrested, as able, for the sake of demonstrating the sinfulness and moral depravity of laws that allow the poor to be exploited.
SOUL16 after court

I am happy to meet and pray with you if you are on the fence.

May God's Spirit guide you.

Peace, kids.

pastor tom gaulke
first lutheran church of the trinity, chicago


  1. If our society continues to Worship Wealth and judge a persons worth by the size of their Bank Account things will get worse. We the People have to begin building a new order based on community, respect, and tolerance. Thank you Pastor Gaulke for your words. I'm happy to have read your encouraging words.

  2. AMEN!!!!!!

    May I only add the words of St Paul from Ephesians 6:12; "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against leaders, against authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual wickedness in the heavens"

    Keep pressing for justice and righteousness Pastor! The lure of Mammon will be forever illusory, forever just out of our grasp (unfortunate that real people are sacrificed to this false idol).

    Only Christ's love is True and redeeming.