How your congregation can capitalize on class warfare

Iraq War scene from the new documentary The Shock Doctrine.Class warfare!?!
At ReadTheSpirit, we report on religion, diversity and cross-cultural issues—so, for example, we just published a week-long OurValues series exploring Americans’ attitudes toward the Occupy Wall Street protest movement. One major question keeps arising: Is this class warfare?

Our answer: While no one is firing actual bullets, the war of words clearly is raging on both sides. Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements both have marched in our streets. Most recently, we’ve seen the Wall Street protest banners. And, as OurValues just reported, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is dismissing Wall Street protesters as “jealous” of wealthy Americans. Cain doesn’t even credit the protesters with legitimately trying to speak for America’s growing millions of poor people. Meanwhile, a top Wall Street Journal editor appeared on National Public Radio saying that the two sides facing off across the income gap were “winners” and “losers”—not wealthy and poor people. Those millions of losers are just sore that they’re not wealthy and they should get over their griping, the WSJ editor sniffed.

Our recommendation: Congregations nationwide have a golden opportunity to discuss these issues in small groups, promoting civil dialogue and digging deep for underlying spiritual values that may provide a pathway toward some resolution. Jesus said far more about wealth than nearly any other subject he addressed. That focus in Jesus’ ministry sprang directly from his roots as a rabbi well-versed in Torah study. Judaism, to this day, has a great body of moral teaching about wealth and social justice. Right now, start organizing your small group. Feel free to copy the OurValues series to spark discussion.

TODAY: We also are recommending two sure-fire discussion-starting documentaries that you may want to watch with your small group.


Inside Job is available either in DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon. In 108 minutes, this PG-13-rated documentary takes us on a supersonic-speed journey through the network of top players on Wall Street, into the halls of power in Washington D.C. and even down into some less-savory corners of high-rolling culture in America. Charles Ferguson’s basic thesis is that many of these power brokers are predators, even amassing wealth at the expense of their own clients and constituents. Why is Ferguson qualified to make such a film? He began his career by earning a doctorate in political science from MIT. In the mid 1990s, he founded and later sold a successful Internet company. In recent years, he has returned to his first passion and has been working on documentaries exploring social-justice themes.

We are not alone in recommending Inside Job as a discussion starter. Roger Ebert gave the film 4-out-of-4 stars and called it “an angry, well-argued documentary about how the American financial industry set out deliberately to defraud the ordinary American investor.” The New York Times’ A.O. Scott praised the movie, too. Scott said that the movie feels “like a classroom lecture at times, but by the end Mr. Ferguson has summoned the scourging moral force of a pulpit-shaking sermon. That he delivers it with rigor, restraint and good humor makes his case all the more devastating.” Then, of course, there’s the fact that Inside Job won the Academy Award for Best Documentary.


The Shock Doctrine is newly available from Amazon on DVD. Because of the Oscar and rave newspaper reviews, Inside Job is well known nationwide. In contrast, The Shock Doctrine: Disaster Capitalism in Action is a less-well-known film by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, based on a book by Canadian journalist and social activist Naomi Klein. (The 78-minute film is not rated and does contain some violent images from news footage.) The book by Klein is still available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. Ebert, Scott and other top American news publications, so far, haven’t posted full reviews of Shock Doctrine. But, again, we are not alone in recommending this documentary as a great choice for small groups in congregations. Our colleagues Fred and Mary Ann Brussat at the website Spirituality & Practice also identified the potential for great discussion. The Brussats write, in part: 

If you are troubled by the growing gap between the rich and the poor in America and elsewhere, this documentary will clear some things up for you about how the powerful have rigged the political game to give themselves even more wealth. If you were angered by the use of torture by the U.S., you will see how it has been used for years as an instrument of oppression in various houses of pain around the world. If you have been turned off by American imperialism, you will see how the so-called spread of freedom has resulted in staggering profits for the favorite corporations of political leaders in Washington, D.C.

You can tell from this opening paragraph of the Brussats’ review that, compared to Inside Job, Shock Doctrine is a far broader examination of injustice and oppression in the 20th century. Klein and the filmmakers begin by taking us to Chile in the 1960s, where top American advisors helped Chilean military leaders roll out some of the late-20th-century’s most devastating strategies for toppling unpopular regimes and terrifying political opponents. Then, the film connects the dots with leaders inside President George W. Bush’s administration, the War in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the eventual Wall Street implosion.

Obviously, not everyone in your small group will agree with the arguments presented in these documentaries. That’s the whole point! Dig deep into scriptures. Encourage civil conversation. Your small-group members are likely to thank you for a refreshing opportunity to weigh these issues without … well, without actual Class Warfare.

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Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, tell a friend to start reading along with you!
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Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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