The Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite believes Jesus Christ would not have approved of the economic structures in place today throughout much of Western society.
That's the message the author of the new book Occupy the Bible; What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power, will convey during a public lecture tonight at 7 p.m. at the Kent United Church of Christ.
"There’s nothing that Jesus says that favors the rich," she said. "People who tell you that Jesus was on the side of the rich cannot back it up from the Bible."
Thistlethwaite, a professor of theology at the Chicago Theological Seminary, has written about the ideals the Christian Savior applied to economics in his time — and the relevance for modern times — in the Huffington Post and the Washington Post.
Like her columns and blogs, Thistlethwaite's new book (she also manages the WordPress site Occupy the Bible) focuses on the incredible inequity of wealth in America and the widening gap between the small percentage of the country's wealthy and the larger population of the poor and middle class.
"The purpose of the book is to get people in mainline and progressive churches to start talking about money in a comfortable way," Thistlethwaite said. "People are terrified to talk about money, and you want to frame this in terms of the strong, strong bibilical trajectory on economic justice."
Thistlethwaite's book largely targets youth and members of the Millenial Generation, commonly born between the 1980s and 2000, whose unemployment rate is nearly twice the national average of 7.8 percent.
Hence the book sprouting from a Twitter feed, #OccupytheBible, started by the theologian at the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement to share a biblical perspective on wealth and equality.
The book was first released as an eBook, and the paper back version was released this month.
Initially, Thistlethwaite said she wanted to reach out to youth to offer support. Thus her online blog also serves to reach a younger generation.
"Why have so many young people now, why are they identifying themselves as unaffiliated with religion?" she said. "Because the face of religion to them is condemnation, judgment, you should show individual responsibility, we’re against gay people … and all of this nonsense that leaves them all alone and struggling with trying to get an education and get a job. They’re trying to do all the right things. And this is a system that is stacked against them now."
As a supporter of Occupy Student Debt Thistlethwaite works to illustrate the problems facing college students who pay thousands of dollars for degrees by obtaining loans with high interest rates.
In the U.S., there is close to $1 trillion in oustanding student debt, according to the group American Student Assistance. And of the 37 million student loan borrowers in the U.S. 14 percent, or about 5.4 million, have at least one past due student loan account.
Her priority, Thistlethwaite said, is to help bring about reform of student loan practices in the U.S.
But that's not her only focus. Through Occupy the Bible, she also wants to encourage mainstream churchgoing audiences and their pastors to step up to the bible's fundamental preachings of providing help to the poor and underprivileged — some of whom today she says are college students.
How people can change inequality Thistlethwaite says starts with changing ideas about wealth and economic structures. And the Occupy movement was wildly successful in starting that change simply by introducing the 99 percent into the conversation.
"That’s critical consciousness," she said. "That’s seeing past the noise, the lies, in the public square and recognizing ‘I don’t care what they tell me, it can’t be right for me to be under water on my mortgage and my kid’s just moved into the basement because he graduated from college but can only earn $8.50 an hour.’
"Some people are waking up to the fact that’s not right," Thistlethwaite said. "And once you get that into people’s heads that‘s not right, you’ve succeeded."
Thistlethwaite's lecture is tonight at 7 p.m. in VanMeter Hall of the Kent United Church of Christ at 1400 E. Main St. near the Kent State University Music and Speech Center. The public lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be preceded, at 6 p.m., by a Mardi Gras pancake supper at the church.
Occupy the Bible will be the guide for a Lenten study series at Kent United Church of Christ, Wednesday evenings, 7 to 8:15 p.m., Feb. 20 through March 20.