1 Timothy 5:18; Deuteronomy 24:14-15
One of the ways we seek the kingdom of God and “love mercy and justice” is to promote a fair wage and fair treatment for the workers who help create the society in which we live. Regulations that promote safe working conditions, and a basic living wage, are for us first matters of faith. Politics is simply one means by which we help ensure these things.
Sometimes we want to tell ourselves that economics and business belong “out there” and that “in here” is for matters of the head and heart. Loving Jesus and Loving Neighbor. Believing that Jesus shows and brings us God’s redeeming love, and that in him we can have “life abundant.” (John 10:10) Belief, worship, study, be kind to each other. And give to charity now and then, “helping those less fortunate.”
That’s not what Christianity or the other two Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam, are about at all. The consistent witness of all three traditions is that we are called to create a society in which generational poverty is eliminated, and in which people can work to support their families and provide their basic necessities. Beyond that, Christianity proclaims a theology of abundance with stories like the feeding of the 5000 (Mark 6:30-44). Jesus teaches us that when we give generously we will get back exponentially more (Luke 6:38). So if we live in a world of abundance, why do so many life in scarcity?
It is not, as some would suggest, that the poor are lazy or lack initiative. The majority of adults living in poverty are working. The problem is not that they won’t try, but that the opportunities to make a living wage are insufficient. The graph below shows how in the 1970 wages began to fall behind as the economic productivity and prosperity of the nation as a whole continued to grow. That wealth had to go somewhere. And the cost of living continued to rise with inflation over this time even while wages stagnated for many. The result is that more people are living in poverty.
We are called to both charity (Matthew 25) and Justice (Micah 6:8). Charity is about responding to the immediate needs during a crisis. 1 John 3:17; James 2:13-26. These texts certainly call us to respond to people’s immediate need if we have the ability. And notice there is no mention of whether they are worthy of such help based on the situation or how they came to be in need. They are in need and you can help, therefore you should help. End of story. So it seems.
Yet if we press ourselves into this question longer, we can begin to realize that giving charity may not be the best or only solution. Perhaps God wants and needs more from us. Perhaps our neighbors do too. When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-34) quoting from Leviticus 19, and then goes on to say, “Love your enemies,” (Luke 6:27-36) he is calling us to more than charity or mercy. Jesus is recalling us to God’s command for a just society, one in which each person is given the opportunity to provide for themselves and their loved ones in a reasonable and equitable way. Then those who are unable to do so are given special care and attention through the nation’s tithes every three years (Deut 14:27-29). This is not a liberal or conservative issue. This is a faith issue.
We are called as followers of Jesus to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to work, and that everyone who works can earn enough to support themselves and their family. We have a lot of work to do in our own community, our nation, and around the world in pursuit of economic justice. Where would you start? What are you already doing in support of fair labor practices and fair wages? How can we as a congregation, and as individuals, live out our faith in obedience to God’s requirements for economic justice for all people? What will you do differently in the coming months?