Read: Amos 8:4-7
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Twenty years ago, as a college student active in both the Episcopal Church at Yale and the Student Labor Action Coalition at Yale, I was struggling with how to integrate my faith and my commitment to worker justice. I had recently met Yale workers as I volunteered at the soup kitchen at Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green in New Haven. Why did workers at Yale—a corporation with billions of dollars—need to go to a soup kitchen? Why didn’t Yale pay them enough to get by on their own? Doing service work, without asking why that service needed to be done, was no longer enough for me.
At a conference on faith and justice at Judson Memorial Baptist Church in New York City, I heard powerful messages from the Rev. Jim Wallis from Sojourners and Kim Bobo of Interfaith Worker Justice (where I was privileged to work a few years later). Wallis recounted that, in 1971, the founding members of Sojourners took an old Bible and cut out all 2,000 plus passages that related to social and economic justice. Jim Wallis would then take that “Hole-y Bible” with him to preach. Without justice, he said, God’s Word is full of holes.
That conference was a moment of conversion for me. Justice is core to God’s Word and ought to be core to all Christians. The sacraments—the continual cycle of gathering God’s people together and then sending God’s people out to love and serve the Lord— call us to put our faith to work for justice. As baptized Christians, we have committed ourselves to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305). With God’s help, we are called to make our faith incarnate in thought, word, and deed. My hope and prayer is that the people of The Episcopal Church will take a leading role in advocating for just wages for all people.
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 261)
Low Pay Is Not OK: http://lowpayisnotok.org/
ShowMe15: http://www.showme15.org/ (St. Louis and Mid-South)
Throughout the United States, low-wage workers are organizing to gain just wages, as well as dignity and respect in their work places. The Church is called to stand in solidarity with low wage workers and to advocate for just wages for all workers.
For selected biblical passages on justice for workers from Interfaith Worker Justice: http://www.aflcio.org/content/download/2548/24708/ Biblical+passages.pdf
Most low-wage workers in the United States rely on public benefits (Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credit, etc.) as well as services and contributions from nonprofits like feeding programs in Episcopal congregations, because they cannot make ends meet on their own. Most low-wage workers are not scheduled for enough hours or paid a high enough wage to support themselves and their families. For example, 52 percent of low wage workers in the fast food industry are enrolled in one or more public programs, compared to 25 percent of the work force as a whole. Being unable to support themselves is demoralizing for these workers and their families. It is also expensive for tax payers.
Because fast food workers are not paid a just wage or a “living wage” by corporate employers like McDonald’s and Burger King, American taxpayers subsidize these workers’ incomes, as well as the fast food corporations themselves. Taxpayers support seven billion dollars in public benefits for low-wage workers in the fast food Industry. For more details, please read “Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast-Food Industry,” a report from the Labor Center at the University of California – Berkeley: http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/pdf/2013/fast_food_poverty_wages.pdf.
Teresa Mithen Danieley serves as a priest in the Diocese of Missouri.