The Common Good

God Hates Inequality

Sojomail - February 1, 2007

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"Why were you elected? If you want a safe job, go sell shoes."

- Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), crticizing Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee who oppose the president's war plan, but aren't willing to vote against it. (Source: Crunchy Con )

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

God Hates Inequality

On Tuesday, following the Senate vote for cloture on minimum wage legislation, Jim Wallis joined Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen. Tom Harkin, and religious leaders in a press conference. This post is adapted from his remarks. The final vote on a minimum wage increase in the Senate is expected today.

+ Download mp3 audio of Jim's statement


This is a good vote, but as Sen. Kennedy already said, it's only the beginning – we've got a long way to go.

It's a political fact now that faith communities across the board, very widely, are in favor of increasing the minimum wage. Why is that? What's the theological foundation behind that? We don't just do politics; we do politics because of our faith.

I just returned from Davos, and the World Economic Forum, and even at Davos they're dealing with this issue. I was asked to address a group called, "Should we despair of our disparities?" I cited the Hebrew prophets and how they always seemed to speak up when the gaps in society grew too large. When the gulf widened and injustice deepened, the prophets rose up to thunder the judgment and justice of God. Their words reveal that God hates inequality. That's our theological foundation – God hates inequality.

What does the Bible have to say about the minimum wage?

The prophet Isaiah said: "my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain ... " (65:22-23).

James, who was the sibling of Jesus, and probably knew what his brother thought about things pretty well, said "Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you have kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord."

Six states passed referenda on a minimum wage in November. I want to commend the Let Justice Roll Campaign, an initiative of the National Council of Churches, and we were happy to work with them. We found that Americans agree with this. Americans think that if you work hard and full time, you shouldn't be poor. But 9.2 million American families are. Somebody in all those households works hard, full time, and yet they're all raising their kids in poverty. That's wrong. It's against our theology and it's un-American.

What is at risk here is a genuine opportunity society. It's a "fraud," I would say, when the average CEO of a Standard & Poor's 500 company made $13.5 million in total compensation in 2005, while a minimum wage worker made $10,700. Thirty years ago CEOs made 30 times what their average workers made. Japan and Germany are still at about that ratio. Now in America its 400 to 1 – which means the average worker has to work a whole year to make what their boss makes in one day. This is wrong; it's an injustice; it's a theological issue.

The House has acted, now the Senate has decided to act. And when the minimum wage passes, we must then take the next step needed to guarantee that work works in America and provides a family success and security. Those who work responsibly should have a living family income with a combination of a family's earnings, and supports for transportation, health care, nutrition, child care, education, and housing. Tax policies should reward work and family stability. Ownership and job creation is critical. Work has to work in America. It doesn't right now.

The minimum wage is simply the down payment on social justice. We've made the down payment, now it's time to do the rest of the work.

+ Watch YouTube video of the entire press conference (Jim speaks from 7:50 to 12:06)

+ Read and respond to comments on this article on the God's Politics Blog

THIS WEEK IN GOD'S POLITICS

+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Ryan Beiler: Who's Articulate? Who's Mainstream?
Though praising a United States Senator for being "bright and clean" may have been the most obviously offensive of Biden's words, President Bush's similar praise for Obama in an interview with Neil Cavuto the same day on Fox News - "He’s an attractive guy. He’s articulate" - echoes more insidious underlying assumptions. NEWS FLASH TO WELL-MEANING WHITE FOLKS: When you praise people of any minority or ethnicity for being "articulate," you're suggesting that you have deeply held stereotypes about people that don't look like you that are only overcome by what you see as noteable exceptions. Or that "articulate" doesn't mean, as Webster's suggests, "able to speak; expressing oneself readily, clearly, or effectively," but rather, "I expected you to talk like a black person, but you speak just like I do! Way to go!"

Jim Wallis: Untrained and Ill-equipped
Two stories in the news are more evidence for what I recently called a criminal escalation of an unjust war. The war in Iraq has so stretched the U.S. military that the escalation now initiated by President Bush means troops with inadequate training and short of the necessary supplies are being rushed into a situation for which they are not prepared.

Tim Kumfer: Think Twice, SMU
By now you've probably heard about the debate in Dallas. Southern Methodist University is the proposed site for the George W. Bush Presidential Library. The site would host a museum, the administration's archives, and a public policy institute. The initial announcement in the fall garnered protest from faculty members, students, alumni, and United Methodist clergy and church members. The university is moving forward with its negotiations with the president's site selection committee, and it is expected to formally accept soon. The question raised here is, should SMU accept, and why?

Elizabeth Palmberg: Lawyers Without Borders
In another example of the pharmaceutical industry's efforts to make governments worldwide its enforcers, corporate giant Novartis today announced it would keep pushing its lawsuit for its "right" to get patents in India on minor repackagings of pre-existing drugs. India's generic drug producers currently make a large part of the lifesaving drugs for AIDS and other diseases used in the world's poorest countries. "Novartis is trying to shut down the pharmacy of the developing world," according to Dr. Unni Karunakara of Doctors Without Borders.

Rose Marie Berger: Davos, Meet Nairobi
The World Social Forum was launched as a counterpoint to the annual gathering of the world's power elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But lately there's been a hint of cross-fertilization between the two. With changes at Davos that allow religious and moral leaders to challenge the priorities of business and political leaders, and changes at the World Social Forum to promote effective and efficient collaboration between grassroots activists, legislators, and the business community, maybe another world really is possible.

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Only since Sept. 11 has the World Economic Forum invited religious leaders to its annual meeting. At first, the Forum leaders were most concerned with religious conflict as a destabilizing force in the world, in light of the threats of terrorism and religious fundamentalism, and began to convene a dialogue between religious leaders of many faiths. But since then, the discussion has gone much deeper. This year, not only have there been the best discussions yet between the religious leaders – Christian, Muslim, and Jewish – but the faith leaders have fanned out to penetrate many of the other sessions with spiritual, ethical, and moral perspectives on a broad range of economic and political topics. The engagement with both business and political leaders has been substantial – with all parties really listening to one another.

Diana Butler Bass: Friends of God: A Trip to the Zoo of Evangelical Stereotypes
Friends of God is a well-made, well-intentioned, but ultimately distorted view of evangelicalism. Yes, there are plenty of evangelicals like those in the film. But there are also plenty who are not. What of Jay Bakker? (The recent Sundance series, One Punk Under God, is a complex and engrossing take on evangelicalism.) Jim Wallis? Amy Sullivan? Brian McLaren? Friends of God overlooks evangelical diversity – and it misses how evangelicalism is changing and often roiled in internal conflict – understandings that are needed by the "blue state" audience to whom this film is directed.

Duane Shank: Remembering Freedom Summer's Heroes and Villains
The "Mississippi Freedom Summer" in 1964 was one of the most significant nonviolent campaigns in history, conducted in the face of incredible hatred and violence. Under the direction of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, hundreds of young volunteers - men and women, black and white - faced death on a daily basis. Black-owned homes, churches, and businesses were firebombed; volunteers were arrested and beaten; some lost their lives – including James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

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