exploitation

Thoughts on Holy Week: Identifying with Jesus and the Temple Cleansing

A child laborer. Image via gary yim/shutterstock.com
A child laborer. Image via gary yim/shutterstock.com

Among Christians who practice Lent, the Holy Week timeline is a time for reflection on the practices of Jesus in his last days prior to his death. Reflecting on Holy Week can be a spiritual practice to consider the place of those practices in our own lives. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus followed his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday by taking time on Monday during that week to publically drive out and speak against temple-based financial exploitation.

The cleansing of the Temple is documented in all four gospels. Three place it during Holy Week. Scholars have written that this event occurred in the area of the Temple known as “Solomon’s Porch,” which was open to Jewish and Gentile worshippers alike. It was a marketplace for the purchase of items needed for worship — pilgrims attending Passover celebration, unfamiliar with Jerusalem, may have purchased sacrificial animals at a higher price than elsewhere in the city. Poorer individuals, unable to afford a lamb, may have purchased overpriced sacrificial doves. Foreign currency, forbidden inside the Temple, could be exchanged, for a fee, for local currency to pay the annual Temple tax.

It has been argued that the High Priest may have received a percentage of the profit from the money changers and merchants, so their removal from the Temple would have caused a financial loss to those in power. It has been argued that the noisy marketplace atmosphere may have been disruptive to the atmosphere of worship. The text is unclear about the exact nature of the sin. However, it is clear that when Jesus saw the market, he became angry and turned over tables, driving out those exploiting the people and publicly calling them “robbers.”

Whatever the exact nature of the financial sin was that was occurring in the Temple at the time, the text in Mark suggests that after this act of clearing the Temple, those in power began to earnestly plot Jesus’ arrest and death. Jesus’ opposition to the money changers was directly related to his arrest and crucifixion later in the same week.

While I would like to identify with Jesus in this story, I realize I am more often in the position of the watching crowd. Or am I the merchant, lining my own pockets with the misfortune of others and making profits or receiving benefits from practices that exploit?

Help End Domestic Slavery, Ratify Convention 189

December 2012 global day of action for ratification of Convention 189, the first global standard to protect domestic workers

North America is home to an estimated 1.5 million trafficked persons alone. Many of these people are domestic workers—an industry with a growing worth of $8 billion in profits every year.

Many domestic workers in the United States are hard working people who enjoy their jobs and have fair working conditions. But the private and unregulated nature of the job does make these workers vulnerable to exploitation and sometimes a destination job for trafficked women.

This is the problem that authorities grapple with: how to regulate a global industry where workers are so open to exploitation and abuse.

Enter Convention 189—a document that creates international law preventing the trafficking and exploitation of domestic workers like Erwiana. This new international law deals with much of the complexity of the problem while still allowing domestic workers to earn a fair living and bargain for their conditions.

National governments have begun to sign on to Convention 189, but the U.S. and other larger countries are lagging behind in its support for tougher global protections for domestic workers.

For many, these new global protections can’t come fast enough. We know that the more countries like the U.S. sign onto Convention 189, the more robust the law will be and the better the protection for domestic workers.

Occasionally our governments need reminding that the plight of some of the most vulnerable must become a priority. Join me in calling on the United States to support global protections for domestic workers by ratifying Convention 189.

A Theology of Labor

Namning and Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com
Namning and Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com

A theology of labor involves Genesis 2:15 – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

Labor is fundamentally a good thing and a theology of labor includes responsible stewardship of the earth’s resources. The first chapter of Genesis is obsessed with telling us that the world is good. As such, God calls us to labor for it, to responsibly keep and care for it.

Of course, labor often involves hard, back breaking work that doesn’t always feel good. Genesis 3 puts forth an explanation that God cursed the earth because of human sin, making labor much more difficult. Whatever we think about that explanation, the Bible is much more interested in a different curse when it comes to labor — how we humans curse one another.

Like everything in this good world, the goodness of labor can be exploited. The prime biblical example of this comes from Exodus, which describes how the Hebrews were exploited as slaves in Egypt.

They were forced to labor.

Breaking the Habits of Machismo

FOR CENTURIES Christians have pondered what it means to be created in the image of God. Throughout my own academic career, I’ve been haunted by the mystery of Genesis 1:27: “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them” (CEB).

What does this passage reveal about us, and consequently, what does it reveal about God? The second half of the passage is equally contentious and challenging. Does “male and female God created them” imply that men and women reflect the image of God equally?

While Genesis 2 to 3, with its narrative of sin and betrayal, is captivating, there is something about the simplicity, mystery, and implications of Genesis 1:27 that resonates even today. I would argue that Genesis 1:27 is the foundation of an egalitarian anthropology where male and female are at the center of theological reflection, where they reflect the image of God without hierarchy or preference. The existence of distinctive genders in humanity does not imply any sort of sexuality within God. Instead, the metaphor retains the unknowability and mystery of God. It reminds us that there are similarities and great differences between the created and Creator. The metaphor “image of God” both reveals and conceals something about the nature of God—and the nature of humanity.

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Beyond 'Ruin Porn'

UNTIL RECENTLY, a company in New York City offered “a ride through a real New York City ‘ghetto’”—a $45 bus tour of the Bronx, reportedly patronized mainly by European and Australian tourists. One news report described the tour guide sharing lurid stories of crime and arson from the ’70s and ’80s, making insensitive comments about everything from local architectural landmarks to people waiting in line at a food pantry, and warning about the “pickpockets” in wait in a certain park. After an outcry from residents and officials, angry that the place they call home would be reduced to out-of-touch stereotypes, the tour company shut down in May.

That someone would even think of fleecing misguided tourists this way hints at the complicated, sometimes contradictory, role that cities play in our culture: In our collective imagination they represent both civilization’s pinnacle (arts, style, technology, intellectualism, innovation, industry, finance) and depravity’s depths (crime, corruption, exploitation, decadence, filth). For much of the 20th century, many people of means fled cities for the pastoral promise of the suburbs, while many a farm girl or boy dreamed of escaping to a city and tasting the bustle and thrill: “Until I saw your city lights, honey I was blind.”

And yet cities are not only symbols, but real and intricate places. Whether booming or busting, they shape and are shaped by the people in them. Both the built structures and the people of a city have stories to tell. But a fleeting tour-bus view with distorted narration can lead us down an alley with no exit.

Here are some different takes on the bright lights of the big city.

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On Victoria's Secret: Speaking Up for Our Daughters

Preteen girls, Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com
Preteen girls, Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com

What has made this entire experience special is receiving emails from single dads telling me they are going to use the letter as a jumping off point to have a conversation with their teenage daughters. It’s great when a father can express his feelings and concern to his daughter about the way advertisers are targeting a younger demographic. Receiving millions of hits is great, but empowering a father, giving a voice to a dad who is trying to raise children in the 21st century makes it all worth it.

Through all of this I have been shocked and humbled.

I have been amazed of the outpouring of support for people from all walks of life. Numerous people have contacted me and simply say “thank you for standing up for our children.” One thing that I have learned through this is that we all have the ability to stand up for what we believe in. The problem that many people have expressed to me that they believed no one would listen.

We all have the potential to speak out for what we believe in and for what we want to stand for. While I might be one person, I sent a message; I spoke up for my daughter and every other young girl.

The power of the voice should not be underestimated even if you believe that you might be the only one speaking. Let us ban together to use our voice as a force of change and justice.

Bright Young Things?

Illustration by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners
Illustration by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Few companies are as economically successful from their distortion of the sacredness of feminine sexuality as Victoria’s Secret. This lingerie company is one of the most recognized brands in America. Their advertising campaigns are on most television stations, their stores in most malls, and their Christmas fashion show is heralded by some as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Victoria’s Secret’s models have become the American cultural archetype for feminine beauty and sexual objectification. Their semi-divine “Angels” campaign has partially nude models in high heels and wings stare longingly look into the audience speaking “tell me that you love me,” to the unknown viewer, distorting the image of adult female sexuality and love. 

While this campaign has been damaging enough to the sexual image of women, Victoria’a Secret has gone a step further. Earlier this year, Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer of Limited Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, announced a new marketing demographic: teenage and tween girls. Bugedoerfer stated about younger girls: “They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.”

This new “Bright Young Things” line is a corporate declaration that young girls should be sexualized for profit. This line of lingerie and undergarments includes underwear prominently labeled with the phrases  “Call Me,” “Wild,” and “Feeling Lucky.” This is not “magic.” This is note cute. I am not going to remain silent as Mr. Burgedoerfer, Limited Brands, and Victoria’s Secret exploit young women’s developing sexual nature for economic gain.

Come With Me Into the Fields

BREAKTHROUGHS ON immigration reform will make life easier for some Latino immigrants, but in the sweltering, often-toxic fields where farm workers toil each summer from Maine to California, conditions can still be dehumanizing and dangerous. There is a silver lining, however. With the burgeoning growth of the nation's Latino population, there are more advocates than ever working to improve the plight of the men, women, and often children who do hard labor on our nation's farms.

With a mostly young, deeply committed staff, the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is doing solid grassroots work to make life better for workers in the state's tomato industry. With cooperation from 11 food retail and food service corporations, CIW has implemented the Campaign for Fair Food, which has brought modest wage increases, worker protections, and grievance procedures to farms that produce 90 percent of the state's tomato crop.

Using a worker-led administrative structure and significant public pressure, CIW has brought companies such as McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and KFC into its program that asks corporate partners to kick in an extra penny per pound for the tomatoes they buy. That premium is passed on to growers to increase worker pay.

Elbin Perez, 23, a farm worker from Guatemala, has been working in the U.S. for six years, sending part of his wages back home to his parents and five siblings. As a CIW member, Perez leads "worker-to-worker education programs." Those trainings educate workers about CIW's code of conduct, which growers have agreed to uphold. Reforms include use of time clocks, guaranteed minimum wage, and water and shade breaks.

Perez said prior to the implementation of CIW's reforms, he witnessed many hardships in the fields, including wage theft, unsafe conditions, and sexual harassment of women workers. Perez told Sojourners it has "made an enormous difference to be part of the coalition."

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To Protect and To Heal

OVER DINNER my friends and I reflected recently on the headlines that surprised us last year. A few were especially painful: former Rep. Todd Akin's comment that "legitimate" rapes do not lead to pregnancies; failed Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's comment that a pregnancy from rape is "something that God intended to happen"; and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), in effect since 1994, ending as the 112th Congress closed without reauthorizing it. All reminded me why the second edition of The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church's Response, by Pamela Cooper-White, is still needed almost 20 years since its first edition.

The Cry of Tamar reads as a graduate textbook on providing pastoral support for the victims of violence against women. It weaves pastoral counseling methods and social and psychological theories in dialogue with biblical exegesis and constructive theology to give clergy, pastoral caregivers, and religious leaders tools to help victims of violence and the larger Christ-community.

The story of Tamar, a girl raped 3,000 years ago in Jerusalem, frames and guides the book's goal of providing healing to the girls and women who are victims of violence today.

Advocacy, prevention, and intervention to stop violence against women have advanced since the 1995 first edition. Religious communities and congregations have become more informed about how to care and respond to both victims and perpetrators. But the need for increased awareness and education is ongoing. This second edition is an effort to update the conversation and keep it on the table.

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SBC's Richard Land Says Obama, Jackson, Sharpton 'Exploiting' Trayvon Martin's Death

Richard Land. Photo via Getty Images.
Richard Land. Photo via Getty Images.

A top Southern Baptist official has accused President Obama and black civil rights activists of using the Trayvon Martin shooting to foment racial strife and boost the president’s re-election chances.

“Rather than holding rallies on these issues, the civil rights leadership focuses on racially polarizing cases to generate media attention and to mobilize black voter turnout,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the denomination’s top public policy official, said on his radio program on Saturday (March 31).

“This is being done to try to gin up the black vote for an African-American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election and who knows that he cannot win re-election without getting the 95 percent of blacks who voted for him in 2008 to come back out and show they are going to vote for him again.”

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