I am a professor of religion at a small liberal arts college in Decorah, Iowa. For the last two weeks in my Religion 239: Clamoring for Change course, students and I have been reading the book Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude. We have been discussing the issue of “justice,” and we have been playing with an image of God as one who works from the bottom-up on behalf of many rather than one who works from the top-down on behalf of a few.
A fundamental principle within this “bottom-up” theology is the idea of God taking sides (a view quite common in most of the “liberative” theologies). Many people, however, are often uncomfortable with the idea of God taking sides. They often assert that such an image contradicts the idea of an impartial and all-loving God who cares equally for all people.
A bottom-up theology of God asserts that God is a God who exists in relationship with all of creation at the same time every created thing is in relationship with every other created thing. While the relationships that involve human beings may be governed by several principles, I believe one principle that governs all human relationships is the principle of “justice.”
Last summer we marked the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the Fair Labor Standards Act – a landmark law that protected children, limited the number of hours in a workweek, and established the nation’s first minimum wage. The genesis of that law is often traced back to the story of one little girl who managed to get a poignant letter in the hands of the campaigning president. The note read:
“I wish you could do something to help us girls. We have been working in a sewing factory, and up to a few months ago we were getting our minimum pay of $11 a week. Today the 200 of us girls have been cut down to $4 and $5 and $6 a week.”
During this season of Lent, as we ponder the deep meaning of our faith, we also contemplate what that faith teaches us about the inherent dignity of every human being, how it compels us to better listen to one another, and why we must always strive to better serve one another.
Our distaste for people who cut in line remains unchanged as we grow up. Whether someone gets to the front of the lunch line or the airport security check before us in an unfair way, our annoyance is raised. People who steal our parking spots during the Christmas season are the recipients of our worst thoughts. We might — just might — yell a string of expletives and death threats at anyone who has wronged us on the road or in a parking lot.
It’s not just about being orderly and following the rules. Instead, we rue the flouting of justice and fairness. I have been waiting patiently in line; what gives you the right to deem yourself better than me?
Yet if we’re honest, we will quickly realize that such outrageous reactions to outrageous behavior are no better than the line cutter or parking space thief. Moreover, our sense of injustice is quite attuned to moments of personal grievance even as we neglect how our actions may harm others. If anything, these moments of rage reveal much more about us than those we think have aggrieved us.
Every Christmas, my family makes an 8-hour drive to celebrate the holidays with extended family. This year, to fight off sleep half-way through the trek, my sister started reading aloud in the book of Luke. Before you begin to feel remorse about your worldly choices in travel entertainment this past holiday, you should know that we opted for this reading only after finding a disappointing selection at Red Box. While Hollywood failed us, God did not. The Spirit revealed something new in a story I’ve heard over and over.
My sister read aloud. Chapter 1: Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, babies on the way. Chapter 2: Jesus, prophesies. Chapter 3: John the Baptist, and wait, what?
Luke 3:7-14 reads:
When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. ... The crowds asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
Yesterday, the Paycheck Fairness Act came before the senate, seeking to close the wage gap between men and women. And as expected, the bill failed to pass, resulting in only 52 supporters, short of the 60 needed. All Republicans voted against the measure and none discussed it on the Senate floor before yesterday’s vote.
“In 1963 we made 59 cents for every dollar that men made. Now it’s 77 cents,” says Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, chief sponsor of the proposed bill. “What does that mean? It means every five years we make an advancement of one penny. Oh no. No more. We’re not just going to take it anymore.”
See more in The Washington Post
In our own time the "jobs" rhetoric from both the right and the left ignores the power grabs and power differentials that led to the hemorrhaging of American jobs in the first place. The simple truth is that multinational corporations could make more money for their shareholders by outsourcing jobs to third-world countries so that is what they did.
This was not a moral dilemma for CEOs; it was a "sound business decision." And the gospel according to free-market capitalism (the USA's true religion) preaches that what is good for American business is good for America.
Here's the prayer we prayed at a nearby Publix grocery in the produce section on Friday:
A Prayer for Publix
Living God, you are the Creator of this beautiful and fertile world. You made sun, rain, soil, air, seed, and seasons. We praise you for the green of lettuce, the yellow of lemon, the orange of a tangerine, and especially for the bright red of a tomato. They are beautiful to our eyes, delicious to our taste buds, and nourishing to our bodies. We pray to the Lord, Lord, hear our prayer.