Rev. C.J. Hawking, Executive Director of Arise Chicago, has worked at the intersection of faith and organized labor for over 30 years. Arise Chicago helps organize religious communities in support of union campaigns and advocates for workers’ rights and dignity in the workplace. For Rev. Hawking, the co-author of Staley: The Fight for the New American Labor Movement, this activism is an essential part of her faith and the church’s call to be faithful to the gospel. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Rev. Hawking about Arise Chicago’s work, and how churches can support the labor movement in their fight for workplace democracy and a more equitable economic order.
During the most consequential ceremonial week in the Christian liturgical year, Holy Week, one of the most iconic Christian structures was reduced to an unholy sight. For hours, we could not look away as flames marching toward the sky swallowed an 800-year-old reminder of France’s Catholic story. A week after the world-jolting fire ravaged Notre Dame de Paris, the restoration fund now boasts more than $1 billion in pledges.
No one should have to go hungry.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has proposed a plan that will increase hunger in urban and rural communities across the country. Under a new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “able-bodied adults without dependents” will find it harder to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.
I WAS FILLING my coffee mug at a church lunch when I was greeted by a woman with a smile I couldn’t miss nor soon forget. Her short blond hair was pulled back under a red hat. She wore an oversized black T-shirt as a dress. A few lonely teeth protruded from her lower gums when she grinned.
Speaking fast, as though we might get cut off at any moment, she reminded me that we’d met when I’d first arrived in Berkeley, several years before. She asked if I would pray for her.
“Sorry if that’s presumptuous,” she apologized.
“Not at all,” I said. “I’m sorry, but would you remind me of your name?”
“Kim. And yours?”
“What’s your last name, Ryan?”
“Oh, a very WASP name!”
“That’s not me,” I told her abruptly. “I’m no WASP.”
What began as a prayer request soon devolved into a debate about Jesus’ divinity. In the back and forth, Kim referred to me as a WASP several more times.
“That’s not me,” I corrected her each time. “We’re not all as we look, you know.”
Driving home, my mind was stuck on my frustration with Kim and, specifically, my rejection of the label “WASP.” I am white and of Anglo-Saxon descent—mostly English. I am Protestant, even. But WASP still carries connotations of wealth—especially inherited wealth—that do not fit me.
Yet for much of my life, I would have been reassured if someone thought I was a person of means and status. Why was it urgent to me now to reveal the very thing I had spent the past three decades hiding?
Living in shame
As the oldest child in a single-parent family in the far Pacific Northwest, in a small town where dairy cows outnumber people 10-to-1 and the lone, blinking stoplight is more of a luxury than a necessity, I did my best to hide our family’s poverty.
Just off the driveway was a shed where we stored our garbage. Trash collection was another expense. Maggots tumbled out from black plastic bags when I opened the door just wide enough to heave another trash bag atop the pile. We never spoke of it.
In elementary school, I waited anxiously in line for the woman who took money for “hot lunch”—Mrs. Price, aptly named. I faked surprise when she told me, in a voice loud enough for my classmates to hear, that I had already charged too many lunches.
“How long are we going to have to use food stamps?” I asked on a drive home from the grocery store one afternoon. The look I received assured me I would not ask this question again.
College for me, as it is for most people, was a revelation of my identity. I was preparing for a developmental psychology lecture when I read that Head Start is a school-readiness program for children from low-income families. I had always assumed everyone went to Head Start.
My face turned red. I turned the page quickly, hoping not to be found out.
Churches across the nation are recognizing the value of their land how it can be leveraged to address the scarcity of affordable housing. An interfaith alliance in Colorado, which found faith organizations own more than 5,000 acres in the Denver metro area, communicated with 20 churches interested in transforming their unused land into housing. According to project reports from several church networks and partnered developers in northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, more than 5,000 affordable housing units have been built, preserved or are being aided by church organizing in the area.
As is so often the case, it is the poor and marginalized that are the most vulnerable to these arrogant battles of political will. We have now seen that our leaders were willing to hold families and their children hostage, allowing their wellbeing to be threatened by the reckless shut down of portions of the federal government for nothing more than partisan political gain.
In Redeeming Capitalism, Kenneth J. Barnes argues that the moral failures of our economy are evidence of moral decay in our social institutions. The greed and excess of Wall Street and the vast income inequality between the very wealthy and everyone else demonstrate that the moral fabric of our society is in tatters. What we need, Barnes believes, is a lesson in virtue. Barnes, I think, would like to replace Falwell Jr.’s ethic with a truly Christian one. If we want a virtuous capitalism, he argues, we need virtuous people.
Anything can label itself as being “Christian,” so we must always look to the person of Christ to guide us, because he already laid out a life for us that perfectly reflects what it means to be God incarnate on earth. Christ is everything.
“Socialism” is increasingly losing its status as a dirty word in the United States, especially among young people. A Gallup poll from this year reports an increase in positive attitudes toward socialism and a decline in positive attitudes toward capitalism from Americans aged 18-29, consistent with other polling trends from previous years. Though there is no shortage of Christians wringing their hands over the changing political landscape, Christians have also shown up at strikes, campaigned for candidates endorsed by socialists, and joined socialist organizations.
There are many faithful Christians who have worked for radical change in the belly of the world’s wealthiest nation long before the 2016 primaries. Their experience brings lessons and context for today’s budding movements. One of these Christians is Sister Kathleen Schultz, a Roman Catholic sister who served as the National Executive Secretary of Christians for Socialism (CFS) in the U.S. for almost a decade. At 76 years old, she remains a thorn in the side of the powerful.
We are told that the world has never been richer, freer, or more advanced but at the same time, there are many who don’t seem to feel this. Among the young, especially, anxiety and depression seem rampant and young people are held up as politically disillusioned, increasingly turning their back on both political processes and institutional religion. How might this relate to neoliberalism? And what does neoliberalism have to with theology?
Airbnb — the company that ushered home-sharing into the mainstream — is facing backlash for exacerbating the affordable housing crisis in cities across the U.S. By booking weekend getaways through Airbnb and other home-sharing sites, travelers may be unknowingly and inadvertently worsening the crisis and supporting an industry that deprives locals of much needed long-term housing options.
The city of Antioch — in modern-day Turkey — was beautiful and bustling in the fourth century. Various emperors and wealthy patrons donated money to build a colonnaded street through the middle of town. Well-to-do citizens decorated their marble halls with colorful frescoes and statues. They demonstrated their wealth by plating their walls and rooftops with gold. Even the city’s cathedral was called the “Golden House.” It would eventually seat a Patriarch, John, nicknamed “Chrysostom” or “Golden Mouth.”
This past February, as we have done for years, my daughters and I loaded a crockpot of taco meat, all the fixings, serving utensils, and dessert into the trunk of my SUV. My two busy teens claimed they had too much homework to stay long, so they drove a different car to the nearby town where we’d eat with homeless families.
A new study by the Public Religion Research Institute reveals precarious conditions for workers in California. According to the study, nearly half of California workers — 47 percent — are struggling with poverty. A majority of Californians working and struggling with poverty — 60 percent — are Hispanic.
Reflecting rapid changes in the economy, 11 percent of Californians report participating in the gig economy in the last year, defined as being paid for performing miscellaneous tasks or providing services for others.
Starting in the 1890s, churches began to set aside the Sunday before Labor Day as a time for lifting up working people’s voices and experiences. Some pastors even turned their pulpits over to union organizers, who never failed to bring the fire. On Labor Sunday 1910, one Chicago painter matter-of-factly informed his Presbyterian audience, “Some of the worst enemies organized labor has are very ardent church goers.”
This year’s 50th Anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign provides a critical moment for our nation and people of faith and conscience to pause and conduct a moral scan of our nation’s progress in combatting poverty in America. Despite some progress, poverty in America remains deeply entrenched.
The July report by the Council of Economic Advisers uses an alternate way of measuring poverty, based on households’ consumption of goods, to conclude that poverty has dramatically declined. Though this method may be useful for underpinning an argument for broader work requirements for the poor, the much more favorable picture it paints simply does not reconcile with the observed reality in the U.S. today.
When’s the last time you received a warning from the pulpit about the dangers of wealth? How often have you heard “Woe to the Rich” as theme of a sermon? Perhaps no part of Jesus’ message has been rejected so completely by U.S. Christianity as the dire warning against wealth and how it leads us astray. Instead, we admire the rich, envy them, and aspire to become one of the rich.
I saw her in the month of mumps
puffed up in poverty’s robes,
a woman of fragments,
a shuffling quilt with running threads—
more holes, really, than skein.
You could read history in the headlines
she wore, partial untruths, incomplete
fictions. All of her lovers
failed to match the shoes she put on.
Every child she birthed missed having
national sunshine and two names.
She dodged taxes on her home;
it never had an address to speak of and
moved like wind-spinning, clanking aluminum cans
she chased for pennies.
Her boudoir looked like a butcher’s sleeve;
stolen ketchup packets from McDonald’s
provided ambergris for her perfume.
She was disqualified for any entitlements
except for open dumpsters on eyeless streets.
But mail always waited for her
no postage due; she was the patron
of the discarded; on winter nights the USPS
coated her from the leprous jaws of the wind.
She slept at the homes of three different zip codes
one January; always leaving at dawn’s early light;
she thought the flag needed to be washed.
“Then we poor people will move on Washington, determined to stay there until the legislative and executive branches of the government take serious and adequate action on jobs and income.”