The Fight for a Living Wage is a Christian Issue
Across the nation today minimum wage workers took to the streets to demand a living wage. In over 32 cities fast food and service industry workers protested for the right to earn enough money to take care of themselves and their families. Most were asking for an increase of $15 an hour. Workers engaged in sit-ins and walks-outs, sometimes closing down restaurants and entire streets. Over 400 people were arrested. And while pundits on both the right and left have weighed in with their opinions, the responses have been overwhelmingly economic based.
For most people, the fight for a living wage is seen as purely a political issue.
What bothers me is how few people seem to think that this fight for a higher minimum wage has anything to do with their faith. It’s not as if politics and faith don’t often intertwine – ask most Christians their opinion on abortion, same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, or free speech, and you’ll hear a wide range of Bible verses and directives to, “follow God’s truth.” Christians are well known for their opinions on sex and “moral” issues.
But a lot of Christians that I’ve talked to don’t seem to think that a minimum wage increase is a moral issue. They believe that it’s a bad economic move, one that hurts the economy, and that the solution isn’t higher wages but people who want to earn more money getting better jobs (how is not usually discussed.) These people don’t see the fight for a living wage as one that has any Biblical relevance, or especially one that they should support as Christians.
While there is certainly an argument to be made for a separation of church and state, and for a government that is free from Christian favoritism, I have a hard time believing that the Bible doesn’t say anything about the current status of low-income workers. While I loathe the phrase, “The Bible is clear that…”, if there’s anything the Bible is “clear” to point out, it’s the folly of money and impossibility of serving both God and wealth.
Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Mat 6:19-21 “Do not save riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, save riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. For your heart will always be where your riches are.”
Mat 19: 23-25 “And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”
Luke 16:9-11 “Now my advice to you is to use ‘money’, tainted as it is, to make yourselves friends, so that when it comes to an end, they may welcome you into the houses of eternity. The man who is faithful in the little things will be faithful in the big things. So that if you are not fit to be trusted to deal with the wicked wealth of this world, who will trust you with true riches?”
That’s just a handful of verses, but there are so many more that depict money as something dangerous that should not motivate Christians or be their main concern. Instead, the Bible says that a believer’s chief concerns while on Earth should be loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves:
Psalm 140:12 “I know that the LORD secure justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.”
Deuteronomy 15:7-8 “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard hearted or tight fisted toward them. 8 Rather, be open handed and freely lend them whatever they need.”
1 John 3:17 “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be that person?”
James 2:15-16″Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”
You can’t sum up the whole of the Bible or Jesus mission on Earth in eight verses. But you can make a pretty good case that caring about the poor is something we’re commanded to do. The poor are our neighbors, and we are commanded to love them over and over in scripture.
I think some people don’t think the fight for minimum wage is relevant to the above verses, because their image of “the poor” is a little too Biblical -a huddle in an alley or corner somewhere, homeless, covered in blankets. This is indeed poor, and these people exist and need our help. But this is not the only accurate description of what the poor in America look like. They also look like people struggling with food insecurity, or near homelessness, or an inability to afford needed medical treatment due to lack of insurance or funds. What is a travesty is that many of these people work.
Despite what many think, the average minimum wage worker is not a teenager, living at home, working part time for extra cash.
It’s a woman, possibly with children, working full-time to support or help support her family. If you’ve never tried to support a family on $10 or less an hour, I’d suggest watching the wonderful documentary Inequality for All, which paints a pretty clear picture on just how impossible this is.
The problem that we have now, the problem that is causing massive strikes and sit-ins and protests, is not one of people wanting more money just because they’re too “lazy” to get a better job. It’s a problem of people working themselves to death but still not making enough money to survive.
The problem we have is one of inequality.
Today, the average CEO makes at least 380 times what their workers earn. In the 1980’s, CEO’s made 42 times what workers earned.
That means today, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes on average $12 million a year.
I’ve tried, but I haven’t yet found a Biblical reason to support this kind of income inequality. I can’t find a reason why it’s fair, or just, or right for a handful of people to make most of the income in this country, if that income is not “trickling’ down in economically sustainable ways. I can’t find a reason not to demand higher wages for workers, even if those wages come from the massive, expensive silk pockets of their CEOs. Even if what I’m wanting is *gasp* a re-distribution of wealth. I’m not saying I want to live in a socialist country, I’m just saying that I’d like to live in a country where more Christians had a problem with 1% of the people inside of it earning 25% or more of the income, leading the other 99% to suffer and sometimes starve. But that’s just me.
I’m also not saying that if you’re a Christian you have to support a minimum wage increase, or join in a protest with fast food and service industry workers in your area. But I am saying that as Christians this should be something we care about as much as same-sex marriage, or abortion, or freedom of speech. We shouldn’t just get riled up when we think that “our rights” are being threatened. We should do what the Bible commands us to do, and care more about others lives than our own. As Christians, we should be using our voices not just to speak for ourselves, but for the marginalized among us who need our help. Maybe for some people that’s creating more church programs and food banks that assist needy families, instead of relying on the government for help. Or maybe for others it is grabbing a sign and marching in front of the McDonalds on your block next to the person who takes your morning coffee order.
Whatever it is, something needs to be done, and that something is not telling low-income workers to, “get a better job.” Unless you have a better job that you’re willing to give up so they can take it. Which actually, would be a very Christian thing to do.