Day 08 Devotional & Discussion – February 26, 2015

Malachi 3:1-5

What are the sins that God is coming to judge? Are you surprised to see “oppressing hired workers in their wages” on this list? Why or why not? Do you consider paying low wages a sin worthy of God’s harsh judgment? A single mother of two working full time for the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour makes $15,080 a year. By US government standards, she is in poverty. What would you say to a person of faith who is opposed to raising the minimum wage despite the hardships low-wage workers face?

8 comments

  1. I cannot remember even 1 time growing up in the church hearing that God was going to judge those who did not pay their workers fairly. In our hierarchy of sins, all sexual sins (including dancing) were always at the top of the list, followed by drinking alcoholic beverages, swearing, doing work (or anything other than church) on Sunday and playing cards. Sin was never talked about in its social context. As a result, we had no concept or understanding of “oppression.” Therefore, we gave “social sins” a pass. Obviously, God does not–and neither should we.

  2. I’m right there with you, Bruce, as to never hearing about unfair wages as a sin. I preached through James a couple years ago, and this came up, but I’m pretty sure I focused the application on international workers. No doubt, we should be very concerned about fair wages for international workers because so much of goods come cheaply on the backs of what amounts to international slavery. Our family thinks internationally because of our history living overseas and because of my wife’s company, Imagine Goods, which is almost entirely predicated on the idea that fair wages to international seamstresses will help them remain out of trafficking. But I can’t say that I ever gave much thought to how the verse in James 5 or here in Malachi would related to minimum wage in the USA. When I started the Compact last week, I was, and continue to be somewhat, cautious of increasing the minimum wage. My sons are teenage minimum wage earners. While they would be incensed to hear me say this, I don’t know that they need a raise to $9 or $10 per hour! But I understand that there is another segment of society that does need that increase. The hard part of this, at least in my thinking, is how do we have a generally acceptable ethical means for determining what is fair. $10/hour will go father in Lancaster than it does in Chicago. It will go still farther yet in other places. I want to honor the Lord and his heart that beats for fair wages. But who gets to decide? How do we decide? In the last week as I’ve read articles about the impact of increased wages on employers, and this from an economic standpoint, it seems to me that employers should see the incredible value of high wages. I suppose things like higher wages and better benefits feel like an economic risk to them. So what could it look like for Christian employers to buy into this (who have a biblical mandate), a feat in and of itself, as well as for non-Christian employers (who might have little spiritual motivation)?

  3. The basic biological impulse toward fair play probably informs the golden rule as we find it is common to most all religions. That being said, what does it mean in the context of 21st century America as we look at the greatest inequality in our history(side by side with unbelievable abundance).Rising resentment and fear are the rewards in a society that marginalizes some while heaping wealth on the “lucky” few. I really returned to the faith within the last ten years or so partly based on a conservative book by Gary Haugen about the fight against international slavery. He wrote Good News About Injustice and referred back to the abolitionists and the civil rights leaders as role models for our time. I still admire the work that IJM does and the work that other Christians do in regard to the slavery persistent in the world. I differ with most in that I see some “off shoring” of our morality because we can condemn the conditions pertaining in Africa or Southeast Asia while seldom wrestling with the log in our own eye. To some degree I think the “compassion” we claim does not survive the test of examining what our country is really doing. Do we believe that a government that sustains gross inequality and engages in massive military spending and sales truly gives a damn about the horrors that are engulfing the world’s poor? The dialectic in treating others as you wish to be treated, loving your neighbor as yourself is not at all a platitude. Its our only given path to the divine. I like the notion proposed by a buddhist I recall suggesting if we really saw God in the other, we would probably get little done because we would be adoring our neighbor more or less constantly.
    We often talk derisively about the “Status Quo” but our lives are largely governed by it and we play by the rules set forth by the powers that be and declare them divinely inspired. Maybe not so much. It is particularly vexing for Christians who have always been part of the fabric of the country to critique it fundamentally. We have done it before as abolition of slavery and child labor would not have happened without us. Today, however, we become worse than useless – we become complicit if we allow the gross inequality to go on unchallenged. And it is not a matter of returning to a bucolic past. Todays abundance and growing worker less production leaves millions upon millions outside the parameters of justice. We are under social pressure to regard them not as neighbors but as leeches unfairly taking without working. So as Christians we feel uncomfortable but most can crib a passage or two to justify inaction. I am very ill at ease because the situation for the poor is about to get very bad and they will be blamed as usual but with the consequences predicted by destruction of the “safety net”. Next they will be vilified so that we cannot “love them as ourselves” because they are thoroughly dehumanized. I see the choice between heaven and hell before us. For us to advocate for fairness much less sharing the abundance will get us labeled and worse. But that is the challenge of the Lenten compact and beyond. We reaffirm and elevate the least of these – deserving by grace not a subsistent existence but an equal place at the bountiful table. The trick is not to heed “fairness” determined by the modern day Pharaohs.

  4. Regarding Joel’s comment: it’s true that $15 an hour would go farther in some rural areas than in Chicago, for example. Nevertheless, I support a $15 an hour minimum wage across the board. When the average CEO makes over 700 times the wage of the average worker, why take issue with a few extra dollars for our lowest-paid workers? In fact, I think we need a maximum wage. No person should make the equivalent of 700 other people working full time. That concerns me much more than the possibility that low-wage workers might be “overpaid”.
    I do understand the concerns of small business owners. More than just a risk, a raise in the minimum wage imposes an additional cost on some businesses that are struggling to stay afloat. Nevertheless, it is a human right to receive just compensation for our time and effort, and just should mean enough to live on. Also, raising the minimum wage would expand the market for goods, which could also help small businesses.

  5. Bruce, Joel, Karen and Kyle
    Thanks all for this discussion. My experience with small business from an employee perspective has been less than “Mayberryesque” often arbitrary petty minded rather than benign(tighter margins don’t you know) – same for most landlords in my experience. I will go with Kyle’s instinct for limiting the hoard on the business side. I promise to continue to keep a vigil for Zacchaeuses (Zacchaeui) should one appear on the scene – even half repentant.

  6. Often times, the same people who oppose raising the minimum wage oppose the use of government aid to help those same people who are living in poverty. A person of faith who is not supportive of raising the minimum wage should be challenged to consider how they could help a person living in poverty, or be asked what they think about government aid programs like food stamps and WIC.

    I should have mentioned this earlier, but this attitude toward paying people what they are worth comes up occasionally for me as a freelance writer. I work for myself. I have an education. And people still want me to write things for them for free because I love what I do (and maybe they think it’s just a hobby, I don’t know!) There are times I feel bad telling people that I would need to be paid for that project or setting a fee for a proposed project, but when I do that, I’m telling them what I think I’m worth. Money talks on both sides of the equation, but I know what my work is worth so I have to be confident in that and let people pass on my services if they think I’m charging too much. Obviously, though, when you work for someone else, you don’t have the option of setting your own wage. But what you are paid is often equated with what you are worth.

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