Thirteen moderate Baptist leaders signed a letter released Wednesday saying Jesus wouldn’t approve of the way Wal-Mart treats its workers.
In a Christmastime letter similar to one sent last week by interfaith leaders to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, the group of Baptist ministers, educators and ethicists accused the retailer of “immoral business practices” that place families and children at risk.
“During this holy season, we must ask ourselves–at what moral price do we accept the sins of exploitation and greed?” the clergy letter begins. “Sins, it is sad to say, which are exemplified by one of America’s largest and richest corporations, Wal-Mart.”
The letter faults Wal-Mart for exploiting workers and suppliers in order to increase profits.
“As all faiths teach us, the current exploitation of those who work to provide us with goods and services, whether at Wal-Mart or its suppliers, can never be morally justified,” the letter says. “Under all conditions, it is simply immoral and wrong and goes against the teachings of our spiritual leaders and our commitment to justice, fairness and community.”
The letter signals that momentum is growing within the faith community to pressure Wal-Mart to change its policies that critics say keep prices low by depressing wages and forcing jobs overseas, according to Wake Up Wal-Mart, an Internet-based campaign, which distributed the letter.
“Once again the moral call for Wal-Mart to change grows louder,” said Paul Blank, campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com. “We can only hope Wal-Mart will hear our message of change, will change its immoral business practices and will become a force for good this holiday season.”
“If there is one shared hope all faiths have in common, it is the central belief that we must work together to improve the lives of others,” the letter continues. “This central tenet, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ is the bedrock of our values, our faith, our families and our communities.
“Unfortunately, Wal-Mart needlessly ignores the Golden Rule, putting our children and their workers needlessly at-risk.”
Despite $10 billion in annual profits, the letter says, more than 600,000 Wal-Mart workers and their families go without company-provided health care. Nearly half either live without health insurance or rely on public aid.
Wal-Mart has repeatedly broken child-labor laws, the letter says. It is being sued by 1.5 million female employees for discrimination. Further, Wal-Mart “continues to pay poverty-level wages, forcing many of its workers to make the impossible choice between rent and health care.”
“It is hard to imagine why Wal-Mart would consciously choose to make 1.3 million workers suffer in the name of ‘low prices,’ a suffering we can no longer let stand,” the Baptist leaders say.
“Therefore, based on our faith and our belief in the teachings of Christ, this Christmas we are asking ourselves–if these are Wal-Mart’s values, would Jesus shop at Wal-Mart?
“Would Jesus support the exploitation of so many for the profit of so few? Would Jesus tolerate systematic discrimination against women? Would Jesus stand by idly while thousands of children go without health care? Would Jesus accept violations of child labor laws?
“The answer is simple. Jesus would not embrace Wal-Mart’s values of greed and profits at any cost, particularly when children suffer as a result of those misguided values.”
The signers include Daniel Bagby, professor of pastoral care at Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond; Miguel A. De La Torre, director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver; Ed Hogan, pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston; Mark McEntire, associate professor in Belmont University’s School of Religion in Nashville, Tenn.; Larry McSwain, professor of Christian ethics and leadership at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta; Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn.; Joseph Phelps, senior pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.; Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists in Norman, Okla.; Craig Sherouse; pastor of First Baptist Church in Griffin, Ga.; Ron Sisk of Sioux Falls, S.D.; Bill Tillman, professor of Christian Ethics at Logsdon School of Theology in Abilene, Texas; Joe Trull, editor of Christian Ethics Today in Wimberley, Texas; and Andrew Watts, assistant professor of Christian Ethics at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
“As Christians, at the time of year when we celebrate the life, the birth and the teachings of Jesus, we call on Wal-Mart to change,” the letter continues.
“We know Wal-Mart has the power to improve the lives of millions of workers, their families, and our communities. Wal-Mart can become, if you and the Walton Family so choose, a leading example of moral greatness in corporate America. You have the power to change and set an example that would truly honor and reflect the teachings and lessons of Jesus Christ.
“So beginning today, in the shared spirit of Christmas and the holiday season, we call on Wal-Mart to change, to become better, and to embrace the best of American values. It is within your power to become a truly responsible, ethical, and righteous company.
“In the end, there is no better present Wal-Mart could give to its workers, their families, and America than to change for the better this Christmas.”
Claiming 150,000 supporters, Wake Up Wal-Mart is the largest campaign seeking reform of America’s largest employer. Last week the group launched its “Light a Candle for Change” campaign, part of a faith-based outreach including TV commercials and an interfaith letter that now bears a total of 93 signatures.
“Lee Scott and Wal-Mart face a unique moment in their company’s history,” Blank said. “Wal-Mart can embrace these moral calls for change from some of America’s most respected leaders of faith or they can continue down the dark path leading to the decline in its public image.
“We can only hope Wal-Mart will choose to do what is right this holiday season.”
Wal-Mart says religious leaders are misled in voicing their concerns about the company, adding that it helps the economy by creating jobs and saving money for American consumers.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.