For too long, church folk have limited the gospel in the workplace to personal evangelism, chaplaincy and counseling. These aren’t just good; they are great. But what about ethics? Our faith should inform our daily lives.
For too long, we have treated Labor Day as just another Monday at the lake. At best, we tip our secular hats to the world of work. It’s time to take back Labor Day as a moral observance about justice on the job. On Labor Day Sunday, remind church members where the holiday comes from. On Labor Day, take a stand for working people.
American workers need some good news. The gospel (literally, “good news”) speaks of abundant life (John 10:10) now and everlasting. Workers and owners need to hear what the Bible says about work, greed and money, rich and poor, brave discipleship, oppression and violence and sharing the earth’s bounty.
This isn’t all the Bible has to say to working people. The Hebrew prophets–indeed, the very Ten Commandments themselves–thunder down through the ages that God requires justice for those who work. So there is so much more than is written here. But these words are for believers who draw our strength from the words of the New Testament, who make our daily choices by asking, “What Would Jesus Do?”
1. Working people should feel God’s special care. The Bible tells of God’s special concern for poor and working people (Luke 6:20; Matthew 25:31-36; Luke 4:18-19).
2. The “Corporate Powers That Want to Be” should beware. The Bible condemns greed, the abuse of power and the love of money (Matthew 6:24; Philippians 3:18-19; James 5:1,4).
3. The first rule in business ethics is to treat well those who do the work and create the wealth. The Bible tells owners to treat workers fairly and with respect (I Corinthians 9:4,10; I Timothy 6:18-19).
4. Workers should treat their jobs as their mission. The Bible tells workers to be faithful and hard-working (Ephesians 4:28; Colossians 3:23).
5. Standing up on the job for what is right is hard, scary and risky. But the Bible tells Christians to live out their convictions, though they may bring conflict and danger (Matthew 10:38-39; Mark 13:9-11; Galatians 5:1).
6. In labor disputes, owners may be tempted to economic violence (discharge and lockouts). Workers may be tempted to physical violence on the picket line. But oppression and violence are always wrong. Followers of Jesus are peacemakers (Matthew 5:9; 38-39, 44; Luke 22:47-51; Romans 12:21).
7. The Bible teaches solidarity, unity, equality and the common good. Workers should organize and stick together (Luke 10:27; Romans 12:12-13, 26; Philippians 2:4; Galatians 3:28).
The National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice provides materials for Labor in the Pulpits. Jobs with Justice needs pastors this fall to support immigrant workers and to defend workers’ right to organize. The AFL-CIO can direct you to Labor Day events in your area.
The Bible has good news for American workers. Spread the news!
Chris Sanders is secretary-treasurer and attorney for Kentucky AFL-CIO
Working in law, labor, faith and politics, he is a union-side lawyer and former AFL-CIO official who has served the United Food and Commercial Workers for years. National legal counsel for Jobs with Justice, he represents historically Black Simmons College of Kentucky in Louisville.