Thursday, April 06, 2006

social creeds: would jesus be into collective bargaining?

so i'm doing some research for work and it takes me to the CME website where i start reading about their social creed. i'm also thinking about this because of something a commenter said about contextualizing my views about poverty in what jesus' ministry was (or something like that).

this is what the economic portion of the social creed of the CME is:

With full acknowledgment of stewardship under God and accountability to God, we stand for the acquisition of property by moral processes and the right to private ownership. We are thus obligated to evaluate each aspect of every economic order by the commands of Christ and judge its practices by the Christian gospel.

We believe that it is not only our duty to bring Christ to the individual, but also to bring the increasingly technological society in which we live more nearly into conformity with the teachings of Christ.

(a) Inflation. The Christian community is concerned with maintaining economic stability. We affirm that there exists a fundamental ethical challenge in inflation itself. We believe that inflation is detrimental to equality and casts an uneven burden upon our citizens, the greatest burden often falling upon those who are weakest politically and economically.

(b) Health Services. We stand for the provision of adequate medical care for all people, with special attention to the aging, the young and low-income individuals and groups. We support our government, individuals and foundations in required public health research, and we support legislation to meet these needs. We believe that adequate facilities with a professionally trained staff must be made available for the emotionally ill and the mentally retarded of every community. We also believe that churches may become spiritual centers of healing through worship, pastoral concern, and volunteer services for the emotionally ill.

(c) Wages and Working Conditions. Free collective bargaining has proved its values in our free society whenever the parties engaged in collective bargaining have acted in good faith to reach equitable and moral solutions of problems dealing with wages and working conditions. We do not support the opinion voiced in some quarters that strikes should be made illegal. To declare strikes illegal would be to deprive workers of their right to collective action and, even more seriously, would place in the hands of government the power to force workers to remain on the job.

(d) Automation. Through automation, a greater number of people face job displacement, economic loss, and obsolescence of their skills. We affirm that it is a Christian duty to provide for all people opportunity to earn an adequate livelihood, to avoid unemployment and waste of personal and economic resources. We believe that workers who are displaced by automation should be given opportunity for retraining.

(e) Poverty and Unemployment. We believe that the economic development which makes possible material plenty for all imposes upon us great moral responsibility, since physical, emotional and spiritual development of millions of people throughout the world is hindered by poverty. We therefore stand for the eradication of poverty everywhere.

(f) Christian Vocation. We believe that every employable person so far as possible should be engaged in some vocation to enhance the common good. This vocation should be viewed as a Christian calling for those who pursue it as well as by those who receive its benefits, and our daily work should be regarded as a sphere of service to God.

i guess i'm just wondering about the intersection of morality/biblicality (my word). in other words, this seems like a moral set of guidelines but could we call it biblical*? and if we con't call it 'biblical' per se, why isn't it still a good way to look at the economic world around us?

[what's 'biblical'? i don't even know anymore. clearly, the presbyterian biblical is vastly different from good old olivet baptist church biblical from childhood, which could be totally different from some other denomination...]


Anonymous said...

This creed seems to be more socialist/utilitarian than Christian.

The inflation section seems inherently Marxist speaking of "maintaining economic stability" and an "ethical challenge to inflation." I don't see an ethical challenge to increasing prices, because it can be offset by increasing interest rates. However, that would also hit the poor harder who have limited access to credit and may pay a higher rate to access capital. In addition if inflation is a problem, what about deflation? Deflation leads to stagnating wages, lower disposable income, and increasing inequality because poor have a greater propensity to consume than the rich. The point is the church probably shouldn't be taking a position on inflation or any econonomic phenemenon being "bad" because there is always an offsetting policy response.

In the vocation section, it says Christians should seek employment for the "common good." This is John Stuart Mill's philosophy rather than Jesus. As Christians we seek employment 1) to eat; 2) for God's glory, any talk of the "common good" is complete rubbish without speaking of using our gifts for Christ's glory.

Lastly, the political economy of Christ exceeds economic constraints. In Micah, God accuses His people of "stealing" from him by not giving monetary offering. In other sections God says he will bless people "more than 100 times " for their contribution to the kingdom of God. This does not necessarily mean monetarily, however, the focus in any discussion of Christ and economics should be his promises which are infinitely higher than the laws of supply and demand.

joy said...

Good points anonymous. That's the problem when you mix the church with the world. You end up sounding just like them.

ding said...

so i guess that's a big NO, it's not a good thing.


ding said...

i guess i'm just trying to say that i'm not sure what joy means when she says 'mixing the world' with the church.

is protecting the rights of workers worldly, therefore, immoral and so should not be of concern to christians?

hm. christianity not thinking about the common good. interesting.

greg said...

I don't much agree w/ anonymous - I think s/he misses some rather large parts of the Gospels. However, Garry Wills has an interesting take on this in the NYT today: Christ Among the Partisans. I sort of agree with him, but would put it in rather different language.

ding said...

you know, i like that piece!

i was talking to my dad about this over email (i'll post the exchange) and i remembered the part in the bible where the disciples want the woman washing jesus' feet with her hair to have sold the oil and given the money to the poor.

jesus rebukes them.

and that instance stuck with me. while i still think that we are behooved to be our brother's keeper, i think putting a 21st century social agenda on jesus is ...shaky. but it doesn't mean that the whole of the gospels should inspire us to do well unto others.

ding said...

i meant 'shouldn't inspire us'.
(i'm always doing that!)

Anonymous said...

ok, i'm a little late to this discussion, but i just wanted to say (in response to anon) that working for the common good DOES give glory to god. every time jesus healed a sick person or fed the crowds or just spent time with his diciples the people benefited and all the glory went to god. why should it be so different for us? if i choose to spend my afternoons helping at a women's shelter the glory goes to god if my motives are pure. i don't buy the argument that it has to be one or the other. it's not a 21st century social agenda to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, or to just be a good friend. yes, we should share our faith with others, but not to the neglect of their physical needs.

don't you think?


ding said...

thank you, steph!

perhaps Anonymous meant that there is no such thing as a 'common good' because all good comes from christ? because good doesn't exist without christ? because, despite the possible existence of a Good, it's nothing compared to Christ's Good?

or does the 'common good' not give us church people jazzy feelings because it concentrates attention on material reality rather than spiritual need?


Joy said...

Do we need government to tell us (christians) how to take care of the poor? I'm referring to that creed. Your father made some interesting points, hmmm conservative? That will explain his points.

Sounding like the world means, adopting its philosophies and not doing clearly what sripture teaches. "The poor you will have with you always", means what it means".

ding said...

do we need the government telling us how to treat the poor?

well, does the government need to tell people to not pollute or abuse their workers? apparently so. whether christians need to be told to do something, probably not, but i think some christians sometimes need to be reminded that we have an obligation toward the poor.

i always have a problem with the use of that passage - it's easy to toss off, to shrug and say 'oh, well, there'll always be poor so why worry about it?'

if that's how we're using the verse, that's a problem.

Joy said...

Ok, I got your point about the poor.
I was watching the Oprah show last week and can you believe it, she did a show on poverty in america, like its something new,among her other shows that week on education in america. Why are people just now realizing that yes, poor people are all around us and they are not leaving! And, the education system in this country has been horrible for decades? She called it a crisis in america,
Oh, really?

We are too darn comfortable in this country and we're only looking out for me, myself and I. We need to start getting angry about the things that makes God angry, and start doing something about it!

Another thing, this shouldn't be about liberalism or conservatism- how about, relativism and moral absolutism!


ding said...

well, let's think about oprah's audience - mostly stay at home moms who live in the burbs; they have a somewhat comfortable income (from their working husbands, most likely.) or they're working women who've achieved a certain level of economic stability. i'm not saying that all of her viewers fit this profile but it's certainly the target and who's sitting in the audience.

keeping that in mind, it's no wonder they have no idea what a poor community looks like. where would they see it? it's one thing to intellectually know poor people exist, but until you see the actual conditions of their life, you don't really know.

that's why katrina took everyone by surprise. outside of that social realitywho really knew that people still lived like sharecroppers? i didn't.

we assume a lot when we consider reality. so, while some people call it 'relativism' it's more likely a different lens. let's call it 'privilege.'

i look at an event like katrina or the state of public education in chicago from my particular intellectual and class privilege: i've never had to attend a crappy, low performing school in my entire life and my family was at least hovering around middle class (with some early fluctuations).

my counterpart living in chicago heights sees the world quite differently and so interprets katrina and other events differently. she doesn't have the luxury of my class privilege, of my class blindness.

is this relativism or just acknowledging that people have different subject positions and so see the world completely different from one another?

Joy said...

Let me think about what you just said. Oprah does has a great influence on world at large. Some considered her to be very powerful. So, if you want to push your agenda either be friends with lady "O" or at least, as a friend at the office said to me recently, know someone on her staff. She'll do a follow up show of viewers writing in saying how much they are now doing about poverty and education. Great! My point, it was always there, poverty and our dumb down educational system.

Katrina, was interesting, especially how people looked at average citzens of society that we pass by on the streets everyday or seen in some our neighborhoods doing what any of us would have done if caught in that situation. They were waiting on basic needs,like water and food because of the incompetence of particular government officials for failing to fix a levy system. Had the levy been fix, we would not have saw thousands of people destituted like we did,let alone, would we be talking about poverty, the POOR? Let's not forget the majority on TV were "black people" being shown! Some of those people were not lazy people, they were homeowners,working class people. However, that's what happens when you put the wrong people in office or any responsible position of leadership, regardless of race or class, they begin to play the "blame game" removing all responsiblity from themselves and instead they blame others. They even look down on people and elavate themselves to look more competent. I hate to say this, even in churches they do this. (sadly or should I say interesting?)
We ignore what we want to ignore because its not about us or those who are close to us. However, when those issues hit close to us where we can be directly affected,then we are concern because then it becomes a issue of concern. We are usually swayed by the majority, pushed to blame the next person as to who's fault it really it is. In the case of creed, I find it interesting Ding how far churches will go just to get money from government, instead of doing what they should be doing anyway, feeding the poor, without the governments help. They don't want to sound too churchy. The creed above must sound like a worldly agenda. One of the reason we give offering is to help the poor regardless if they listen to our foolish message of the cross. We still give,not out of obligation or agenda, but because we are moved in our hearts to do so, knowing we are pleasing our Lord not our agendas.

Difference of opinions? People defind their own morality, which makes it relative for those who do. If moral absolutes rain, well... the poor you will have with you ALWAYS. Regardless of what neighborhood , education privilage or class I'm in, with absolutes there is no real partiality or class. I know of wealthy people who love the Lord and give without thinking as to class, but because they UNDERSTAND "to much is given, much is require". Shouldn't that be the Christian's agenda?

ding said...

i think we're somewhat in agreement - just using different language.

i agree; that should be the christian's agenda - always. regardless of whether people listen to our message compassion for others is a part of our duty. (and for the reason you give!)

i think the social creed of the CME church is a product of a social/political situation particular to the birth of that denomination and the fact that it is a large african american denomination with roots in post-slavery history. all this is to say that churches, while of a larger spiritual mission, cannot escape the social conditions in which they exist.