The Bible spends a fair amount of time talking about economic equality, and the importance of caring for individuals who are less fortunate. This isn’t just a feature of liberation theology — it’s an extension of something far older, whether it’s Ancient Greek Xenia or the Sanskrit Atithi Devo Bhava.
The Bible touches on it with the story of Lot and the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah — which were destroyed because of their arrogance and their failure to abide by the rules of hospitality, if we believe Ezekiel, but nowhere is it more visible than the 613 Commandments.
Right-wing Christians conveniently ignore almost all 613 of them. This does not, however, hold true for left-wing Christians, some of whom kicked off this Labor Day weekend by demanding the minimum wage be raised — and they used the Bible to defend their position.
“Those who oppress the hired workers in their wages”
The Bible has a bit about to say about wages; whether it’s commanding people not to withhold wages or delay payment of wages (Lev. 19-13) or to pay wages at the end of the work day (Deut. 23-25), money is just one way in which the Bible concerns itself with solving economic inequality.
That’s just in the 613 Commandments. That’s not in the rest of the text — say, for instance, Malachi, who was quoted by J. Herbert Nelson II in an action alert for the U.S. Presbyterian Church Office of Public Witness titled “All Workers Must Be Valued a Minimum Wage“:
Indeed, our biblical tradition reminds us that the livelihood of workers is a responsibility of the community. The prophet Malachi, echoing earlier laws and prophets, prophesies, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against… those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (3:5)
In his action alert, Nelson urged members to “click here to contact your members of congress today and ask them to raise the minimum wage!” and added “we must support social justice for all God’s children.”
In another Presbyterian Church statement, the Stated Clerk wrote:
Our church is rooted in communities all over the U.S. Through our daily engagement in neighborhood ministries, food banks, and public schools, we know that the majority of those living in poverty in the U.S. are working full-time, or are children or the elderly. A “living wage” for work would change the lives in families plagued by poverty. Even though political deadlocks have blocked action by our national government, a growing number of cities and states have increased their minimum wages, a clear sign of respect for the dignity of all labor.
The same release goes on to call for “progressive taxation,” and to shift investment away from the “prison-industry complex” towards education.
They’re on solid grounds, too, as the Bible has plenty of commands about defending the voiceless and the economically disadvantaged:
Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
This is one of the reasons why I, as an agnostic, don’t attack liberal Christians. I agree that liberal Christians cherrypick from the Bible just as much as conservative ones do. That’s bound to happen; it’s impossible to follow everything in the book to the letter when the book contradicts reality in several places.
Why should I criticize people who select verses that promote social equality and economic justice? I’ll reserve my criticism for the people who go out of their way to pick the verses that are harmful to society — that is, the people who deserve it.
Feature image via Wikimedia Commons