Religion & Politics Must Mix

A friend asked me why, as a priest, I continue to comment on politics.  Here’s why: 

My politics aren’t limited to any one realm but they are informed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus was very critical of all peoples in power and in institutions that run without mercy just as God is mercy. Jesus would condemn terrorists, communists and greedy capitalists equally as each in their own way (terrorists most explicitly) contribute to the suffering, and yes, death of many peoples far beyond “self-defense.” It’s a social sin that governments build up armaments at the expense of fare trade food, health and education for their people. I certainly think Kim of North Korea is filled with evil and so is his nuclear tests, and he should be handled with harsh criticism and sanctions, but hasn’t our country set the example of “might makes right” long ago? Not that we shouldn’t be able to defend ourselves and innocent people–and, yes, hindsight regarding our pacifism to Hitler early on was a terrible mistake, but, all the same, if we spent an equal amount on diplomacy and support of our poorest citizens, and assist, when we can, other countries to do the same, there would be far less to criticize.  Peoples who have basic needs met are far less likely to revolt, turn to violent revolutions, racisms and the like. In the 1986 the United States Bishops Conference issued a researched paper calling for Justice in the Economy (See Below) Wall Street and Conservative Catholic Economists crucified the contents saying that religious leaders need to keep out of non-spiritual matters. However, Jesus received the same hostility when he began his public ministry (See Luke’s Gospel Chapter 4) and his criticism of established norms of state and church put him on the Cross. (He called Herod “a fox.” And “render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s “is not about separation of Church and State but pointing out the limits of the state because, for believers, all belongs to God. All prominent Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox scholars have affirmed this for almost a century, but people still hold on to old world views and old ways of interpreting the scriptures. The point of the Cross was to put a mirror onto society and its violent, selfish aspects to forgive and transform them. Not simply forgive and let business continue as usual. Nothing should stay the way it is because it worked in the past. People forget the Bible is as much future-oriented as it informs us of the past. At any rate, that is just some of the basis for my informed, prayerful sense that religion and politics must be kept in dialogue and that religion considering Jesus is asked to take a critical stance and look at the consequences for as many people as possible, not just a few, in reviewing current trends and legislations. 

Meanwhile chick this out http://www.usccb.org/upload/economic_justice_for_all.pdf 

God bless!

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A Modest Proposal: Tips for McDonald’s Workers

The article on Fast-Food Workers in the September 15 issue of the NEW YORKER is worth our time:  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/15/dignity-4

I am particularly concerned about this statement:  “A recent study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that fifty-two per cent of fast-food workers are on some form of public assistance.” (i.e., Food Stamps and Medicaid).”  And this one: Most of their employees today are adults—median age twenty-eight. More than a quarter have children” (i.e., not high-school and college students working part-time, especially since the 2008 recession.)

The volatile discourse, of course, is on the hot topics of union organization, government intervention on minimum wage and the reality of government assistance in food-stamps and Medicare. It seems at least half of the American population wants to do away with all of these things.  So often I hear people insisting that there be no government involvement in setting minimum wages, no government assistance for low-wage workers and no unions.

Here’s an option I haven’t seen in print yet:

Tip each MacDonald’s cashier as you would tip a restaurant worker – that is offering 20 % of your bill. (That’s $2 dollars for every $10 you spend at McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s etc.)  The cashiers would then share the total in tips with the cooks and janitors, etc.  Would Americans agree to do this?  Would the amounts make a difference?

If the answer is “YES!” then all fast-food workers could potentially afford part-time College courses and get out of the Fast Food industry.  (Yay!)   They could then turn over the entire fast-food worker population to our high school and college part-timers.  (It’s already been proven that students would have to make far more than minimum wage to support themselves through even community colleges.)

Now, of course, there still will be adults with less talent or intellectual abilities who would stay on as fast-food workers, but at least with this “Americans are Generous and Will Tip Program”  they could live on salary and tips and maybe have a family or live alone or with friends if they wish.

The success of this program would prove two things:  Americans ARE generous at heart AND American Fast-Food Corporations are NOT.  Even with Americans subsidizing fast food worker’s salaries through tips, the Fast Food Corporations would maintain their profits while continue to spend millions of dollars in legal fees and payments to the “NRA” (National Restaurant Association) which is dominated by the major fast food and other chain restaurants.  Why would they do this?  Because they would want to maintain and expand their many successful accomplishments defeating the following: “minimum-wage legislation, paid-sick-leave laws, the Affordable Care Act, worker-safety regulations, restrictions on the marketing of junk food to children, menu-labeling requirements, and a variety of public-health measures, such as limits on sugar, sodium, and trans fats” as noted in the New Yorker article.

My last thoughts:  Can churches, synagogues, mosques and temples be of any help in bringing these and other issues into the greater public discourse? Wages and their impact on society are moral issues after all.  The topic is too complicated for the pulpit beyond posing an open-ended question or two while reflecting on a Scripture passage.  Parish Social Justice Committees and Religious Education Directors would need to offer a series or a seminar on the article with or without a featured speaker.  But do all of our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples have Social Justice Committees and /or do they want them?  Would congregants attend these seminars?  This answer to that may or may not depend on whether or not there fast-food workers among their worshipers or within the neighborhoods they serve.  Still, we are left with the question: shall we support fast food workers in either their desires to organize unions, get the government to legislate a $15. Minimum Wage or support them with alternatives such as tips and food pantries?   Or do we let them take care of themselves if they are able?

Any thoughts?