Monday, November 21, 2011

Many Voices, One Goal

My heart soared this morning when my eye caught sight of this headline in The New York Times: Archdiocese to Speak Out at Rally Urging Council to Pass Bill on Wages.

My ministry site, the soup kitchen Neighbors Together, has worked with a citywide coalition of religious leaders, labor leaders, and community activists to promote the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. This bill, introduced by two members of the City Council, would require developers who receive at least $1 million in subsidies from the city to pay a wage of $10 with benefits (or $11.50 without benefits) to their employees. This would greatly benefit retail and service employees, most of whom currently live at or below the poverty level. The folks we serve at Neighbors Together are the ones who would be uplifted by this legislation, for living wage jobs are the jobs they need.

The message from our coalition is clear: developers who do business in New York City have a moral obligation to our community. They must provide compensation that guarantees workers a decent standard of living, befitting the dignity of their labor. It is only fair that big businesses who take taxpayer money as an incentive to create jobs provide the residents of our city a living wage.

Tonight, the staff, volunteers, and members of Neighbors Together will swell the chorus of voices calling for a living wage at Riverside Church. My friends from the New York affiliate of Interfaith Worker Justice will be there in the crowds. And, thanks be to God, the Archdiocese of New York will be represented by Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the executive director of Catholic Charities, who will read a statement by Archbishop Timothy Dolan. While the archbishop's statement cannot be construed as an outright endorsement of this particular living wage bill, it is a ringing affirmation of the social principles this bill aims to realize in policy.

I am gratified that the Catholic Church in New York is willing to stand in solidarity with workers alongside other religious authorities and the more secular communities of civil rights activists. The name of the rally is apropos: "Many Voices, One Goal." It is good for the Church to lend its powerful voice to the choir. Often the Church is perceived as going it alone when it preaches God's justice in the public arena; it participates only fitfully in ecumenical or interfaith coalitions for social change. Indeed, in my three years as an organizer working with faith-based communities, I found it most challenging to mobilize Catholic parishes from the grass roots. There are several reasons for this, which I hope one day to explore at greater length on the blog.

For now let me offer a prayer to all Catholic clergy that, whatever their opinion about how a Christian practices faithful citizenship, they will not be afraid to use the pulpit to teach the faithful about the perils of quietism. Christian disciples do not shrink from forming the polis and shaping the marketplace. Like Archbishop Dolan, I pray that pastors will preach about poverty and unemployment. To be a Christian is to herald and practice a certain kind of economics, predicated on a theology of divine abundance, ordered by the logic of the Resurrection, and modeled by our celebration of the Eucharist.

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