A Theological Digest
All discussion about "the Living Wage"
rests on two main points:
- Why is such a wage a moral imperative?
- How do we determine the actual amount of
pay required by the Living Wage?
For Christians, the assertion that a "Living
Wage" is a moral imperative, is rooted in the witness
of Scripture. The prophetic witness of the Hebrew scriptures
repeatedly emphasizes that "God. . . executes justice
for the oppressed; gives food to the hungry. . . lifts up
those who are bowed down. . . [and] upholds the orphan and
the widow. . ." (Psalm 146) and asks: "what does
the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness?"
Jesus continues this witness when he challenges
a rich man to put justice and relationship with others first
and "sell all that he owns, and give the money to the
poor." (Mark 10:21) When asked what is the greatest commandment,
Jesus includes love for the neighbor (Mark 12:31). The parable
of the workers in the vineyard, in illustrating the lavishness
of God's grace, serves as an example to Christians of honoring
the value of the laborer and considering their need more important
than their earnings. (Matthew 20:1-16) We are further asked
in 1 John: "How does God's love abide in anyone who has
the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and
yet refuses help?" (1 John 3:17)
We are called to value all people because the
standards of this world are not the final arbiter of justice,
for our hope for a just world rests in our eschatological
vision. A new creation is coming into being even now and,
although the final realization of perfect love, justice and
community lies in the future, Christians are already called
to act, to respond to the reign of God embodied in that eschatological
reality described by John as a world without "mourning,
crying or pain." (Revelation 21:4) Christians believe
that we live in the "between times" (Romans 8:18-25)
and therefore our lives are fundamentally changed by the demands
of the future reality on the present. We are a community of
effective hope based on faith.
Faith communities bring four major assets
to the dialogue and actions that affect the Common Good:
- We can offer a consistent set of moral
principles for assessing issues.
- Our churches bring to the dialogue broad
experience in serving those in need.
- The Christian community is large and brings
great diversity to the dialogue.
- Christians are called to a common commitment
to support and protect everyone, especially the poor and
vulnerable. Therefore we affirm the fruitfulness of the
relationship of our Christian faith to the well being of
Every human person is created in the Image
of God, and the denial of dignity to a person is a blot on
this image. This is where morality (love and justice) comes
together with economic issues.
To say that the "business of business
is business," and only that, fails to see the reality
of the whole of which business is only a part. Economic performance
at a profit is a worthy objective, but maximizing profits
at the expense of all else converts a worthy objective into
an imperial obsession.
Those that mistakenly argue that the duty of
business management is only to stockholders, fail to see that
stockholders also are "stakeholders" because they
have a fundamental role in and duty to the general welfare
of the whole of our society. Stockholders are not the only
stakeholders in our society. Workers, customers, neighbors,
and the public at large have, in varying ways, a stake in
the well-being of society, sometimes, indeed, a deeper stake
than stockholders, who may dart in and out of their investments
more easily than workers and neighbors.
How are we to think of workers, employees,
who serve the business corporations and companies by their
work? Like stockholders and management, workers are first
and foremost persons, with the dignity of personhood, the
image of God. And as persons they are first stakeholders in
the common good of society before they are workers. Whatever
the shape of the business in which workers are in service
to the corporation, this is secondary to their status as fellow
citizens with owners of capital and managers of business.
It is a paradox, perhaps, but it is our belief
that the fundamental relationship of workers to those who
employ them is that which the Bible notes as a "covenant"
relationship. The wage contract relationship is subordinate
to that of persons to persons in actually loving and caring
for another. The "living wage" is given to the worker
for his or her sake because the employer identifies with the
worker as not only a participant in the business process,
but first because both employer and employee participate together
as persons who love each other. Not out of self-interest or
even a partnership. This notion of a "covenant relationship"
between employer and employee expands mutual obligations (for
the worker also must see the employer as a person who must
be cared for by the worker).
Our Christian and shared vision enables us
to see that a "living wage" for every worker is
that compensation which befits the person for whom she/he
is and should become. The Living Wage is a means for full
participation in all the benefits of the Common Good.
We humans are created to be and live together
sharing through our common efforts, the preservation of our
lives, health, protection from criminals, the development
of our minds (knowledge and education), works of beauty, the
enjoyment of play and leisure, all, in truth, that every human
person requires to flourish, to be all that we can be. Ultimately
we are all called to give ourselves together to God, the supreme
Common Good of all those who love God and live with God now
and in eternity. We even speak of "work" itself
as a common good of all persons. Work has dignity because
the worker is a person. Thus it is that "work is for
the human person" and not that human persons exist for
Labor is always the primary agency (cause)
of what is produced and the economic means of producing it.
This does not mean that labor dominates management. After
all, managers are also workers. Workers and work come first
because everything else is the result of their work. Everything
else is at the service of the workers and work. We continually
repeat: Persons are more important than things.
We say boldly that the justice of a whole socioeconomic
system and the just functioning of a business, deserve, in
the final analysis, to be evaluated by the way in which a
person's work is properly remunerated.
We suggest that justice should be understood
here in the matter of the Living Wage as giving to persons
that which is due to them by right. "Right" is not
understood to be a power to do something but fundamentally
as a relationship between persons (it presupposes more than
one person: persons in a community). The relationship is based
on the recognition of the need (not just the want or desire)
of a person for something good for his or her flourishing
and the ability of another not only to recognize it but to
supply what is needed so that as persons they are brought
into some kind of equality.
Prepared and published by the Faith and
Order Committee Approved by the Trustees of the Vermont Ecumenical
Council and Bible Society on December 6, 2000. To obtain the
complete text of this paper, email the VEC & BS office
(firstname.lastname@example.org) or call