01/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Spiritual Stimulus Package

Keynesians listen up: if all workers were paid what they are legally owed (let's not even get to what they're morally owed for a minute--that's more complex) it would amount to a huge stimulus package in itself. How come?

Because "In many industries - meat processing, retail, restaurants, garment assembly, and construction, to name a few - there is a rampant crisis of wage theft. Simply put, workers are having their legal wages stolen by unscrupulous employers trying to gain a competitive edge over their law abiding competitors. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which is charged with enforcing wage and hour and health and safety laws, has been asleep at the wheel."

That comes from what you might think an unlikely source: a religiously based group that doesn't like the label "religious left" being applied to it, but that is committed to the notion of seeing workers on the job treated with the dignity that every religion worth its salt says they should be treated with. Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ)'s Kim Bobo quotes Deuteronomy at the drop of a hard hat: "At his day you shall give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down on it; for he is poor, and sets his heart on it: lest he cry against you to the LORD, and it be sin to you."

IWJ has put out a package package of material for congregations to help them support their members who are losing their jobs or being ill-treated in them. They call for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, because, in part, "most employers conduct hostile anti-union campaigns, often open warfare against their own employees when they try to organize a union."

This isn't the "left"? To me, it reads like a genuine spiritual progressive approach: meaning one that doesn't just add religious language to a traditional left agenda of better wages and conditions, but that calls for treating everything person as a sacred being of equal worth with every other: that would replace a materialistic vision of society with one of caring for each other. But it no doubt helps their cause not to have labels like "left" placed on them, because they are working with mainstream Christian groups, like Willowcreek Church, the highly influential evangelical megachurch. Wouldn't it be great if we could lose the labels like "left" in order to focus on the actual experience of caring for each other? The same struggles with power and wealth will arise, but more average good-hearted people will be recruited to campaigning for justice.

On an IWJ call today Rev. David Meredith, of Broad Street United Methodist Church (Columbus, Ohio), described how 17 people in his congregation of 230 lost their primary employment recently. The church started a job club to help. Meredith explained that there are employers in the congregation too, and they are working with them to develop ethical practices.

That reminded me of how the early Christian Socialists in England differentiated themselves from the Marxists--for one thing, they did not demonize the employers but appealed to their Christian consciences... but that's for another post.