Religion and Labor's Long-time Relationship
It is Labor Day Weekend. Many will use this weekend for one last fling before fall sets in. As we do so we may miss the connection between the three-day weekend and labor. Perhaps that is due in part to the decline of labor unions in America. I must admit I've never been a member of a union. In high school I worked in a grocery store that was unionized, but since I worked only a few hours a week I wasn't required to join. That said, it is good to remember and honor all those who labor. Indeed, most of us have or are or wish to work. I am employed as a pastor. That is my calling, but it is also my job.
I will be making note of the importance of work and labor in my sermon on Sunday. We will share in a litany during worship that will lift up all those who labor, in all of the forms it takes. It is perhaps providential that I am reading at this moment a book that explores the relationship of religion and labor. The book is titled Unified We Are a Force: How Faith and Labor Can Overcome America's Inequalities, (Chalice Press, 2016). It is authored by Joerg Rieger and Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger. Joerg is a theology professor and Rosemarie, his spouse, is a labor organizer. That's a good combination to author a book like this!
I want to share a paragraph from the book that I think should be helpful. It deals with the deep roots that link religion and labor. They write:
Contrary to what mainline religion wants us to believe, the close relationship between labor and religion is not a new idea. In the creation stories, God works and rests, Moses is involved in labor issues, and so are Jesus and Muhammad. Slightly over a century ago, many of the churches in the United States had the good sense to support the concerns of working people. Ending child labor, instituting the eight-hour workday and the weekend, and fighting for the respect for women at work were causes supported by many people of faith. [Unified We Are A Force, p. 93].
One thing that the Riegers emphasize is that there is a need for a deep solidarity with those who labor. They call for us to move beyond charity and even advocacy to standing in the gap, recognizing that we all work (or have worked). Unfortunately the church has not done a very good job of understanding the importance of work in the lives of our people. This weekend can be a call to reconnect the two. After all, God is one who works and rests!