Last night I was a panelist discussing The Global Community and the Participation of Difference at the Film Faith & Justice 2007 forum put on by the other journal. The discussion was meant to focus on the economic disparity between the rich and the very poor in our society and the injustices in trade and economic policies that perpetuate this disparity. Most of the discussion focussed on multinational organizations and whether or not they were a good or bad influence in poor countries. It was a very difficult discussion and because I am neither an economist nor a theologian I found it difficult to express what I felt. However I have spent most of today thinking about what I wish I had said.
I have known so many poor people who have been pushed over the brink of an already precarious economic situation into destitution and starvation because of economic restructuring and subsistence wages. My heart aches for the millions of parents who watch their children die of hunger related diseases because no matter how hard they work they can never earn enough to provide for their family. The cries of the poor for justice are loud and clear yet many of us are indifferent – often because consciously or unconsciously we are afraid that if we take action we will lose our own positions of power and comfort.
In a class I teach on urban poverty I often ask my students “Should the minimum wage be a livable wage?” In other words should we pay everyone enough tocover the basic necessities of life – food, rent, health care and education. I was shocked the first time one of my students said “No! If we did that then we would need to decrease the wage of people on the top salaries.” It was obvious that the student identified more with the wealthy than with the poor. Yet as Christians I think that we are meant to stand with the poor and not with the rich. One of the scriptures I am most challenged by is 1 John 3:16-18. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
To be a follower of Christ means we care drawn into community with the rich, the poor, the old and the young. We are drawn into community with people of every tongue and tribe and nation. And as a single community we are responsible to care for each other. At President Franklin D Roosevelt said in his inaugural address in 1937: The cost of progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.