Sunday, July 23, 2006

Is How I Treat a Housecleaner a Justice Issue?

Some time ago a pastor asked me how churches could become involved in justice issues other than lobbying government. It is an important question, for the Bible, especially Romans 13, clearly indicates that government has been established, ordained, by God to mind the business of justice.

Perhaps lobbying strikes church leaders as a tainted activity, given its association with bribery, both subtle and overt. But, in a pure sense, to be present with leaders, both those who form policy and those who implement it, is a good thing. We must always keep in mind that while we are to submit to government, in a democracy each of us bears responsibility for government actions. Thus, when we speak to government we do not do so as supplicants, but as stakeholders.

But is this all? That is the question. I think we also must look at how we act in our own lives. What are the justice issues that we encounter, if not day by day, at least now and again?

In a review/discussion of You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again by Suzanne Hansen, Caitlin Flanagen (The Atlantic Monthly, June 2006) delves into the question of justice towards those who work for us. The use of hired help, of servants, is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. People hire house cleaners and lawn cutters, and having a nanny is not all that uncommon.

Flanagan points out that these people are frequently mistreated, especially if they live-in or are present on a regular basis. Flanagan quotes another writer, Cheryl Mendelson in Home Comforts (a book my wife is gradually reading through) – Mendelson points out that people who work in our homes frequently have a job with ‘no health benefits, no pension plans, no vacation pay, no job security, no hope of advancement, and no redress for grievances and injustices except to leave a job they may desperately need.”

So, one of the things we can do about justice is examine any employer – employee relationships that we are involved in. Because it is our pocket book, do we in any way exploit them? Do we fulfill basic responsibilities for their well being?

Here is a thought. Perhaps this could be approached from the stand point of stewardship. A steward in an ancient household had servants under him. But, he knew that he was acting on behalf of his master. Thus, as employers, we should only see ourselves as stewards representing Christ in the employee/employer relationship.

Final quote from Ms. Flanagan: “When a wealthy woman hires an eighteen-year old girl as a live-in nanny, she has bought herself some help, but she has also – if she is a decent person—given herself the responsibility of taking a motherly interest in the young person.”

Friday, July 14, 2006

Historic tension between evangelicals and modernism

David Fitch recently spoke at a seminar that I attended on the need of the church to leave modernism and connect with the post-modern world. Of interest was his thought that the belief in healing of the physical body, which was a teaching of A. B. Simpson, is not modern. Not that it is post modern either, but the doctrine does imply that science does not have an explanation for everything, which at least resonates with, shall we say, unspoken assumptions of many who class themselves as post modern.

This has caused me to reflect that while much of the evangelical way of doing church is a reflection of modernism, there are also many teachings, and some practices, which have always been in opposition to modernism. This is evident in more than one area, although the belief in miracles, healing and the affirmation of sign gifts, such as speaking in tongues and words of knowledge are the most obvious. I would, for starters, also note the following two.

The continued affirmation of creation as a special act of God. Evangelicals in particular have been reluctant to give up the Genesis account. The overall belief that God acted to create, and the rejection of a position sometimes called theistic evolution, has and continues to be a point of contention with modernism.

The belief in the inspiration of the Bible and the belief in its stories as having actually happened is as well an on-going point of opposition to the modern world view. While it could be argued that the doctrine of inerrancy is at its core a modern philosophical stand, it was an attempt at meeting a modernist challenge. My point is, that here, as in many other places, the methodology of modernism was adopted in order to address modernism.