“Thou Shalt Not Covet”

letter

In responding to Joe Morin’s letter (“Thou Shalt Not Covet”), I’d like to simply offer three points regarding minimum wage issues and broader issues that Mr. Morin raises in his piece:

1) I like business. I like math. I like data. I like logic. While I understand Mr. Morin’s desire to dismiss me as a “liberal” (something that when it comes to certain social issues, I’ll confess to), there are plenty of conservatives who, like me, employing things like math, data, and a desire for the government to offer fewer assistance programs, have come to the conclusion that raising the minimum wage is a good way forward. Phyllis Schlafly, Ron Unz, and Bill O’Reilly are three conservatives who believe that there are plenty of corporations that are being subsidized by taxpayers by having ordinary citizens pay for the healthcare and other assistance programs for some of their employees. That is not free enterprise. That is an entitlement program for the wealthiest Americans. If one wants, as Mr. Morin does, less government, less public debt, and fewer federal assistance programs, then he should be first in line to demand a higher minimum wage.

2) Mr. Morin questions my ability to understand scripture. I’ll certainly concede that not only have I misread passages in the Bible in the past, I almost certainly will in the future as well. That’s the nature of these sorts of things. However, any suggestion that the parable in Matthew 20 is supportive of Mr. Morin’s viewpoint is misguided. To suggest that Jesus believed in “free enterprise” is alarming. The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard is just that; a parable. It’s not actually about money at all. It is about God’s radical grace that is extended no matter how late we join the party. For a treatment of “biblical” economics, I’d suggest turning to the early stages of the Book of Acts where mutual sharing is demanded of followers no matter how wealthy they may be. I’d suggest examining the lovely story of the widow offering her two coins in Luke 21 and noting how the story is really a critique of the wealthy oppressing a little old lady. I’d suggest taking a look at Jesus in the Temple, where he becomes quite angry at the kind of extortion that gets in the way of people being able to make their offering. Then there’s the whole concept of Jubilee in the Hebrew Bible; a notion so radical it makes “liberals” like me uncomfortable as well. Scripture is not a contemporary economics textbook. The general theme appears, to me anyway, to be one of support for the “least of these.”

However, even though the Bible is not a contemporary economics textbook, there are plenty of companies that do seek to love their neighbor as Jesus asked us to do. Companies can be generous to their employees as well as their customers. Newman’s Own, REI, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, New Belgium, and Organic Valley are all well known in their respective industries for treating employees and customers well. I believe in the ability of enterprise to both succeed and do right by people without the need to shift the burden of taking care of their employees back onto our wider society.

3) We are in an unfortunate place in our contemporary discourse. He/ she who speaks loudest tends to get the most airtime. Extreme opinions are rewarded. However, the rush to the fringe to prove or disprove a method for tackling difficult issues does not solve anything. I say this because I’m in favor of the lowest paid American workers making another couple of dollars an hour. Now, why does that mean, according to Mr. Morin, that I am not just a “liberal,” but also consumed with a “politics of envy,” obsessed with “the Walton family fortune” and desire a “naive vision of Soviet style central planners in DC”? Surely our youth are burdened by the growing debt, but “enslaved”? I believe that raising the minimum wage by a couple of dollars an hour is a good idea. Is that a reason to suggest someone is a communist?

Rev. David A. Shaw
Pastor, Church in the Wildwood UCC