As a Christian, I am called to support the powerless. People who have a great deal of money are more powerful than those who don’t, because governments and leaders listen to them. These reasons are often well-intentioned and pragmatic. For example, I knew of a large industry which was systematically mistreating its workers. The industry was in a small city, and the local government was reluctant to do anything to antagonize the company for fear that they would relocate. If they had closed down the factory, the most of the residents would have been jobless. The town would have died.
The very few workers who spoke out were fired. It is easy to find ‘lawful’ reasons to fire unskilled and low skilled workers who don’t have the education or finances to contest it. The company managed to keep unions out by threatening workers who showed interest in joining.
I did speak out. The responses went something like this ‘The company has to be tough – people just don’t work hard unless they are pushed’, or ‘These jobs are just stepping stones to better ones – if they have any gumption the workers would be moving on to better positions and better pay’. Some also acknowledged that the town had a vested interest in keeping the company happy.
I do not blame the town leaders for trying to keep the industry. I do not blame the workers trying to keep their jobs. I do not blame industry for making as much profit as it can.
What is wrong in this situation is that, without someone speaking out, the workers would have continued to suffer. They suffered ever more egregiously, in fact, until the few of us who were a thorn in the side of the local government and the company were able to influence those in power. As a result, the factory manager was fired and conditions improved.
Bob S recently commented on a post in which I talked about the system that creates and entrenches poverty: “what have you personally done to remove the causes of poverty?” I thought about that. I have donated to initiatives that aim to ameliorate the effects of poverty through direct relief. It is clear that Jesus calls us to do so. But He also calls us to stand with the poor, the powerless, and the despised, just as He did. He calls us to step in and disrupt systems that allow the powerful to treat the powerless unfairly, as He did when He overturned the tables of the money changers.
Alan Walker, an Australian pastor, summed it up beautifully: a purely personal religion is ‘irrelevant, escapist, and unworthy of the Christian faith’, because it leaves unchanged the structures of society which so greatly affect the individual lives of men and women for good or evil. Equally, it is pointless merely to change the structures of society, as unredeemed humanity was not capable of maintaining a redeemed society.