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Jenn Hagedorn’s presentation begins education process

By Jenn Hagedorn

Social Justice Liaison - Plymouth Church Seattle

During orientation week of the Justice Leadership Program last year, I realized the power of the faith voice on issues of economic justice. It was the beginning of the journey that brought me before you today, and as I have learned, I must understand my own story in order to authentically ask others to join with me.

jenn hagedorn

Jenn Hagedorn

My fellow interns and I showed up for an event called an “action” having no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We marched with a crowd of hundreds of workers, union leaders and community and faith folks, to the headquarters of Alaska Airlines in SeaTac to demand living wages and better protections on the job.

Along the march, I started talking to some of the people who work at SeaTac airport and some of the organizers of the march. I heard stories of people working long hours and still going to the food bank to feed their families. I heard about the lack of safety equipment that they needed to clean and fuel the planes. I heard about cancelled shifts and other ways that employers found to cut paychecks. The more I heard, the more angry I became. This was so far from any injustice that I had experienced in my life, and yet I had probably walked by many of these workers on my way to or from flights.

By the time we reached the headquarters of Alaska Airlines, I wanted answers. A delegation went forward and knocked on the door. An executive was sent down to speak with us and as his eyes looked out over the sea of people, you could see him notice with some surprise that there was a line of faith leaders and workers immediately before him.  A few workers spoke about what they had experienced working at the airport, and then several faith leaders spoke about our moral obligation to provide for workers, especially in the face of a record profit quarter.

The executive’s voice shook as he responded, and I remember wondering whether it was the size of the crowd, or perhaps whether he was shaken by the moral voice that was asking him to make changes. Not only was this a powerful statement to the executive, but many workers told me on that day and at future actions, that standing with members of the faith community had given them courage and strength that they didn’t know they had.

As Christian brothers and sisters, we are called to have a different relationship with money than our capitalist society dictates. These verses in Acts that are written at the top of this resolution demonstrate the way that the early Church set this example.

By everyone giving what they could and giving to those most in need, they ensured that everyone had enough. This individual accountability to each other is based on the belief that we are all Children of God, deserving of justice and capable of acting justly.

Economic fairness at the systemic level is built into the ethics of our faith traditions as well.  In Hebrew tradition, debts were forgiven and slaves were set free every seven years. In the year of Jubilee, which came every 50 years, all the land was equitably re-distributed. This radical re-structuring of a society prevents against the accumulation of enormous wealth based on the understanding that the land and the people ultimately belong to God.

When we open our eyes and hearts, we see the way that our society is different from this vision of God’s Kin_dom, and moving further away from it at rapid speed.

Economic inequality has been growing ever wider in the last 30 years and has degraded the health, democracy and economic prosperity of our nation. Wages have not kept pace with rates of productivity or inflation, decreasing the ability of individuals or families to be able to buy the basic essentials.

In fact, if wages had kept pace with these rates, our national minimum wage would be $21.72 an hour.

We know that while this economic divide has touched many of our lives, low-wage jobs are disproportionately done by women and people of color, strengthening the white patriarchal hierarchy that exists in this country.

As church members we don’t need to hear the statistics to know the reality. Many of our UCC congregations work tirelessly to fill this ever-growing gap between what people need to survive and what they are able to provide for themselves, even while working. We do this through giving to food banks, providing temporary housing and serving meals. While this is important, holy work, we know that this is only alleviating the symptoms of a broken system.

The concept of a living wage is about more than a specific dollar amount.  It is about supporting wage, housing, and other policies that create affordable access to basic human necessities.

By adopting this living wage resolution, we agree to:

• Educate ourselves about issues of living wages and income inequality in the local church setting.

• Engage in the issues by listening to workers and walking with them towards a living wage future in our communities.

• Advocate for the creation of living wage opportunities with elected representatives and business leaders.

• Call on each of the local churches to consider supporting the Church Council of Greater Seattle’s Living Wage Principles.

Adopting this resolution means we will be back here next year at Annual Meeting 2015, asking ourselves and each other: What have we done on the issue of living wages?

As Christians, our holy texts give us an alternative to the economic system that we see holding our brothers and sisters in poverty. We are called to be and create the communities that cancel debt and turn the tables. We are called to radically share because we believe in God’s great abundance, and we are called to stand with those who are being exploited for profits, to amply the voices of those who have been drowned out.


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Summer 2014


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