Workers’ Rights and the United Methodist Church

The following was originally published in The Bellringer, a monthly publication of the Sherman Avenue United Methodist Church in Madison, Wisconsin.


A reflection on scripture, tradition, experience and reason.

Matthew 22: 37-40 “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

“Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.” (Our Theological Task United Methodist Book of Discipline 2008.)

Methodists look at Scripture through the lenses of tradition, experience, and reason to discern where to stand figuratively and literally on various personal and social issues. In other words– What does the bible say about that? Whatever the “that” is. How do we figure out how to live? How do we love God and our neighbor? When confronted with a question about how to understand scripture Jesus pointed to these two greatest commandments.

I believe that one of the ways that we can go about loving our neighbor in 2011 is to insure that that neighbor is treated fairly. I believe this based on my study of scripture. Scriptures call for not only charity but also call for institutional fairness—justice. In Genesis we read that God rested on the seventh day. Throughout scripture people are commanded to give their workers time off to rest. That issue is central to the Exodus story. God heard the cry of the Israelites because their forced work. God called Moses. Moses asked for time off for the people he represented. One of the ten commandments not only commands the taking time off for rest for the person addressed but also for those that work for them. Many places in the rest of the Bible are commands and stories in support of worker rights.

There is a strong enduring Christian tradition of support for fair treatment of workers. In 1908 The Methodist Episcopal Church adopted The Social Creed supporting workers’ rights. This tradition continues today over a century later in the form of The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. In 1968 Reverend Martin Luther King actively supported the struggle of sanitation workers to get fair treatment in the workplace. He was killed early in April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee in that struggle. These are simply a few of the examples of this tradition.

My personal, direct experience also brings me to the same conclusion. Almost four decades of labor experience vivifies what I do and say. I hear the Lord’s question to Elijah, “What are you doing here?” My answer: I am standing here trying be what I am called to be.

So my reasoned reflection on scripture, tradition and my personal experience has lead me here. Where I am at the Capitol—in the rotunda, on the King Street Walkway, on Martin Luther King, on the State Street steps.

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