Economic Justice

Rev. Ellen Sims is the pastor of Open Table United Church of Christ; she delivered these remarks at the Just Mobile issues forum on Saturday, August 12th.

Two members of my church struggle every day to pay rent for their low income apartment, feed and clothe their 2-year-old, and get to their jobs. Terry and Kerry—not their real names—are in their early 20s. They graduated from Mobile high schools and have had additional job training. They are full of aspiration. Terry has worked the night shift at a low wage job at a hospital for several years, while Kerry most recently worked during the day at a fast food restaurant. Because they can’t afford child care, they have to schedule complementary work shifts. They have absolutely no support from their families. In fact, at one point DHR placed Kerry’s much younger sisters in their home briefly because of an unsafe situation at Kerry’s mother’s house. Terry and Kerry use the air conditioning at home sparingly, keep lights turned off, plan their family budget meticulously. They receive food stamps, which helps, but not enough.

“Well why isn’t your church helping?” you might be thinking. We try. One church member gave the couple a used car since there’s no public transportation near them or their jobs. We’ve brought them groceries when SNAP ran out. We’ve paid a couple of electric bills and hosted their baby shower. But they don’t want handouts, and our small church is addressing many needs. If Mobilians want to prevent the cycle of poverty, we need to go upstream to the source of the problems. The problem is rooted in an economic system that advantages those already well off. Our taxes, for instance, are regressive. Our social services are underfunded. Our public transportation is inadequate, so low wage earners must buy, insure, repair, and fuel a car—to get to work. Meaning they buy a car to get to work to pay for the car.

Kerry and Terry keep looking for better paying jobs, which becomes a job itself. Kerry, I believe, was making only $7.59/hour serving fast food long after the manager promised a raise. This same manager kept changing the start time for Kerry’s work shift by several hours, sometimes with less than a day’s notice, and since Kerry has to be home with their child while Terry works, she couldn’t always work the rescheduled shifts. So Kerry was recently fired. She now works at a bar on nights when Terry does not work. The strain has been so great that they plan to divorce. When they can afford it. Even though, as products of disrupted homes, Kerry and Terry promised themselves that would never happen to them and their child.

I married this couple, baptized their baby. And my heart breaks to watch them valiantly strive for the slightest gain toward economic stability. Thank God they are in good health. But that may not last.

You know what they need: affordable childcare, public transportation, health care, a just wage, progressive taxes to fund social safety nets–so they can work, continue their education, raise their child in a safe environment, and contribute to our community. 

Religious and community organizations are struggling these days to meet overwhelming needs. Only government has the potential to raise sufficient resources and put in place the structures and institutions that can fill unmet needs and create a well-functioning society,

The Bible speaks less about giving to charity and more about systemic solutions—like the way the early church shared all things in common and created systems to care for widows and orphans, like the gleaning system that required wealthy farmers to leave crops along the edges of their fields for the poor, like the jubilee system that canceled debts every seven years, like the way Jesus always privileged the children, the sick, the poor.

We need to think systemically and act justly. For Kerry and Terry’s sake. For yours. Please use your vote and your voice to support candidates and legislation that will enact economic justice for all.

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