Throughout its history, the United Church of Christ and its predecessor bodies have been involved in doing the work of economic justice. Before the Revolutionary War, 5,000 colonists gathered in the Old South Meeting House in Boston – still today the home of a thriving UCC congregation – to demand repeal of an unjust tax on tea. The meeting led to the historic "Boston Tea Party." Economic justice is an important mission of the UCC. Like Jesus, we are anointed to bring good news to the poor and to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18). We are called to ensure that everyone has sufficient economic resources to meet their fundamental human needs.
Over the years, the UCC has been involved in many economic justice concerns. Low-wage workers have been of particular importance, especially farm workers. The UCC was one of the first faith communities to support Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in their campaign to organize poor farm laborers. In 1973, Chavez appealed to the UCC to send people to stand with farm workers on picket lines in California’s Coachella Valley to help prevent violence. Coincidentally, Chavez’s call came during the meeting of the 9th General Synod. The timing was horrible. To send people as Chavez requested would mean disrupting the business of the Synod, which was also important. After debating late into the night, the decision was made: yes, we would go to California. General Synod chartered a plane and flew 95 Synod delegates to the Coachella Valley to stand in solidarity with the farm workers. The UCC’s strong support for farm workers has continued to the present day. In recent years, Synod has endorsed farm workers’ boycotts against Taco Bell and the Mt. Olive Pickle Company. After multi-year struggles, both resulted in labor contracts that provide additional income, protections, and dignity to workers in our fields. Economic globalization including fair (not “free”) trade, debt relief for countries in the global South, and action against sweatshops have been emphases of recent economic justice efforts. In 2003, General Synod 24 adopted a Pronouncement (http://www.ucc.org/justice/pdfs/globalpro.pdf ) on globalization that concluded “the global economic system as presently structured is significantly flawed and must receive serious reformation.” It called on all settings of the church “to work actively, intentionally, and with vigor toward a more just global economy.” Among the many ways to get involved is the UCC Coffee Project (http://www.ucc.org/justice/coffee.htm) that encourages congregations to serve Fairly-Traded coffee – coffee that provides a living wage to the small farmers who grow it.
Many congregations and individuals are engaged in influencing government at all levels to create fairer and more just economic structures. Some of this work, especially efforts focused on the federal government, is coordinated out of the Washington, DC, office of the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries. The federal budget, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, taxes, public education, foreign policy, the military budget, and money for numerous social programs have all been the focus of our efforts to influence Congress around issues of economic justice. The Justice and Peace Action Network keeps us informed of important, upcoming votes and events; sign up at http://www.ucctakeaction.org. Reflection:
• Most people in the U.S., but certainly not all, are wealthy by the world’s standards. Too many people in the world are very poor. Do we have responsibilities for the poor in this country and the world? What are those responsibilities? What can we learn from Jesus and the Bible about this? • Are struggles for economic justice occurring in your community today? These might include an effort to establish living wages, improve the public schools, organize a union, build affordable housing, improve public transportation or make the tax structure more equitable. Do you support these efforts? • What is the proper role of the Church and church members in influencing government and working to shape policies and laws? Resources: • M. Douglas Meeks, God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy, Augsburg Fortress, 1989 • Studs Terkel, Working, Pantheon Books, 1972
“The Gospel and Our Economic Life” was written by Edith Rasell, Minister for Labor Relations and Community Economic Development, Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ.