Having started this series in late April on the importance of engaging both the business and the faith/religious communities in promoting workers’ rights, I am now alternating each post between the business community and faith community connection.
A few months ago I read and clipped out of the Raleigh News and Observer (originally printed in the New York Times) a provocative article titled “Do Churches Fail the Poor?” by Ross Douthat. I saved it knowing I would write about it in this blog. I felt the title was indeed relevant since it is primarily workers living near the poverty level that ironically receive the fewest employments benefits and rights.
This fascinating article led with a quote from a Harvard University social scientist Robert Putnam who said, “Most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they have been using all their resources for …. not at all focused on issues of poverty.”
When sharing the stage at an event with Dr. Putnam, President Obama remarked, “Despite great caring and concern, when churches pick the defining issue that’s really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians, fighting poverty is often seen merely as a ‘nice to have’ compared to ‘an issue like abortion.’”
The Douthat article went on to attempt to debunk this critique by pointing out that religious charities direct billions of dollars to important and helpful institutions like schools and hospitals. But no matter what side of this discussion you fall on, I do feel strongly that people of faith should increase their focus on advocating for better rights and benefits for the most vulnerable of working Americans. If you are involved in a place of worship, consider helping to start a committee to research and take action on this issue, starting with accessing resources available through the North Carolina Council of Churches and the North Carolina Justice Center. Here are some links that might prove helpful in such an endeavor: