Yesterday, at the release of a new national grassroots campaign to raise the minimum wage spearheaded by religious leaders, Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass) told his audience to believe in God is to support the “living wage.”
“Let Justice Roll” is the name of a drive said to have more than 45 million constituents (including the Center for American Progress) that leverages spiritual “moral outrage” over low wages to gain support for legislative action.
Kennedy said: “This [raising the minimum wage] is a moral issue of enormous importance and consequence. It’s a defining issue about what our society is really about. Whether we reward work, whether we have respect for individuals that work hard and play by the rules, whether we are going to follow the great teachings of the Beatitudes, which inspire so many of us in terms of our responsibilities to our fellow human beings and if we believe in those fundamental tenants of the Judeo-Christian ethic we cannot fail but to believe that the minimum wage must be a livable wage for all our fellow citizen.” (emphasis added).
The group’s rhetoric is steeped in biblical references. Even the name itself reflects a reference to Amos 5:24, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an overflowing stream.” In a report produced for Let Justice Roll, Holly Sklar and Rev. Dr. Paul H. Sherry write, “The Golden Rule—the Ethic of Reciprocity—is the most universal moral value, religious and secular. Economics can be immoral: Those with the gold, rule. Do to others anything you can get away with. Or economics can be moral, in keeping with the Golden Rule.”
Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ, also believes the minimum wage debate to be a spiritual issue. He predicted traditional Republican evangelicals will also join his cause.
“The evangelicals really understand the breadth of the moral issues and one of the key issues that there is no disagreement on is care for the poor,” he said, “and my guess is that many of those who are not part of the National Council of Churches, or part of some of the churches who are here many of those recognize people coming to their churches, living on minimum wage are living below the poverty level and Jesus would be calling us to a justice issue there.”
The Let Justice Roll campaign is targeting “every church, every synagogue, every mosque and every temple” Martin Luther King’s birthday weekend in January for “living wage worship events.”
Events are set around this day because, as Kennedy pointed out, most earning a minimum wage are a minority, “so this is a civil rights issue.” Edgar said resources will be provided for those choosing to participate.
To Kennedy, raising the minimum wage is a necessary moral action seemingly obvious—to everyone except Republicans.
He ended, “This is a issue of morality that cries out for justice and I think having those that are part of the spiritual and church communities that representatives a wide range of different churches spelled out for the American people, they understand it. It just so happens the Republican leadership doesn’t understand it.”