Guest Blog by Dr. Larycia Hawkins
Sins of commission are readily assimilable by evangelicals.
This does not mean that evangelicals are always repentant, but in VBS and Sunday School, we learned not to break the Ten Commandments or to do the dirty dozen. But Scripture teaches us that sins of omission are equally pernicious, even if less perceptible than sins of commission.
Intransigence on immigration is a sin of both commission and omission. Christians commit sin when they contribute to (or fail to counter) racist dialogue which is systematically translated into xenophobic policies likeArizona’s SB 1070—a policy which legalizes a slew of sins, including racial profiling, and perpetuates the us-versus-them mentality that spurred the law in the first place.
Perhaps the gravest sin of omission related to immigration stems from evangelicals’ failure to stand in solidarity with laborers and the broader labor movement. A majority of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are employed. Furthermore, these immigrants are propping up our beleaguered Social Security trust fund, contributing $12 billion in 2007 alone. Many low wage workers, both immigrants and citizens, are subject to underpayment and/or nonpayment of wages—a phenomenon called wage theft. Where are the evangelical prophets decrying wage theft?
In the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which affirmed the centrality of work to our human dignity and affirmed a just wage as imperative to human thriving. Catholic Social Teaching has consistently affirmed the right of workers to join unions and the indispensability of unions to a just society. The seamless garment of life is incomplete if not inclusive of a commitment to the dignity of all workers, citizens and immigrants, created in the image of God.
In the 21st century, an evangelical pastor once told me that although people technically have a right to join unions, all unions are corrupt, full of greedy, power-wielding bosses. In fact, right to work laws and e-verify laws weaken unions and hamper workers’ ability to join unions. Contrary to much commentary in evangelical political circles, unions exist to represent the most vulnerable on the economic ladder, not the most powerful. Just as Christ turned the social hierarchy on its head, so do unions by protecting vulnerable workers from wage theft and other abuses. By and large, evangelicals have evinced ambivalence toward unions at best and outright opposition toward unions at worst. This sin of omission is a grave one.
Economic exploitation occurs when evangelicals omit the dictates of Scripture to do justice for workers. Immigrant workers of all ilks are especially subject to worker injustice given their precarious economic status.
This evangelical omission should haunt us. The imperative to do justice for workers cannot be mired in a political predisposition that opposes unions; otherwise, “the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, [will cry] out against [us]” (Mark 5:4). By doing justice by workers, we do justice by immigrants.
Larycia A. Hawkins is assistant professor of Politics & International Relations at Wheaton College (IL). She earned her Ph.D from the University of Oklahoma. Her current areas of research include the confluence of race, religion, and politics.
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