Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Kim Bobo on Alan Wolfe

The October 21st New York Times Book Review carried an essay by Alan Wolfe titled "Mobilizing the Religious Left." It's a review of Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century: The Classic That Woke Up the Church, a new volume celebrating and reflecting on Walter Rauschenbusch's Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907), a book that inspired the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

IWJ Executive Director Kim Bobo wrote the following response to Wolfe's essay and sent it as a letter to the editor of the New York Times, which hasn't published it (but now we have).

In his essay "Mobilizing the Religious Left," Alan Wolfe ignores the breadth of religious activism fighting poverty and economic disparity by offering unsubstantiated claims of what issues people care about and broad critiques of the theologian Walter Rauschenbusch. Wolfe boldly and wrongly claims, "In a democracy, the people choose the questions they want to discuss, and in our time more of them want the religious spirit to concern itself with abortion and homosexuality rather than race relations or a just wage." He's flat out wrong.

An October 2005 Pew Research Center survey found that almost half (48 percent) of Americans believe that American society is divided between the "haves" and the "have-nots." In another Pew survey in July 2006, asking about what social issues churchgoers hear about from the pulpit, by far the top issue was hunger and poverty. A whopping 92 percent of churchgoers have heard their pastors speak out against hunger and poverty from the pulpit. Over 80 percent of Americans, including all major Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations, supported an increase in the minimum wage. These same religious bodies at the local level have led the 100 plus local living wage campaigns and are leading local efforts to challenge janitorial firms, laundry firms, poultry plants, waste companies and dozens of other industry leaders to pay living wages and family benefits.

As important as Rauschenbusch is to social thought, I daresay that few religious leaders are engaged in just wage issues either because of what he said or didn't say. People of faith are engaged in challenging economic injustice because all our faith traditions' sacred texts condemn greed and advocate just treatment of workers. The teachings, combined with their own faith journeys of seeing poverty in their congregations, propel their actions.

No comments: