A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, September 05, 2011

Labor Day, The Social Principles, and Theological Rationale

Methoblogger and part-time local pastor and professor at Indiana University, John Meunier, has published a post on this Labor Day on the Social Principles in which he shares his frustration.

First, he quotes the SP on collective bargaining:
¶ 163 B) Collective Bargaining—We support the right of all public and private employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing. Further, we support the right of both parties to protection in so doing and their responsibility to bargain in good faith within the framework of the public interest.

In order that the rights of all members of the society may be maintained and promoted, we support innovative bargaining procedures that include representatives of the public interest in negotiation and settlement of labor-management contracts, including some that may lead to forms of judicial resolution of issues.

We reject the use of violence by either party during collective bargaining or any labor/management disagreement. We likewise reject the permanent replacement of a worker who engages in a lawful strike.
Then, John articulates his difficulty. I quote a portion:
On a personal political beliefs level, I have no problem with this statement. I just don’t understand the theology behind it. My feeble mind cannot trace a line from our Scriptures or even the theology of John Wesley to this kind of declaration on behalf of collective bargaining rights. (Notice how many times this short section uses the term "rights," without any apparent concern for its contested nature as a theological term.)
I resonate with John's concern. As one who believes that Christian moral and social convictions must have theological foundation and justification, or they cannot be said to be significantly Christian, I often find that reading the Social Principles is an exercise in personal frustration. It's not that I often disagree with the spirit or the overall position of what I read. Indeed, I agree with John that in general I support the spirit of the SP's affirmation of collective bargaining, which is why I oppose the recent attempts to strip collective bargaining from state unions and why I also oppose labor unions' support of the so-called card check. Collective bargaining should always take place on equal footing between management and labor.

What bothers me, and John mentions it briefly, is that once one employs rights language, theological rationale for a social and moral conviction becomes secondary, and as seems to be the case with many of the UM Social Principles, somehow beside the point. Thus, in general, the Social Principles do not embody the Kingdom teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, nor do they reflect rigorous theological reflection nearly as much as they simply resemble the political platform of the DNC.

I quite understand that as brief statements the SPs are not meant to be exhaustive, but they should nevertheless be theologically decisive in the positions that are affirmed. Such theological reflection is badly needed.

We already have a DNC (and an RNC) political platorm in America. We don't need any church denomination to simply echo either one in their social and moral pronouncements. That makes the church...well... redundant... and irrelevant.

I am interested in what my UM colleagues in the Methocybersphere think on this, lay and clergy alike. Do You agree? Disagree? If so, why? If not, why not?
For those who are not familiar with my blog, please note that I welcome anonymous comments as long as they are not critical in nature. Criticism must be given by those with whom we can identify. It is nothing more than an exercise in integrity.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Allan R. Bevere said...


While I appreciate your comments, I had to delete them. My policy on this blog is that anonymous comments are allowed only if they do not engage in critique or criticism. Criticism demands that we come out of the shadows and identify ourselves. It is a matter of integrity.

Allan R. Bevere said...


If you want to repost them under your name, I will be glad to have them posted.

PamBG said...

I think that the Church Universal needs to start spelling out its theology.

I believe in a God who is in the process of ongoing creation, a process that (in ways that I don't believe any human can describe) will ultimately result in what the bible calls The Kingdom of God.

Each human being is created in the image and likeness of God and is called, through that birthright (oops!), to participate in building the Kingdom.

Therefore there is no room for superiority of one against the other. No room for setting race against race, rich against poor, men against women, labor against business, etc. etc. The call is to equality in dignity and equality in humility of all human beings in the face of our God and Savior.

That is the theological foundation that I see.

We should spell it out.

At the very least, it will stop such theologies as "God will make you rich if you truly believe" or "God wants women to be subservient to men" or "God is pro-business and anti-labor" etc. etc. etc.

PopLid said...

I think I see your point, but maybe the Social Principles are most useful in situations that are not directly covered by theological construct, but are guidance in extended circumstances.
The Social Principles section quoted does not take sides, but requires bargaining in good faith by both parties, and expressly rejects the use of violence.
Sounds to me that these are all pretty close extensions of Jesus teachings.