Hamburger Heaven, or Hell? Jesus goes to McDonald’s

Fast food workers just went on strike in New York City over the poverty-level wages they are paid. They also said they were striking for their basic human dignity.

The combination of part-time work and low wages in the fast-food industry at places like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell etc., create a kind of hell on earth for many fast food workers.  Today, these workers are not the stereotypical teenagers picking up a little extra cash, but increasingly middle-aged women who are supporting their children.

Does Jesus have a word for these fast food workers? Yes, he does.

The greedy Roman Empire also hit the income of some Jewish workers in the time of Jesus. Jesus goes all the way to the Sea of Galilee to recruit disciples instead of just starting in Nazareth.  This may very well be because Jesus wanted to recruit fishermen to be his disciples because they were people whose fishing industry in the Galilee had been hit hard by the ruinous practices of the military rule by Rome, as I argue in Chapter 4 of #Occupythe Bible.

Jesus certainly taught that the Kingdom of God was very different from the Kingdom of Caesar.  Indeed, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray that divine justice reign “on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

Jesus plainly cared about workers and that they should be paid fairly for their work. “The worker deserves his wages.” (Luke 10:7)

The Rev. Walter Rauschenbusch and other Christian leaders in the Social Gospel movement in the early 20th century pointed out how the Christian Gospel, the “good news” about Jesus, is good news for our social relations, not just our personal relations.  They were talking about the drive to create unions to struggle against the sweatshop conditions of 19th and 20th century industrialization.

Today the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament need to be read again through “Social Gospel” eyes, in dialogue with a new labor movement that is emerging not from the big labor unions, but from the grassroots.

The Wal-Mart Workers “Black Friday” strikes were supported by many religious leaders and groups around the country through prayer vigils and joining with strikers. “We want to see them treating their workers fairly and paying fair wages and benefits for people who are making it possible for them to be in business,” said Rev. David Hansen, a minister who protested with workers in Wichita, Kansas.

Faith support has been strong for this fast-food workers strike as well.  Faith leaders are supporting the growth of a grassroots labor movement in the fast-food industry because it is a core faith issue to protect the vulnerable and refuse to see them kept in poverty. “I’ve become involved because it is primarily a matter of justice,” said the Rev. Michael Walrond of the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem. “We seek to protect those who are the most vulnerable in our culture, and some of the most vulnerable people in the city are fast-food workers who work for poverty wages.”

Amen and amen.

About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am a Professor of Theology and former President of Chicago Theological Seminary; I blog here, at the Huffington Post, and at other venues. I am a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. I am interested in what I call "public theology," or how deeper meaning is made and contested in the public square.
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