Did Jesus organize a union? The Kingdom of Caesar and union-busting in Michigan

There’s a stark difference between the Kingdom of Caesar and the Kingdom of God.  That’s why Jesus called fishermen to be his disciples, people who worked in the fishing industry around the Sea of Galilee that had been wrecked by ruinous economic practices of Imperial Rome.

Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is now, it is here, “in your midst” (Luke 17:21) and thus Jesus recruited people who would “get it.” Jesus wanted to call disciples who would understand that decent working conditions are part of human dignity and an important part of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God right now, as I argue in Chapter 4 of #OccupytheBible, “Did Jesus Organize a Union?”

When people are refused the right even to act together to improve their work life through unionization, something fundamental in the dignity of human beings is also being denied.  They take to the streets and then, those who are Christians, are often able then to ‘Read the Bible from the Streets’ (Chapter 1).  Those of other faiths and those of humanist values, of course, are equally able to see how broken such a system is.

Michigan protests so-called “Right to Work” law

In fact, don’t even call the union-busting law jammed through the lame duck legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) a  “Right to Work” law.  That’s a deceptive term that means workers will get paid less and have less bargaining ability with management. It’s just the “right to work for less money”, and it is bad for the overall economy in a state.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “Right to Work” a “fraud” and said, “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”  The Civil Rights struggle, led by Dr. King, was both a struggle for human rights and for economic rights.

The Memphis Sanitation workers strike of 1968

Worker justice is not just a civil right, as Dr. King knew, it is a fundamental way we recognize that human beings have an inherent dignity and worth.

This idea, that human dignity, what Christians call “the image of God,” is what connects Christian moral reasoning and action for worker rights in the Gospels, the Social Gospel, the Civil Rights movement, the Solidarity movement in Poland as seen in the work of John Paul II, the Occupy movement and now the dawn of a new labor movement that is once again working from the grassroots to reawaken the importance of an American labor movement for the 21st century.

Thank God.

About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary; I write for the public here and in local papers. 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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