Bible exhortations for employers sounds ominous, if you ask me. It also sounds like something no one will read. That’s probably why I got assigned to write about it! Sometimes a little bunny has to do things he doesn’t want to do … like this.
Let me start by telling you I am not religious. I’m a bunny, a very spiritual bunny. Maybe that’s why I didn’t completely freak out when my Auntie said this topic was up next in the blog queue. (Believe me. I tried talking her out of it.) Think about it. Humans take advice from all sorts of ancient wise people and not-so-wise contemporary people. So why not a few verses from the Bible? There’s some good, even radical, stuff in there if you can get past the begets and who smote who.
This hasn’t been a very good week for employers like Walmart and McDonald’s or student groups like Young Conservatives for America. It makes a bunny wonder if they’ve never heard of the Golden Rule! Even this bunny knows you ought to treat bunnies – or people – the way you yourself would like to be treated. That was revolutionary thinking in Bible times and it would transform the workplace if it were applied today. (But no one is asking for my bunny opinion.)
There was this guy in the Bible whose name was Job (That was his real name!) and he was a really righteous man. He said this:
If I have rejected the cause of my male or female slaves,
when they brought a complaint against me;
what then shall I do when God rises up?
When [God] makes inquiry, what shall I answer [God]?
Did not [God] who made me in the womb make them?
And did not one fashion us in the womb? ~ Job 31:13-15
Bible Exhortation #1: Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven. ~ Colossians 4:1
Jasper Translation: At the last day you will not have to answer to the stockholder or to the customer or to the government regulator or to the person in the company higher than you, but to and only to the Lord Almighty.
It sure sounds to me like a worker deserves his wages. And its application of that principle cuts right across capitalist considerations of the cost of labor. No doubt what a company pays an employer will, in many ways, be determined by its balance sheet, by market forces, by the availability of labor and the like. But Scripture is well aware that market forces can place an employer in a position of advantage over a worker, making it possible for him to pay his workers less than they ought to be paid in accordance with principles of Christian equity, justice, and love. (That’s Professor Jasper, for you!)
Just to make sure that one verse wasn’t a fluke, I found all these too!
Don’t exploit the poor and needy people whom you hire to work for you, whether they’re fellow Israelites or some of the foreigners who live in your cities. Pay them on the same day they work for you, before the sun goes down, because they’re poor and they’re really counting on the money. If you don’t, they’ll cry out to the Eternal, and He’ll find you guilty of wicked actions. ~ Deuteronomy 24:14-15
Listen. You held back a just wage from the laborers who mowed your fields, and that money is crying out against you, demanding that justice be done. The cries of the people who harvested your crops and made you a profit have fallen upon the ears of the supreme Lord of heavenly armies. ~ James 5:4
Woe to the one who builds his palace on the proceeds of unrighteousness,
who adds upper rooms on the gains of injustice,
Who forces his own people to labor for nothing,
who refuses to pay them for all their hardwork. ~ Jeremiah 22:13
For 20 years, I have been in your household. I served you 14 of those years in return for your two daughters, and six years for your flock. And you have altered my payment 10 times. ~ Genesis 31:41
(Laban is an example of a crafty employer who uses all manner of strategies to pay as little as possible to his workers and keep as much as possible for himself! He changed Jacob’s wages 10 times in an effort to defraud him of his due! That was one messed up family!)
Bible Exhortation #2: Employers are obliged to consider the general interests of their employees as human beings, valued by God and created in God’s image.
Jasper Translation: It’s not enough that if the wage is adequate, the company has done its duty to its employers. God would never look with favor on a moneyed class whose pleasures were earned by the blood and tears of the working poor.
Today there are a number of ways in which employers can mistreat employees: cruel speech, poor, unsanitary, or unsafe working conditions, a failure to appreciate and commend faithful labor, little concern for job security, sexual harassment, and a bunch of other yucky stuff.
And in case you think I’m making this up, here is what it says in the Bible:
People: Why didn’t You notice how diligently we fasted before You?
We humbled ourselves with pious practices and You paid no attention.
Eternal One: I have to tell you, on those fasting days,
all you were really seeking was your own pleasure;
Besides you were busy defrauding people and abusing your workers. ~ Isaiah 58:3
In condemning employers in his day, the prophet says, ‘you exploit your workers’ or ‘drive them on’; that is, you require them to work when they ought not to have to. In this case, a fast day; in other cases a Sabbath; or by simply requiring too many hours a day of labor.
If my land cries out against me,
if my furrows gather together to weep over my mistreatment of them,
If I have eaten the fruit of the land
without payment to those who tend it
or exasperated the lives of its tenants, the farmers, in pursuit of greater harvest, or in poor management of them;
Then let thistles grow instead of wheat
and stinkweed instead of barley. ~ Job 31:38-40
In this passage, Job is inviting God’s curse to fall upon him if he has broken the spirit of his tenant farmers.
Well, that’s enough theologizing from this bunny! I can tell you this: I’m pretty sure the Walmart and McDonald’s execs, and politicians who don’t want social safety net programs like SNAP aren’t thinking like Job, inviting God’s curse to fall upon them if they break the spirits’ of their sales associates and working poor. I’m not even sure they’re really contemplating the Golden Rule. All I can say is that it’s a good thing God isn’t it in the smiting business anymore.