Tag Archives: stewardship

The Church and the Wage Gap

Wage Gap Church Marquee

There are few forms of discrimination that have as much wide-spread and consistent impact on success then the wage gap. The wage gap references the statistical gap between men and women’s pay for equal work. To date, all skills and experience being equal, white women earn 77 cents on the dollar that white men earn. Men and women of color fare worse.

The Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963, making it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who hold the same job and do the same work. At the time of the EPA’s passage, women earned just 58 cents for every dollar earned by men. By 2006, that rate had only increased to 77 cents, an improvement of less than half a penny a year. Minority women fare the worst. African-American women earn just 64 cents to every dollar earned by white men, and for Hispanic women that figure drops to merely 52 cents per dollar. –InfoPlease

And if you don’t think those pennies add up, consider that a college graduated women will lose over $1 million in wage earnings compared to her male counterpart due to wage discrimination.  This sort of discrimination is intolerable and even more so because there is a lot that we can do to address it.

How can the church begin to address this issue? There is much we can do, and plenty of resources to guide us. The following is a simple plan for taking action in your church.

  1. Document and Research
  2. Collaborate and Learn
  3. Talk to the Boss
  4. Celebrate!

1. Document and Research – There are some compelling reasons to make our salaries known. The taboo on sharing how much you make is one of the reasons this sort of discrimination can thrive. Knowing what others in your field make will help you be aware of if you are being unfairly paid.  Churches as communities and action centers are a perfect place to coordinate this kind of sharing. Researching wages within your field and if you are being appropriately paid is something many people already do individually. While individual research has benefits, imagine the collaborative ability a church body has to gather this type of information and keep it shared and public within the community. Within the church, opening conversations about our incomes could have all kinds of other implications as well. Documenting also means letting it be known when you feel you were mistreated or unfairly dealt with as it relates to your wage. If any place should be a safe haven and a place to share those things, it should be the church.

2. Collaborate and Learn– Caring after the orphans and widows in their distress has to do with a lot more then providing clothing and shelter (though that’s good too). Acts of charity are good things, but wouldn’t it be amazing to see the church as a collaborating force to ensure women were treated and paid fairly? The church, as a unified body, is just the sort of community that can provide the resources and preparation for demanding fair wages.  If someone had concerns about their unfair treatment at work, the church should be able to provide contact information and resources for learning how to negotiate, rather then just an offer to pray for the person.  An African American women earning the dollar (rather then 64 cents to a white males dollar) she deserves for her work doesn’t need to depend on the charity of others to survive and she can have the pride of standing on her own two feet, rather then being the victim of oppressive discrimination.

3. Talk to the Boss– Probably the most intimidating and daunting task of many people’s jobs is asking something of their boss. Especially for single-income households, talking to your boss about your pay, or any acknowledgment of being unsatisfied with work, can be a very scary task as there is probably a great fear of getting fired. Once again, the church has an important role in this step. The churches role is to be a supportive and loving body in the midst of injustice. So, not only do we help empower and prepare people to ask for equal wages, we are also there to support them should their demands be met with resistance. It’s much easier to stand strong against mistreatment and discrimination if you have a loving supportive community around you.

4. Celebrate!– I’d urge churches or small groups to have Wage Parties, or maybe Against Injustice parties. When my house mate paid off his last school loan and became debt free, we had a celebratory party. It was a beautiful thing. Like a celebration after finding a lost coin or sheep, we should celebrate when unjustly stolen salaries have been given back. The church should be a place of praise and celebration, for fair wages as much as anything else.


source:  The steps used are based loosely on an article, Mind the Wage Gap, from the fall 2005 issue of Ms. Magazine.

(This post was originally posted in April of 2007)

YouTubesday: I Could Have Saved One More…

One of the most moving movie scenes ever, that has impacted my day to day life, is this scene from Schindler’s List.

The background (for the couple who haven’t scene it) is Schindler is a German businessman who has saves the lives of over a thousand Jews by employing them in his factories during the Holocaust. The clip is longer, but the first four minutes is the part I’d like you to watch.

Schindler, who did so much and is a hero to many, still has sincere regret about some of his lifestyle choices. Notice the Jews that come around him don’t discount his statements that he could have indeed saved more people by selling his lapel pin or car, but they don’t try and lay the guilt on either; they are grateful for those he did help.

We live in a world that is daily filled with tragic and unnecessary deaths. Thousands die from lack of access to food, basic health care, clean water, preventable diseases. These are deaths I can help prevent by choosing to put my resources towards providing for others needs, but so many times I don’t choose those things.

This is a reality that I struggle with often. I fear I might have the opportunity in this life or the next, to meet the child I sponsor and, like Schindler, I will breakdown and weep at how much more I could have done, how many more I could have helped, had I only been selfless enough to put their needs before mine.

Money Makes the World Go Around: A Budget

I’m going to keep this short and practical. I realize budgets will vary from city to city and based on circumstances, but I think we can have a fairly frank talk about the amount of money we are spending. I’m not saying we’ll settle on a ‘Jesus says you should live by this budget’, but we will hopefully have a honest discussion about things. I’ll just throw this out off the top of my head to get the discussion going:

Monthly Budget 

  • Rent/Utilities/etc- $500
  • Food- $100 (per person)
  • Car (insurance/gas)- $100
  • Miscellaneous- $100
  • Emergency- $100
  • Fun Money- $100

That’s a $1000 budget per month. Now let me try and explain each category in my own opinions.

  • Rent/Utilities/etc- Some might say this can’t be done, but I strongly believe that if your renting you can find a place (you might need to share it!) that will cost you no more then $500 a month, including the utilities. Sharing is usually the way to go, studios are an option, and being a little flexible with the neighborhood might be a good thing. (Mortgages fit in differently in my opinion, more on that another time).
  • Food- I think you can probably do it for less then this (especially if you know how to score free food), but $100 per person ($200 for a couple, I guess) is more then reasonable. Of course, if your eating fair trade, CSA, organic, etc. It might creep above this number, but not much.
  • Car- Obviously there might be a circumstance where you travel for work and must drive your car, on your own, all over the place, and rack up many miles. I understand that, but most of us, if we put in some effort, could reduce our trips, car pool, and find other ways to keep well within this budget.
  • Miscellaneous- This category covers the occasional expenses that come up unexpectedly. If you need more hand soap or detergent, maybe a new pair of slacks for work, or other similar things.
  •  Emergency- This is money I would save up, putting $100 a month in an account somewhere, not exhausting it each month. Then, when you have a medical bill, appointment, car maintenance, etc. This money is there to cover it. That’s $1200 a year for emergency medical and car, is that enough?
  • Fun Money- This is my favorite category for married couples. My wife and I don’t agree on everything we should spend out money on. So, each month we get an ‘allowance’ of fun money that we can each individual spend however we want. We usually get cash, so it doesn’t show up on our bank statement, for the other to scrutinize and agonize over.

And that’s basically our budget. Now there are a few discrepancies I should point out. School tuition was not on there, nor was school loan repayment, it doesn’t account mortgages, nor large medical expenses or vehicle purchases. I think these fit into a different category other than the regular monthly budget, and rather then complicate things we’ll discuss those in another post.

The Great House Adventure

Thanks for all the feedback on the last couple house posts everybody! I’m realizing there are quite a few more interested parties then I originally realized. I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons we are excited about doing this, and taking seriously paying off our debt, is that we want to have an opportunity to serve as an example to others of taking debt seriously and paying things off. The ultimate goal for us, is to live on only what we need (more discussion here later) and to continue to even after we’ve paid off all our debt. I’m excited to see the amazing good that can be done with our resources once we are no longer enslaved to our lenders.

This is going to be a relatively short post because I need your opinions mostly. I’ve thought about this before a little, but haven’t come to any serious conclusions. Here’s my question. As a Christian, how should we properly discuss our finances? On one hand I’d love to be totally transparent about it all, because I think our ‘taboo’ nature about finances is what gets many of us in a heap of trouble (and as Aaron said, we want the church to be open about their finances, we should too, we are the church after all). On the other hand, there’s that whole, don’t let your left hand know what your right is doing, etc. Thus the dilemma about how to discuss our finances, paying off debt, giving, setting an example, and still honoring God in it all. So, the question:

What is the appropriate way for me to follow Christ and discuss my finances with the general public (i.e. on this blog)? 

What If We All Did Small Things?

As we talked about a couple days ago, there is definitely a difference between “small things” and “big things” in the lifestyle choices that we make. Yesterday, we talked about, on a practical level, what the day in and day out lifestyle of an ethical person might look like. Today, it’s time to contemplate and consider if all those “small things” really do make a difference. We’ll talk about reducing energy, buying sweatshop-free clothing and fair trade coffee.

What if we all reduced our energy consumption (like turning down our heat)? Instead of using 80% of the world’s resources we take only our fair share? Maybe global warming is true and we save ourselves from utter destruction. Maybe it’s not true and we simply take a step down from our high pedestal and join the rest of the world.

What if we all bought sweatshop-free clothing?
If everyone made a small decision to change the brand of clothing they bought from Hanes to say, Alternative Apparel, it would have a huge impact. Yes, it is true that many pocketbooks would be a a bit thinner, but not that much. Almost overnight millions of once sub-living wage, oppressive jobs and corporations would be lost and other just and fair jobs would fill their places. Communities in the third world would begin to thrive off of fair wages rather then suffer under practical slave wages.

What if we all purchased Fair Trade Coffee?
The impact would be similar to that of the clothing industry, lighter pockets in the USA, thriving communities in the rest of the world. And everyone lives happily ever after.

Ethical Living: Trendy Guy vs. Hippie Gal

trendy guyA Day in the Life of Trendy Guy

  • B-fast: Double Mocha from Starbucks
  • Transportation: Ford Excursion
  • Day Job: Corporate Elite for Walmart
  • Home: High rise Condo in recently gentrified neighborhood.
  • Dinner: Fancy Steakhouse
  • Nightlife: Regularly volunteers at a soup kitchen.
  • Summer: Missions trip in the 3rd world.

hippie galA Day in the life of Hippie Gal

  • B-fast: Free-range eggs from local CSA
  • Transportation: Bike and Public Transit
  • Day Job: Barista for local fair trade coffee shop
  • Home: Commune in the city.
  • Dinner: Potluck with Community Garden.
  • Nightlife: Late night concerts, anti-corporate protest, and other leisure activities.
  • Summer: Road Trips, Music Festivals, and wild parties.

What I would suggest is, a healthy combination of the two. Basically, I would suggest that everything from Breakfast to Summers be made from a thoughtful and ethical standpoint. Below is a brief combination that I think might be ethical (certainly subject to further discussion).

A Day in the life of a World Changer

  • Breakfast: Dumpstered and purchased from a local CSA.
  • Transportation: Biking, Public Transit, Carpooling, and driving less.
  • Day Job: A job that does not contradict your ethics and values.
  • Home: Modest living, shared if possible.
  • Dinner: Community Garden shared with friends and neighbors.
  • Nightlife: Community movie nights, craft nights, scrabble, soup kitchen, playing with the neighborhood kids.
  • Summer: Ethical summer ventures.

Now, it’s time for discussion. Does your life line up with Trendy Guy, Hippie Gal or World Changer? If so were and if not, what areas do you need to change? Or, what areas do you think I’m way off base on. Let the discussion begin.

Small Things Do Not Replace Big Things

This is my response to the comment below that was made on my blog a while back:

My point is that people of faith who ache for a lost, dying, and hungry world ought to spend less time worrying about what soda or coffee to drink, or whether to put on a (“fair trade” wool) sweater or turn up the heat, and saying things like “heres to you” to pizza donating murderers, and more time doing things with a little more substance to help alleviate or solve the problems they lament.

Dear Friend,

If people of Faith, and readers and author of this blog, were spending ALL of their time worrying about what to buy, regulating temperatures and toasting murderers, I too would have a problem with that. From what I can tell you see the above steps and actions to be “little things.” They are things that you see as not having any major significance in the world, effecting no major changes, impacting only a small portion of this “lost, dying and hungry world.” I think to some degree you are right. I am willing to admit my choices not to drink coffee and avoid certain brands of other products are “little things” in the overall impact they have on the world. I won’t disagree with you there. I will say, though, that I think these little things are hugely important and have a much bigger impact then you realize, but that’s a conversation for another time. Today I simply want to clarify that I am in no way suggesting that these “little things” take the place of what you consider “doing things with a little more substance to help” (I’ll consider these ‘big things’).

Little Things should take the place of Little Things
When I write a post about what soda to drink or what coffee brand to avoid, I am not suggesting that we take this up as our life cause, schmoozing in coffee shops and talking to corporate elites about avoiding certain products, while the needy remain hungry and poor. What I’m suggesting is that you replace the ‘little thing’ of your choice of soda (usually based on some brand preference and price) with a new ‘little thing’ of a choice of beverage based on a certain ethical or moral value. When I write about turning down the heat in your apartment, I’m not suggesting campaigning for the removal of all heating units in the USA or even quitting your job to have time to chop firewood. I was simply writing about my “little” experiment with turning down my heat, and considering a “little” lifestyle change as it relates to heat and energy consumption. These are little things, and they generally will remain so (I’ll talk about why they are extremely important in another post).

Big Things should take the place of Big Things
Here’s where I think the clarity needs to be made. Turning down your heat, buying one brand of soda or clothing rather then another, takes very, very little time on a day-to-day basis. Turning your heat down two degrees does not then exempt you from serving soup at the shelter for those that don’t have heat. Buying fair trade coffee does not then exempt you from providing drink for the thirsty in your neighborhood. I’ve never suggested, nor intended to suggest, that you can earn your indulgences with a few strategic ethical purchases. Here, though, is were it gets tricky, because the reverse is also true.
Helping out at a soup kitchen does not free you to oppress, or comply with oppressing, people in your city. Sponsoring a child does not allow for guilt-free purchasing of sweatshop clothing that forces communities into needing sponsors. Planting a tree for a community service project does not give you free reign to use as much energy as you want.

Hopefully this clarified things a bit.

Bikes, Maintenance and Pedal Powered Washers

I finally went to the bike shop today to hear the inevitable, “What have you done to your bike!” line concerning my lack of maintenance to my major mode of transportation. I lamented over the $200 tune-up and part replacement estimate, realizing I’d paid just $210 for the bike used one year ago. I thought over the maintenance I could do myself, and felt guilty about the fact that I’ve said I would do it for months now. It’s probably the same with our car if I think about it, but I don’t use the car enough to really care.

So, a bike, like a car, cost money to maintain, and yet I’m so reluctant to maintain it. I’m constantly playing a numbers game as to whether one choice or another saves more money. It’s total economics and I forget to take into consideration the external benefits of biking to work: better for the environment, exercise, quiet time for myself to and from work, guaranteed hour outdoors a day. It’s really a wonderful thing to do and I’m still so hesitant when it comes to making sure I take care of my bike. The truth is, I just don’t like spending money on anything really. I usually think to myself, if it’s not broken, why fix it? Which is what I was thinking as my tire blew out leaving the bike shop after getting the estimate. Needless to say I’ve schedule a tune-up for next week.

Cyclean BikeSpeaking of externals. The baby is coming soon, which means at least for a little while, my daily bike commute will be coming to a close. I plan on doing a lot more walking around once she’s hear, but for a while biking will be out (at least till she can hold up her head). But I do have another use for biking, something I’ve been interested in for a while. I don’t know when or if I can find one, but I’d really like one of these Bike powered Washing machines. Wouldn’t it be great? We are going to be using cloth diapers and this would be a great way to continue on the environmentally friendly path. Not sure I could hack something together, but the Cyclean guy said he’s putting together some instructions (another guy gave some instructions too). Bonus points if anyone wants to give us this as a baby shower gift.

Capitalism: Get Out While You’re Still Saved?

At it’s very foundation, Capitalism works because of people’s selfishness. Adam Smith the Father of the modern capitalist economy said,

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

I’ll begin, for the sake of Virgil, by saying that in practice in our society, I have not seen or know of a better system then capitalism. I’ve thought that there is a chance a different governmental or economic system would better serve society, but I’m not sure, nor do I know enough to argue, that it would. That being said, Capitalism still has it’s downsides.

We often make choices and contribute to systems that we believe in and agree with. There are personal and moral reasons people boycott stores, flee countries, choose not to vote, refuse to pay taxes, or live off the grid. It’s a much more daunting task, but I wonder if we should not at least consider the same possibility as it relates to our economy.

If our economy by it’s very structure encourages us to act in our own self interest, it goes quite counter to the life that Christ calls us to. And if our economy by in it’s flaws creates a structure of economy that oppresses people, then it goes against our calling to love our neighbors. Is there a way to remain a part of that system, to contribute to it, play a role in it, and benefit from it, yet in a way that still allows us to fully follow Christ?

We don’t know much about a large portion of Jesus’ life but it seems likely that he was a carpenter for most of his adult life. It’s possible he paid taxes and was involved as much as the next person in the economies of that day. Yet, during his ministry we see challenges to the structures in place. He makes satirical play of a question about taxes. Jesus when the tax is required conjures it up out of the mouth of a fish. He dines at people’s homes, relying on the hospitality of others rather then his own wages to provide food and shelter. When he dines at a Tax Collector’s home though, isn’t he benefiting from the corrupt system?

It just seems that economy is another area that Christians don’t think about at all. We just take for granted the system that is in place and don’t consider whether it’s appropriate to be involved or if there is another way. When Mindy and I went to Papa Festival they tried to use an alternative currency during the event. It was similar to the Ithaca Hours, which a whole city adopted. It seems like a creative way to step out of the current economic system (though it seems like it’s just replacing it with a similar one, although more local and maybe less corrupt).
Maybe we are supposed to be moving off the current economy and joining the Amish. Or maybe there is a way to involve our selves in the economy of the world in such a way that it is still honoring to God and not involving ourselves in a corrupt structure.

A liar and a Thief: What To Do With Excess?

John Wesley once said,

“If I should die with more than ten pounds, may every man call me a liar and a thief.”

Wesley, though he made quite a bit of money from his publications, took little for himself, and he died poor. If there was an example of living out Christ call to the rich young ruler to sell your possessions and give it to the poor, John Wesley was probably it. Jesus clearly tell us, “do not store up in barns where moth and rust destroy.”
My wife and I currently our in debt, with a handful of school loans. Besides school tuition though, our cost of living is less then our income (if your’s isn’t you might have a problem). We have every intention of that fact remaining, more coming in then going out, for the rest of our lives. That being said, we will constantly be faced with the question of, What to do with Excess?

John Wesley’s choice was to rarely let it come within reach, he gave the vast majority of what he made to those in need, and kept only what he needed to live for himself. Wesley’s answer to what to do with the excess money he received was to immediately use it to meet the needs around him. Seems like a pretty good practice to me.

But what about investing? What would Jesus have said if Bethlehem Financial could turn your couple extra coins a month into piles of cash years later to feed the poor, care for the widow, and allow you to serve those around you without depending on others for food? Isn’t that what the parable of the Talents lifts up so much? Wise stewardship?

Every month we have X amount of dollars to decide what to do with, I don’t see it as mine to spend on myself, but rather a resource to carry out the good God calls us too (Loving our neighbors, etc). I could take a portion or all and sponsor a child, meeting an immediate need, and keeping me from the close at hand temptation of wealth. Or I could save some of it, not for financial security (though the temptation would be close at hand), but to invest and grow, so that what would have provided one loaf of bread could eventually provide thousands.

I claim to that I am trying to follow the teachings of Christ, and I do not want to be a liar by the way that I live my life. I do not want to be a Thief by taking more then my share of this place. So I wonder, What do I do with the excess?