Black Friday? Giving Tuesday? Where’s Justice Thursday?

justice-equalityConsider this past week:

  • Black Friday (which became Black Thursday this past year) is the day that you get great deals at brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Small Business Saturday is the day where you shop at your local stores in your area and support your communities.
  • Cyber Monday is the day where online retailers have great online deals and steals.
  • Finally, Giving Tuesday is the day where what money you have left you give to charities and relief efforts like UMCOR.

My local church participated in Giving Tuesday, rallying around a $500,000 matching donation promise. We donated over $6,000 to Advance Specials from our church…I won’t know how much from our individual congregants until our giving profile is updated.

And yet on the same day, one of my local church members posted an article on Facebook that matched some of my own misgivings. From “The Problem with Giving Tuesday“:

[S]omehow we think that if we buy an item in the informal marketplace, we are not responsible for how the business treats their workers. If we get a low price because the business we buy it from hired a child,  paid someone under the minimum wage, or made people work under hazardous conditions, then that’s not on us.  ”Am I my brother’s keeper?” we ask, much like Cain.  That’s their problem, not ours.  I assume this because I see people championing their great deal much more often than people asking questions about why prices are so low.  Economic sociologists often talk about the ways we’ve become disconnected from the items we buy under modern capitalism.

But then, on Giving Tuesday, we give to organizations that help those in poverty–often workers who may have been involved in the goods we buy.  How can we fail to see the irony within this?

In short, when we get a deal, someone has to have lost out. It could be the company offering a loss leader. But more likely, it is the manufacturer who increasingly relies on overseas labor paid paulty wages. Worse than that is companies like Apple who sign exclusive deals with manufacturers but then force lower and lower costs over time which usually come out of the line worker’s pay. By participating in the deals and steals season, someone is losing money, but it isn’t the companies…it’s the overseas and domestic work force.

We release this ingruity, then, with Giving Tuesday. We can give to charities and groups that participate in acts of generosity and feel-good Hallmark-made stories of good. That’s terrific and I’m glad people gave…United Methodists gave over $6.5 million dollars on Tuesday. Excellent.

And yet our gifts of charity–no matter how amplified–do not change the systems that create grinding poverty or injustice. Even if we jump on the Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday deals and donate an equal amount to Giving Tuesday charities, we are still supporting the system of injustice that hurts workers and lines the pockets of corporations.

The author of the above article promotes the idea of Informed Sunday, a day when we can connect our buying habits with our responsibility to be a global neighbor:

…I plan to celebrate Informed Sunday. It’s a way for me to think more critically about the ways I spend money, and to demand of myself that I am informed about the conditions that I support.  As Christians who seek to pursue God’s justice in the world, I don’t think we have an option to not be informed.  We are called to be obedient and to love, regardless of the impact that has.  Being informed about my purchasing decisions isn’t solely or mainly about changing the economic structures that exist.  It’s primarily about learning to be faithful to God and God’s call to love others.It’s about owning my role in the economic structures I participate in. It’s about embracing a responsibility to be my sister’s keeper.

I would reply that every Sunday should be Informed Sunday. Every Sunday should be a holistic moment where our actions and attitudes throughout the week come into collision with the repercussions of those actions until they become such a sticky mess that they are impossible to distinguish or wipe our hands of. We are called to be global neighbors and repent. We are called to care for the poor and repent. We are called to know God’s grace when we are poor (in wealth or spirit) and rejoice. We are reminded of the Gospel and rejoice. And after we have repented and rejoiced, we are sent out to transform the world–not only by acts of charity but also acts of justice.

My hope is that this season that we remember that our Giving on a Tuesday doesn’t excuse us from seeking Justice on a Thursday and everyday beyond.

  • To go beyond supporting Social Services to supporting Social Change
  • To go beyond giving privately to taking public stances for change
  • To go beyond responding to immediate needs to responding to long-term needs
  • To go beyond repeated gifts to resolving structural injustice
  • To no longer be directed just at the effects of injustice but to direct efforts at the causes of injustice

It feels overwhelming! But take heart that you are not alone in the struggle. In the words of Julie Clawson in her terrific book Everyday Justice:

Seeking justice in the everyday, though, is not something we do alone. As the Talmud, a collection of rabbinic writings, said, “It is not upon you to complete the task, but you are not free to idle from it.” We are responsible to act, but it is not up to us to complete the task, so we shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or pressured or guilty. The fate of the world doesn’t rest on our shoulders. We are simply trying to follow Jesus and, for that, we have been promised aid. Standing with us as we live justly are the Holy Spirit and our communities of faith. It is within the strength and support of these relationships that we serve. We don’t have to (and shouldn’t) trust in our own strength and commitment, but instead accept this encouragement, accountability and support.

Julie Clawson. Everyday Justice:
The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices
(Kindle Locations 1860-1864). 

May it be with us.

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. says

    A terrifying assumption of this seems to be that, insofar as “the system” is responsible for all poverty and injustice, the “right” system would somehow alleviate these, or create conditions where these are impossible. I’m reminded of Eliot’s line that we dream of “systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” Also, “Informed Sunday” just wreaks of elitism.

  2. says

    Though I have completed my primary polemics campaign against this blog, in noticing this, I cannot help but ask, whatever happened to preaching the Gospel on Sunday? Justice is irrelevant; forgiveness and repentance are everything. Or has the Methodist church converted to Islam?

    • Kathy says

      By all means, let us preach the Gospel. How about this from Luke 4:
      16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
      18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
      because he has anointed me
      to bring good news to the poor.
      He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
      and recovery of sight to the blind,
      to let the oppressed go free,
      19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
      20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

      • says

        Good! That’s beautiful. That’s what I want to see you guys doing: reading the Bible and using Biblical doctrine.

        Now, go and look up how St. Basil the Great invented hospitals, and how St. John Chrysostom pressured the rich into paying for them. Then, look up their moral teachings, and apply them to your lives, and you’ll have recovered the Apostolic faith in its entirety.

  3. says

    Oh and by the way, we sort of used to have an entire liturgical season dedicated to justice in the Methodist Episcopal church; it was called Kingdomtide, but the liberal hierarchy deleted it. However, given our previous track record on social issues (the Prohibition), I think it would be better if we just stayed out of politics altogether, as in that domain, the UMC has proven to be only slightly more beneficial than the Roman pontiff.

  4. Zzyzx says

    I like the idea of “every Sunday should be Informed Sunday.” Capitalism has a global consciousness. Sadly it seems that far too few Christians have developed a global consciousness. Our ideas of community all-too-often fail to move beyond the visible neighbor to that neighbor who might live just over the horizon. It is indeed an expansive and awe-inspiring vision. And that’s why Julie Clawson’s words are much appreciated. It can be far too easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer expansiveness of a global vision.

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