Ohio voters have decisively defeated “Issue 2,” a proposal to retain or repeal Gov. John Kasich’s massive rewriting of Ohio’s collective bargaining law, called Senate Bill 5 (SB5). “Thank God for unions” was the hand-lettered statement on a sign carried by a woman at an Ohio rally on “The Ed Show” the night before the Ohio vote.
Should we ‘thank God for unions’? How different is a sign that says “Thank God for unions” from the “Jesus hates taxes” signs I saw at Tea Party rallies? Does God take sides on issues of unionization or taxes?
God does not have a “politics,” but people of faith should always be challenging themselves to ask, ‘what is God’s side,’ and how can we as imperfect human beings strive toward God’s goal for us of pursuing greater justice and mercy in this world?’
Unions are imperfect vehicles for achieving justice and mercy in this world, heaven knows, but they are nevertheless a way to accomplish some of that work. Unions, at best, are human beings working together to challenge the falsehood that people are isolated individuals, and the terrible conviction that people must either succeed or fail on their own with no help from their neighbors, their communities, and their government. My immigrant grandparents joined unions, in fact some of them became labor organizers, in order to fight for workplace safety, decent wages, the eight-hour day, bathroom and lunch breaks, and many other aspects of work we take for granted today. They did this for themselves, for their union colleagues, and for their posterity.
Taxes, as the contrasting example, aren’t against God’s will; in fact, Jesus says ‘pay Caesar,’ i.e. the government, the taxes that are owed to Caesar (Mark 12:17). Our taxes are simply a way we support each other by paying a fair share of what we earn, so we can have public safety, education, infrastructure and other services, services we share with our neighbors.
The myth of the isolated individual who is alone in facing the issues of decent wages, safe working conditions, and proper health care is just that, a myth. We are created by God, and also by each other, as co-creators with God, by the way we treat one another in community. We are communal as well as individual creations. As Christian ethicist Beverly Harrison writes in her work Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics , through our “acts of love or lovelessness” we have the power that ‘literally...creates or destroys one another.”
But another thing the sign “Thank God for unions” represents is the role of people of faith in the defeat of “Issue 2” in Ohio. The sign and its sentiments show that political conservatives no longer “own” religious values in the public square. Thus, there was not only a groundswell to fight these draconian cuts in state workers rights, but also there was also strong faith support for rejecting these cuts. Drawing ‘values voters’ into campaigns used to be only a conservative strategy, but that is no longer the case.
Rev. Tim Ahrens, senior minister of the First Church of Columbus, Ohio, and one of the founders of We Believe Ohio, a coalition of diverse religious voices in Ohio dedicated to achieving social justice, has been working hard with other people of faith in Ohio to defeat Issue 2.
I contacted Rev. Ahrens, following the defeat of Issue 2, and asked him what this vote in Ohio meant in terms of faith and public issues.
Rev. Ahrens replied, “Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans have fought long and hard for the past 11 months to reverse the river of a right-wing attack on working men and women and their families. We have overcome lies and deceptions to do so. As people of faith, we need to remember that labor and economic questions are fundamentally religious questions. There are no purely spiritual interests in our times that are not made manifest in the every day life of working people. Every day real working people get up, pray, walk out their door and give us their best. They return to their families exhausted from serving. That is spirituality made manifest. That is faith beyond belief.”
I too believe that “labor and economic questions are fundamentally religious questions” because they have to do with the every day spirituality of living our lives, supporting our families and contributing to our communities both as individuals and as citizen-neighbors.
And thank God for that.