I am a huge Dietrich Bonhoeffer fan. His work in the area of discipleship and Ethics were incredible, especially in the time of history he wrote. Adolph Hitler was seducing a nation, but Bonhoeffer stood up to Hitler with a strong understanding of the Bible.
Bonhoeffer, according to Glen Stassen, “carries forward six dimensions of sin in “Creation and Fall,” one of his written works. The six dimensions are:
- Replacing God as the source of our knowledge of God with our own knowledge, our own conscience, and our own claim to universal reason.
- Divided loyalties alienate us from God and others.
- Sin involves the desire to make ourselves equal to God.
- Sin leads us to the temptation of power and domination.
- Sin is self-deception, hiding from God, defensive denial, and refusing to face our limits.
- Sin leads us to abdicate responsibility and blame others.
Stassen’s point involves a theological and realistically grounded faith that leads to a responsible and consistent behavior. Paradoxically this foundation helps us to see our inability to be consistent. “It is clear we are sinners, that we need limits and checks and balances, and that we distort our perceiving and deceive ourselves and others and so need the checks and balances of admonition by others in community.”
What got me thinking about this was a comment made by Gordon Oliver in his column “Strictly Business.” The title was “Boeing union not bad guy.” The article discussed the fact that unionism in the US is down to 6.6% of the workforce, one-fifth of what it was in the 1950’s. Oliver rehashed all of the issues, but it was his final comment that got me this morning. “Wouldn’t it be nice if, for once, a company’s workers would enjoy some share of their company’s extraordinary success. And wouldn’t it be great if, for once, the rest of us could praise rather than malign workers for their deserved financial reward.”
As much as I have disagreed with the IAM’s decision to reject the contract, I agree with Oliver. I was once in the IAM, and the union did help to give me better benefits and a salary. As a manager of union employees, 98% of them worked hard and deserved the pay and benefits they received. I enjoyed both working with and managing IAM employees. At times it wasn’t easy, but it was fruitful.
Unionism rose out of the exploitive sin of business leaders. Instead of valuing labor, managers would attempt to underpay and maintain an army of unemployed to be able to keep the workforce in line. Unionism fought for the regular person to ensure they earned a fair wage. This is what checks and balances are all about. Stassen notes, “A realistic understanding of the sin of all earthly powers means we need checks and balances against any monopoly of power, whether by political, economic, or pastoral authority.”
We have many recent examples of the excesses of unbridled power within the economic world. CEO pay rose 480% from 1980 to 2003 (According to the WSJ). The median compensation for CEO’s is now $10.8 million. Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, is said to make $249 million per year. However, worker salaries have “stagnated at $35,000.” The gap between CEO and worker pay is growing.
The New York Times reported, “those who can afford to buy influence are rewriting the rules so they can cut themselves progressively larger slices of the American pie while paying less of their fair share for it. . . 400 people control more wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans.”
I am all for taking initiative and working hard, while reaping the rewards, but I am also all for equal opportunity. I do not mean equal outcome, I mean equal opportunity to partake in the reward. When those who have the power rewrite the rules so the system no longer supports equal opportunity, then there is a problem with checks and balances.
The reduction of union power is allowing the power mongers to think that they have won. However, the Church has a role in this discussion. The Church has always been a restraining force of evil, and she needs to embrace this role once again. We who are believers need to stand up to help maintain some level of economic balance in society.
And that is my thought for the day!