living wage

Caring About The Other

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by Pamela J. Pettyjohn

I grew up in a church where only men could teach junior high age classes and above, because women were not allowed to teach men. What does it say to a girl, when a wise adult woman, a faithful Christian woman who leads an exemplary life for Jesus, is not qualified to teach a middle school boy? What it said to me is that, despite the statement of Galatians 3:28 that we are all equal in Christ, women were less equal than men in my church. Certainly, the women could cook the food, clean the church, care for the babies, teach young children, and sing in the choir, but they were not qualified to teach teens and adults, serve as a deacon, or ever be a minister. So what happens when a girl in this environment feels called by God to be a minister? In my experience, she is given a book about being a pastor’s wife. As an adult, I am now part of a denomination that does support the leadership of women in the church, and I am finally following the call to ministry which I first heard as a teenager.  However, I have not forgotten what it is like to be considered “less than” and unworthy; this experience continues to shape my thinking and choices on a daily basis.

DSC09606Until March of 2013, I was not a coffee drinker and didn’t even like the smell of coffee. It was an increasing lack of sleep from a convergence of events, including beginning seminary, which turned me into a coffee drinker for the caffeine boost. Granted, it had to be “milked and sweetened up” to be tolerable, but nonetheless, I had to admit that it appeared I was going to be drinking coffee on a regular basis into the foreseeable future. I also had to admit that I had easy access to fair trade coffee, and if I was going to be drinking it regularly, I needed to buy fair trade. It was not an easy decision since my family lives on a very tight budget. Despite that, we spend an extra $3-$5 a bag more to buy fair trade coffee. This is a small price to pay for knowing that these dollars join with those of others to ensure more humane treatment of those who grow the coffee beans to give me my caffeine fix. Yes, we need to be frugal with our funds, but this is a time we can and should put “the other” above ourselves.

The “others” are not just coffee growers in other countries though. They are right here among us in the “land of plenty.” When the workers who hold down multiple minimum-wage jobs and still need government assistance to make ends meet are vilified, they are turned into “others,” marginalized and treated as unworthy of the concern of those of us who are not quite as bad off financially. Nick Hanauer makes a strong economic case, speaking from the perspective of a millionaire many times over, for increasing the minimum wage.  But for me, this is not just an economic issue, or even just a human rights issue. It is a theological issue. Each of us is created in the image of God and worthy of respect and deserving of being treated fairly. Yet, it is easy to lose sight of that in the quest to get the “best deal” for our family. Those we are tempted to treat as “others” are also our family, our brothers and sisters. They are our neighbors, both in the U.S. and outside of it. We need to do what we can to lift them up.

This is a continuing journey, and my family has certainly not arrived at the place of making every purchase based on ethics instead of economics.  But I take heart that my son is aware of how unfairly some workers are treated and the existence of fair trade items at a much younger age than I. He knows that, while we may not be able to avoid all products that come from unfair sources, there are two companies which our family purposely avoids because we do know about their mistreatment of workers, as well as the negative impact which one of these companies has on the environment. Just because we cannot be perfect consumers does not negate the small steps we can take to show that we want others to be treated humanely, a fair wage to be paid, and environmentally friendly practices to be employed. A little at a time, our purchasing practices will make a difference as we thoughtfully choose to care about “the other.” And together with other families, we will raise a generation who will grow up to make an even bigger difference, of that I am convinced.

Pamela Pettyjohn is a licensed minister and certified teacher with an M.Ed. in Elementary Education from the University of South Carolina. She currently serves as an Associate Minister for Children and Families in Louisville, KY, while also working towards an M.Div. at Lexington Theological Seminary.