By Emily Hill
We love to make ourselves feel more righteous by comparing ourselves to others—putting ourselves on the good side and them on the bad side. That tendency is especially easy when we look at the rich and powerful around us.
James issued a strong warning to the wealthy, often subtitled in our Bibles as “Warning to Rich Oppressors”:
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. . . . You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. . . . You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. . . . You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you” (James 5:1, 3-6).
Are We the Rich Oppressors?
It’s easy to think, I don’t have any workers who work for me and I certainly haven’t condemned or murdered anyone! Once we have ourselves set up on God’s good side, we can brush past this passage and onto the next verses, thankful that this isn’t a warning we have to worry about.
But think about this: Do you know who made the shirt you’re wearing? Do you know who picked the fruit you’re eating? In our increasingly global economy, it’s very difficult to know who made what we’re consuming and what business practices are involved in the supply chain of products we buy. That’s not news to many of us; we’ve all heard the stories about horrific working conditions, accidents, and fires in garment factories around the world. Does that change the way we shop? Often we feel bad for a while, sign a few petitions, and then go on shopping the way we want.
Changing our habits is very difficult, but as Americans we are wealthier than most of the world—the way we shop has implications for the poor all around us. As we pray for leaders and officials and encourage them to act justly, we must not forget to look at our own hearts and habits. Let’s ask God to help us see where we may be corrupt in order that we may live more justly.
Emily Hill, an advocate for economic solutions to justice issues, founded Stop Traffick Fashion and will soon receive her MA in social justice at Kilns College in Bend, Oregon.