Labor Day retrospective: National publications discuss the role faith plays in the holiday honoring work

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6 2012 9:42 a.m. MDT

A few faith-oriented websites and bloggers approached Labor Day honoring work from a spiritual viewpoint.

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Over the Labor Day weekend a few faith-oriented websites and bloggers approached the annual holiday honoring work from a spiritual viewpoint.

Taking a theological view of work, the Religion News Service's Daniel Burke explored whether work is a blessing or punishment.

While some could interpret God telling Adam that “by the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread” was a punishment after being banished from the easy life of Eden, most Christian faiths see value in work and they honor the laborer.

“From time to time, I hear someone characterize work as a result of the Fall of man,” Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., wrote in a school publication. “But this is a great error: for, indeed, we were created to work.”

Burke brings in the Protestant work ethic and quotes a lesson manual from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “Work is a key to full joy in the plan of God,” reads a Mormon Sunday school lesson. “If we are righteous, we will return to live with our Heavenly Father, and we will have work to do. As we become like him, our work will become like his work.”

Burke closes with an observation from Gilbert Meilaender, a professor of Christian ethics at Valparaiso University in Indiana and author of “Working,” which explores the spiritual side of labor, on the value of also resting from one's labors.

Mellaender said the juxtapositioning of the parable of the good Samaritan and Jesus praising Mary, who has left the housework to her sister Martha in order to simply sit beside Jesus, "illustrate loving your neighbor and loving God, which involves resting from your labors.”

“Somehow the whole Christian life involves both of these.”

In Huffington Post, the Rev. Peter Laarman, executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting, defends organized labor and credits unions for weekends, paid holidays, health and safety protections, decent pensions and employer-provided health care.

"I urge religious leaders who still tend to lift their skirts and pass quickly by union picket lines and demonstrations to think seriously about this: societies that sharply limit or even liquidate their labor movements all tend toward fascism, whereas robust democracies all strongly support labor rights and workplace democracy."

A story in the National Catholic Reporter tells about a new generation of "labor priests — pastors who preach not only for a just working environment for their parishioners, but stand beside them in their struggle."

Early labor priests came out of the Great Depression, the story explained, and today's generation wants a seat at the table during labor negotiations and in representing the immigrant population.

"Historically, the need for labor priests has paralleled the growth of immigrant populations in the United States. Fr. Les Schmidt, a labor priest of nearly 50 years, focuses his ministry today on addressing immigration reform on behalf of the Southern bishops," the story stated.

"To know that not only are they welcome in the church, like sanctuary, but also on Main Street, they count as much as you or I, papers or no papers," Schmidt said.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis writes in the Washington Post how her department has been working with job clubs sponsored by churches, synagogues, mosques and temples across the country that provide networking opportunities and employment resources, and the emotional and spiritual support needed by someone who is out of work.

"And our efforts are paying off. We’ve connected with more than 1,500 job clubs, career ministries and networking groups in the past year alone, and have developed an online directory so that job seekers can find job clubs, and job clubs can find each other. Our regional symposia and training events across the country are helping faith leaders, practitioners, volunteers and staff better serve their congregations and communities through new connections and partnerships, as well as promising practices. Most important, job clubs are reporting back to us that people are finding jobs and training opportunities. And that’s really what it is all about."

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