June 02, 2011

In Search of a Prophet

I should start by pointing out that what follows isn't the "part two" promised in last week's post.  That "part two" will come in this Sunday's sermon, and it will be far less political than what you are about to read here.  However, I couldn't help but be inspired by a number of different thoughts and ideas as a result of the books I've been reading lately....

Here in California, César Chávez's birthday is a state holiday.  César Chávez was born on March 31, 1927, and he died on April 23, 1993.  Today he is studied by public schoolchildren, but since Chávez's death came as I was studying for final exams in my last semester of college, I neither studied him in school nor paid much attention to the news of his passing.

Several weeks ago, I decided to do something about my ignorance concerning César Chávez's life.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I began reading The Moral Vision of César Chávez by Frederick John Dalton. As a result, it is now easier for me to appreciate the extent to which César Chávez is worthy of having a day set aside to honor him.  He worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor and oppressed, speaking against oppression without denying the oppressors' humanity.  He organized farm workers into a strong union, but while many leaders of other unions commanded six-figure salaries, he chose to live in voluntary poverty.  Not only was Chávez a great cultural and political figure; he was also a true Christian prophet, basing his work on the teachings of his Catholic faith, and framing the movement he started and guided in terms of God's passion for justice as well as God's particular concern for the poor.

César Chávez saw clearly the disparities of power and wealth that led to the oppressive and dehumanizing working conditions for farm workers.  "The government represses our people and millions of farm workers are trapped in poverty while the growers lavish in the riches we have earned for them."

Conditions for farm workers have improved thanks to César Chávez and the movement he founded.  However, the disparity of wealth and power in this country has not improved.  In fact, it has gotten worse.

Looking at America as a whole, in 1965 - when César Chávez was just beginning his work at organizing farm workers - the average CEO earned 24 times what the average worker earned.  By 2004, that number had skyrocketed to 431 times as much.  Among some companies, the disparity is even worse; Walmart's CEO, for example, earns 900 times what the average Walmart worker earns.

It is the rich who make the rules, and the rules benefit the wealthy.  In the 1950s, when republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House, the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans was at 91%.  Democrat John F. Kennedy thought this was too high, so he lowered it to 72%.  Today it is at 35%, and still the politicians (influenced, no doubt, by their ties to welathy, corporate America) say it is too high.  We have a budget deficit, but they refuse to raise taxes on the rich, choosing instead to further cut programs that help the poor.

And so, for the vast majority of Americans, life is getting harder and harder.

In his book Rediscovering Values, Jim Wallis points out that the biblical prophets appeared only in times of great disparity.  [Most of the statistics in the previous paragraphs come from this book.]  In times when the gap between the rich and poor was not too great, no prophets were heard; but when that gap grew, the prophets spoke out about society's failure to maintain God's justice.

César Chávez organized workers to overcome injustice.  This was done primarily through strikes.  I wonder if it would be possible to organize all the workers in America who work for companies in which the CEO earns more than, say, 100 times what the average workers earns;  organize them, then call for a one-day strike in order to draw attention to the injustice and oppression of America's poor which continues even today.

If only we had a prophet....

1 comment:

Elder Schow said...

Hi I am a Missionary for The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints. We believe that there is once again a prophet of God on the earth in our day. It may be worth a few minutes to investigate a little further.
and my blog at elderschow.blogspot.com