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Archive for the category “work/life balance”

Justice (sermon)

1 Corinthians 9:7-12

Baptists are “gospel” people.  That is, they take the Bible seriously, find deep meaning and significance in the Gospel events (the birth, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Jesus Christ), expect and pray for people to experience the “new birth,” and are committed to expressing their faith with actions such as reading the Bible together, living the kind of life Jesus prescribed, and engaging in various forms of mission.

Most Baptists are evangelicals, but not all evangelicals are Baptist.  Here in Sydney, we live among some of the most convinced and best resourced evangelicals in the world – committed to proclaiming the core tenets of the sixteenth-century Reformation, the necessity of regeneration, and the imperative of evangelism.  On Friday night (16 Nov 2012), Sydney lost one of its best and longest serving evangelists, John Chapman, who was promoted to glory aged 82.  Archbishop Peter Jensen said:

“Chappo” represented the very essence of what our diocese has always stood for and continues to stand for.  A strong affirmation of the authority of the bible, the importance of preaching and an approach to evangelism which made it central while at the same time respecting the intelligence and integrity of the listeners.  He was a man of faith like Joshua of old, and he lived out his faith with clear godliness of life.[1]

We too honour the man, thank God for his work, and pray that God will give us others like him to do the work of evangelism.  And yet… the Pharisees also revered the Scriptures, and loved to hear them preached, and conscientiously shared their faith, and above all lived out what they believed with “clear godliness of life,” to a fault.  And, according to Jesus, this was not enough (Luke 11:42):

Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

Now John Chapman was no Pharisee.  I am sure he understood that the good news of Jesus Christ is transformative, radical, practical, and comprehensive.  With Jesus, and the Apostles, and the prophets who went before them, and many others, he imagined a world where absolute justice and perfect peace reigned supreme, constructive, uncontested, unsullied, without end.  And he wanted the faithful to follow Jesus and experience that ultimate reality.  And so do we!  That is our goal too!  That is what drives us forward!

Our faith is a “faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6).  Our faith is expressed in action.  And some of that action – perhaps most of it – will be counter-cultural, and challenging, and incremental, and liberating.  Take the biblical theme of justice, for example, and apply its demands to our habits of consumption.  Many of the products we consume are made in developing countries, from clothes to electronics to coffee and tea.  This should be good news for the poor, because it generates jobs that can lift them out of poverty and set them on a life course where they are less susceptible to hunger, disease and exploitation.

Tragically, their actual experience is often poverty-level wages, unsafe work environments, child and forced labour, and various forms of workplace abuse.  Again and again, the Bible declares this way of ordering our lives to be wrong, and points us toward what is right and good and true (e.g. James 5:1-6; Luke 12:13-21).

Or take Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 9:7-12.  In chapter nine, Paul defends his apostolic right to make a living from the generosity and sacrifice of those whom he has evangelised – and also the right to decline such financial support if he believes that path serves the greater good (vv. 1-6, 12b).  Those who devote their lives to full-time active gospel work do indeed possess these rights, according to Scripture: they will seek to do whatever best promotes the gospel and the glory of God, and God will meet their needs.

Then, in verses 7-12, Paul presents two arguments supporting his case.  In verse 7, he cites examples of three kinds of workers (soldiers, farmers and shepherds), framed as rhetorical questions, indicating that a worker has a right to fair pay for his or her labour, or (to put it another way) a share in the fruit of their labour.

In verses 8-12, Paul appeals to Deuteronomy 25:4 (cf 1 Tim 5:18) as divine sanction of fair pay for fair work: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”  What may shock casual and uncritical readers here is that Paul insists that God is concerned not so much about animal welfare as about human welfare (see v. 10).  The literal sense of the passage in Deuteronomy refers to the humane treatment of animals, but Paul’s hermeneutic uncovers a deeper meaning, equally inspired by God, one which addresses the problem of unjust relations between people, or between an employee and an employer.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of examples of such situations in our world today.  There are political and structural ways to address the problems, and some of us are called to public office, or public theology, for just such work.  For example, I stood with others and addressed a public meeting in Sydney on Tuesday, urging the NSW Government not to further erode the rights of retail workers facing deregulation of public holiday trading restrictions.  I said:

We expect our government to serve and protect the interests of its citizens, and promote the common good, with respect to employment conditions and entitlements.  We do not expect our government to serve and protect the special interests of big business at the expense of the people.

In the face of intense lobbying pressure and brazen grabs by large retail chains and their shareholders and investors for a bigger slice of the finite consumer dollar, we say enough is enough.  There is more to life than profit and self-centred greed.  Workers are created in the image of God, and should be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.  Working unsocial hours has a negative impact on family life.  Workers must not be considered merely instrumental in the production of goods and services.  Workers have a right to adequate rest from their paid employment.

A healthy work-life balance delivers vital benefits to workers, families, employers and the whole community.  And neither the government nor the business community should impose responsibilities on workers, or remove conditions and entitlements, which lead to a deterioration in their already fragile work-life balance.

And the NSW Treasurer withdrew the bill that would have deregulated restricted trading provisions for Boxing Day and Easter Sunday.  A small win.

But there are also measures each of us may take, as consumers, to help break injustice and promote attitudes and actions that honour God and bless the poor.  As Steve Cooper said in his sermon introducing this series:

What we need is a radical reorientation to consumption in which we see consuming not as the essence of living the good life but as a means of living a life rich in love for God and others.  Rather than assuming it’s normal to acquire and consume more, we need to ask what we need to consume in order to love God, love our neighbour, and thankfully steward the Earth.[2]

If we simply stopped buying goods produced in the developing world, in most instances this would leave workers in developing countries worse off, because even their poorly paid jobs are better than no job, and no food, and no shelter.

But there are three ways you and I can consume in ways that help rather than harm the workers of the world who live in relative poverty:

  1. Buy ethically certified products, such as those certified Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, or UTZ, which identify products that meet important social and environmental standards.
  2. Buy from companies that source ethically, so that you preference the products of companies known to source their goods and services ethically.
  3. Speak out, adding your voice to campaigns calling ethical companies to source ethically.

And in doing so, you will help to imagine a real world where absolute justice and perfect peace reign supreme, constructive, uncontested, unsullied, without end.

===============

Sermon 612 copyright © 2012 Rod Benson. Preached at Eastwood Baptist Church, Sydney, Australia, on Sunday 18 November 2012. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).


[2] Steve Cooper, sermon on Luke 12:13-21, preached at Eastwood Baptist Church, 4 Nov 2012.

Speech for Work-Life Balance Forum

Speech by Rev Rod Benson at a Sydney Alliance-organised event in Sydney, 13 November 2012

I stand here today on behalf of Baptists throughout NSW to assure politicians, business leaders, workers and families that Baptists oppose the further erosion of provisions for restricted trading days.

We expect our government to serve and protect the interests of its citizens, and promote the common good, with respect to employment conditions and entitlements.  We do not expect our government to serve and protect the special interests of big business at the expense of the people.

In the face of intense lobbying pressure and brazen grabs by large retail chains and their shareholders and investors for a bigger slice of the finite consumer dollar, we say enough is enough.

There is more to life than profit and self-centred greed.  Workers are created in the image of God, and should be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.  Working unsocial hours has a negative impact on family life.  Workers must not be considered merely instrumental in the production of goods and services.  Workers have a right to adequate rest from their paid employment.

A healthy work-life balance delivers vital benefits to workers, families, employers and the whole community.  And neither the government nor the business community should impose responsibilities on workers, or remove conditions and entitlements, which lead to a deterioration in their already fragile work-life balance.

Thank you.

Launch of Take the Time campaign

On Thursday I spoke at the launch of “Take the Time” a union-led campaign to resist further deregulation of retail trading hours on days such as Boxing Day, Easter Sunday and Anzac Day.

The campaign has brought together churches, unions and community groups concerned about the negative impact of bowing to pressure from the Australian Retailers Association and other employer groups to remove restrictions on retail trading. The O’Farrell Government’s move to deregulate restricted retail trading hours is an attack on shared leisure time for all of us.

A healthy work-life balance delivers benefits to workers, families, employers and the whole community.  Employers should take care not to impose responsibilities on employees which lead to a deterioration in work-life balance.

The state has a responsibility to serve and protect the interests of its citizens with respect to employment conditions and entitlements.  These are easily eroded or removed by commercial and corporate pressures, and once reduced are difficult to reinstate.

Broadcast on 2CH Sydney, 22 Apr 2012.

Speech at launch of Take the Time

SDA New South Wales Branch Secretary Mr Gerard Dwyer addresses the audience at tonight's launch of the Take the Time campaign.

I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet tonight, and pay respect to their elders past and present, and I extend that respect to other Indigenous people present here tonight.

Greetings from the Baptist Churches of NSW and the ACT, and from the NSW Council of Churches.  My name is Rod Benson. I am an ordained Baptist minister, ethicist, and public theologian, and serve also as Public Affairs Director for the NSW Council of Churches.

Thank you, Gerard Dwyer, for the invitation to speak at this launch of the Take the Time campaign.  I am pleased to be here to support the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), the largest trade union in Australia, in this initiative to oppose further deregulation of longstanding retail trading arrangements in NSW.

I was interested to read, on the Take the Time website this afternoon, that

The extension of retail trading hours into these unsociable working times over the last 30 years has facilitated this decline in our relationships and our capacity to do the things which make us truly human. Contrary to common belief, many retail and service industry workers do not freely choose to work at these times.

That sounds like something a theologian would write! It’s fundamentally not a question of the market, or economics, or freedom for more shopping, but a question of quality relationships, and what it takes to be truly, fully, flourishingly human. The O’Farrell Government’s move to deregulate restricted retail trading hours in NSW is an attack on shared leisure time for all of us. I am especially grateful for those who have shared their personal stories tonight, illustrating what these changes will mean for individuals, families, friends and local communities.

Why are the churches getting involved? Last year, on behalf of my employer, I wrote a submission to the Review into Shop Trading Provisions of the Retail Trading Act 2008 and the associated Discussion Paper released in September 2011.

The Baptist Churches of NSW and the ACT take a view on work and employment issues that is based on a cluster of guiding principles, including the following:

1.  All persons are created equal, without exception, in the image of God, and must therefore be treated with dignity and respect, including in the workplace.

2.  Workers are not to be considered as merely instrumental in the production of goods and services.

3.  Work done should be justly remunerated.

4.  Workers have a right to adequate rest from their employment.

5.  A healthy work-life balance delivers benefits to workers, their families, their employers and the whole community and employers should take care not to impose responsibilities on their employees which lead to a deterioration in work-life balance.

We believe the current restrictions on retail trading hours should be retained in NSW in order to support a healthy work-life balance and to permit workers to attend, and serve as volunteers, in religious services held on restricted trading days.  We do not believe that the number of restricted trading days should be reduced. 

The state has a responsibility to serve and protect the interests of its citizens with respect to employment conditions and entitlements.  These are easily eroded or removed by commercial and corporate pressures, and once reduced are difficult to reinstate.

This is why the achievement of the goals of the Take the Time campaign is of such significance to faith communities as well as unions and other community groups.

I can announce tonight that the Baptist Churches of NSW and the ACT have made an in-principle agreement to join the Sydney Alliance, in part because we see the value of collaborating and campaigning with other groups on common causes and the major social issues of the day affecting ordinary Australians.

Last time I checked, Jesus Christ was not in the service of the Australian Retailers Association, or other privileged groups, nor of any particular political party. But he was committed to the welfare and just entitlements of ordinary working women and men.

Jesus did not come to strengthen existing power structures, nor to reward the power elites, but to dismantle and disempower them – where they are demonstrably corrupt, or where their partisan interests and influence is corrupting.

We stand in solidarity with you in opposing the proposed deregulation of retail trading arrangements in NSW, and urge everyone to take the time, and take the first step today, by emailing your local MP and signing the petition opposing the further deregulation of retail trading hours.

Thank you.

If you liked this, you might like my “Biblical context for workplace relations.”

Justice and retail trading laws

My submission to the NSW Review of Retail Trading, 24 October 2011:

Dear Executive Director,

The Baptist Union of NSW welcomes the current Review into Shop Trading Provisions of the Retail Trading Act 2008 and the associated Discussion Paper released in September 2011. I have been invited to prepare a submission to the NSW review, noting that there is a wider federal inquiry underway into the implications of globalisation for the retail industry and related matters.

Baptists affirm the Bible as the supreme authority for faith and conduct. Our response to questions relating to workplace relations in general, and restricted trading days in particular, is guided by the following principles (among others):

(a) All persons are created in the image of God and must therefore be treated with dignity and respect, including in the workplace.

(b) Workers are not to be considered as merely instrumental in the production of goods and services.

(c) Workers must accept their just responsibilities toward their employers, and employers must recognise the just rights and entitlements of the worker.

(d) Work done should be justly remunerated.

(e) Workers have a right to adequate rest from their employment, especially on Sundays as the biblically sanctioned regular day of rest.

(f) A healthy work-life balance delivers benefits to workers, their families, their employers and the whole community and employers should take care not to impose responsibilities on their employees which lead to a deterioration in work-life balance.

The Baptist Union of NSW cautions against any reduction in the numbers of restricted trading days under s4 of the Retail Trading Act 2008, and welcomes the Minister’s intention to ensure that there is no reduction to the current number of public holidays in NSW. We oppose the widening of exemption categories and circumstances for the benefit of employers and shareholders at the expense of employees.

With respect to the questions in the Discussion Paper (page 10), we believe the current restrictions should be retained in NSW in order to support a healthy work-life balance and to permit workers to attend, and serve as volunteers, in religious services held on restricted trading days. We do not believe that the number of restricted trading days should be reduced.

We would encourage the Minister to retain and strengthen the Department’s support of the existing restrictions because the state has a responsibility to serve and protect the interests of its citizens with respect to employment conditions and entitlements. These are easily eroded or removed by commercial and corporate pressures, and once reduced are difficult to reinstate.

With respect to restrictions imposed on retail liquor shops on restricted retail trading days, the Baptist Union of NSW supports the retention of the strongest restrictions on the grounds of public health and concerns relating to family violence resulting from excessive alcohol consumption.

Yours sincerely,

Rev Rod Benson, Ethicist and Public Theologian, Baptist Union of NSW

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