Labor Day Worship and Creepy Liberal Prejudice

September 7, 2006

Last Sunday was the day before Labor Day, and so many people of faith of a sort of a liberal bent took advantage of the weekend’s worship services to celebrate work and workers. There’s an outfit called Interfaith Worker Justice that puts out worship materials every year around this time for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. This was my first year I knew about it and decided to participate.

My congregation is in Guadalupe, Arizona. It is small–approximately ten to twenty people on most Sundays with more Easter, Mother’s Day, and the Sundays around Christmas (I’m only part-time). Over half of the town, and the congregation, are Yaqui Indians. The others are new immigrants from Mexico and Central America with a few white people thrown in, including me. If you are not familiar with Yaqui history, they are a tribe from northwestern Mexico that fairly recently settled in Arizona because of intense persecution under Porfirio Diaz, the dictator of Mexico from 1876 to 1911. Most of the Yaquis are bilingual in English and Spanish. Others in the congregation speak either one or the other of the two languages. Our worship service is conducted bilingually. Probably needless to say, everyone in the pews works hard. They have done and do manual jobs with few exceptions. They are janitors, construction workers, landscapers, homemakers, childcare workers, and work in other service related industries.

So, I thought going into the Labor Day service that this would be a great opportunity to celebrate all the hard work that they have done in service of their families and their community. But when I opened the Labor Day materials from IWJ and the Presbyterian Church (USA)–my denomination, they weren’t right. Most of the prayers and liturgies were terribly clunky. When liberals get a hold of the liturgy, they mangle it with their words, words, words. Here’s an example (warning: .pdf file). And the emphasis of the whole kit-and-caboodle was to remember the poor underclass that provides our every need that we so often forget or neglect. Surely I support remembering the people who put food on the table and clean the streets, and I most definitely support union efforts and important boycotts. But this kind of talk doesn’t belong in a Labor Day service, at least not in Guadalupe. And here are the reasons:

  • The Guadalupe Presbyterians are the service workers. Yes, they consume services as well, and should be reminded to remember other workers. But the liturgies and prayers sent out were almost universally implying that white, upper middle class Presbyterians don’t work–that’s for other people! On Labor Day, we remember the hard REAL work that brown people do. The rest of the time, we don’t need to trouble our pretty heads about it. And of course, no brown people might actually be saying these prayers with us, right?
  • This one’s the doozy. There is absolutely no theology of work in simply remembering people who work for you. The sad thing about this is that we actually have a very compelling theology of work. Here it is: God the Creator invites us to be co-creators in our work. We are called to create alongside the Holy One as stewards, as craftspeople, as people who delight in all that was once called good. The work that the people of Guadalupe have done, though they are numerically few, has changed and enhanced God’s creation in faithful and mysterious and tangible ways. Even in our work, God calls us to relationship. This is a theology that also includes the work that fussy, rich, Republican white Presbyterians do. They should pray for themselves and their own faithfulness in work.

Anyway, I didn’t just blog about it. I called the local representative of IWJ and shared my concerns. She’s bringing them to the national board this week. Hopefully we’ll get something a little more Christian and little less bleeding heart next year. Sheesh! It’s getting complicated to call yourself a liberal Christian these days. I feel like I’m being forced into a curmudgeonly orthodoxy well before my time by a bunch of touchy-feely leftwing Christians who have forgotten to fear the Lord.

3 Responses to “Labor Day Worship and Creepy Liberal Prejudice”

  1. Liz Says:

    Amen, Brett.It’s interesting that today I talked to my students about condesencion (sp?.) One of the kids said, “That’s creepy.” From the mouths of babes …

  2. Brett Says:

    I’m glad you can leave comments now, Liz. It is condescending–and it’s not like the speak from some high seat of righteousness.

  3. Matthew Says:

    This post is awesome! Go get ’em Brett. Embrace your inner orthodox curmudgeon.

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