Archives For Politics

Gay marriage and/or rights has been a recent controversy within Christian circles. While many still believe that homosexual behavior and feelings are against God’s will, others believe the exact opposite. But, it isn’t just Christians talking about same sex marriage. In fact, in the past few months major corporations have joined the conversation in support of Gay marriage. Starbucks has officially joined the conversation, supporting gay marriage in Washington. As a result, social networks have flooded with either support for or against Starbucks.

Why Starbucks’ Support for Same Sex Marriage is Important to Some

To say that this topic has polarized Christian groups would probably be an understatement. Despite the validity of each position, I would like to focus on the recent events, with particular attention to the undying support of Starbucks as a result of their stance on gay marriage. Whether you would identify yourself as part of this group, there is a large group of progressive or liberal (to apply restricting labels) Christians who are in favor of same sex marriage and rights. It is their belief that equality is a fundamental aspect of Christianity and the only way to promote this is through equal rights on all fronts. These groups and churches often focus more on social justice issues than anything else.

As a result of the recent stir around Starbucks’ support, many of said Christians expressed their undying support of Starbucks’ action via facebook, twitter, and any other popular social networks. Truth be told, I was inundated from these to social networks by numerous people – regardless of Christian affiliation (or lack there of). For those in support of these corporations’ stance on this legislation, it is often in response to the hostility that gay and lesbians have received. Therefore, support of Starbucks action is not about a corporation or some legal issue, but the person or persons who have been harassed by others. It is a bold claim that no one deserves to be treated this way.

What does Support of Starbucks Pro Gay Marriage Stance Mean?

Regardless of the reasons behind this issue (especially within Christianity), I can’t help wonder the motivation behind corporations actions to support such rivaled issued. Why would Starbucks want to support a cause that could lose them business? As a business, whose mindset is to earn a large profit for them and their shareholders, is it really about the issue?

While I would like to see that major corporations and businesses actually care about social issues, my hunch is that marketing experts know this. Starbucks has long faced criticism for its failure to abide by fair trade regulations. I believe they have learned their lesson they can no longer sit on the sidelines while legislation that affects the society is being played out. Instead, by playing an active role in this issue, they not only jump to the forefront of the media, but also gain back some of that mistrust with those still upset by their decision to ignore fair trade regulations.

We all know that politics is a game of hot-button issues. When you ask people who they are voting for in the upcoming elections or what party they will vote, many people have now learned to reply with one simple sentence…

“I vote according to the issues”

Whether we want to recognize it or not, this is what I believe is being carried out here. Starbucks is in need of public support and this is an easy way to do it. While it may push some business away, it will most likely gain support of former Starbucks protesters and increase revenue. Unfortunately, the motivation of greed is a strong force and continues to play a larger influence in political affiliations.

Readers, why do you think Starbucks is supporting such a debated issue? Is it out of genuine interest or do they have ulterior motives.

In several Christian traditions, there is a recent phenomenon of a devotion method known as SOAP. It’s a nice acronym that stands for the following: Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it is a devotional method. It is the structure used for people to engage the Bible. Here’s how it works. Someone will select a scripture, and write it down next to the ‘S’. Then, they will make an observation from that scripture. It can be something simple or complex. Based on that observation, you apply it to your life – make an application. Then, say a prayer in a way that incorporates the rest of what has been covered.

There are many great things to say about this devotional method. It’s easy to remember and encourages people to read their bibles. What it is really directed at is making it personal. It is a post-modern take on reading the bible because it emphasizes that everyone can make different observations and applications from the same scripture verse. It isn’t saying that there is one way to read each and every verse.

Yet, at the same time, it is doing the Christian community a disservice. While I agree that ordinary people can have a valuable perspective from reading a part of scripture, it often entails taking things out of context. Not only is the scripture selected as a part of a larger context (that is, a couple verses instead of the whole chapter or book), but it often fails to incorporate historical context. The stuff that is not explicitly said in the passage. When reading the bible, there are just as many important things that are not said as there are things that are written. Another horrible thing it is doing is misapplying the context of the Bible to current day settings. In other words, people are believing that the context in the Bible is similar to their own, when it really isn’t.

What happens, as a result, is a Christian community that is uninformed, under-educated, and most importantly, emphasizing the observations or applications over the scripture itself. In other words, people remember what you should or should not do as opposed to the story that they read in the Bible that communicated that moral wisdom. In case you can’t tell from my previous 390 word rant, this is an injustice to the Christian tradition.

It Happens With Finances As Well

This type of injustice isn’t just something that happens within the Christian communities. It also happens within the financial realm. With the increase in technology and especially social networks, it is much easier to learn of other people’s financial situations. Whether it is someone buying their first home, having a baby, paying off debt, or whatever. It is easy to learn of other people’s financial situations. Much easier than it used to be.

With that increased awareness comes, unfortunately, increased judgment and inappropriate comparisons. For example, a friend of mine recently asked me to help her lease a car. Me, being the person who obsesses over numbers, I tried to figure out if it was the best financial decision available to her. I quickly pointed out that financially, it would make more sense to buy a slightly used car (or fix her current one) than lease a new car. That’s what I would do. Yet, what I failed to consider is that her life situation (or context) is much different than mine. While we are still friends (she understood my intentions were good), I have come to realize that it isn’t a bad decision based on her life. While I don’t need to go into the specifics of her reasoning here, suffice it to say that I learned that I had made large assumptions. I failed to realized that our finances were different. In a manner of speaking, I let me finances become to “soapy.”

People make these false assumptions about similar contexts all the time. When people see friends buying a home and instantly feel jealous, they fail to understand that it’s more complicated than it seems. The friends may have worked second jobs or went to graduate school to get a good-paying job to afford a nice house. Or it may be that they are buying too big of a house and they won’t be able to afford it. Before you feel jealous of their “success,” you need to realize that it’s hard to make comparisons. Period. There is never enough information to make a 1-to-1 comparison, and even if you get all the facts, there are going to be life differences that influence the financial decisions.

Therefore, before you jump to assumptions or develop feelings of jealousy or hatred over other people’s finances, remember that it’s not as easy to compare yourself to them. Everyone’s life is different and we have to learn to accept that fact.

One of the most commonly-referred-to passages in the New Testament when it comes to Christianity and finance has to be Mark 14:1-9:

14  It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, “Not during the feast,lest there be an uproar from the people.”

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[a] as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii[b] and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

How Mark 14:1-9 is Often Used

Unfortunately, this passage isn’t appreciated for the bigger context. In fact, I would venture to guess that is most often used to support inaction. In other words, people use this passage to support not giving to the poor because they understand this passage as support for the inevitable existence of poor people or poverty.

While that may sound absurd to some, it makes sense to a certain degree. After all, Jesus did say, “For you always have the poor with you.” 

Isn’t it plain and simple. It says it right there.

Possible Reasons Poverty Could be Inevitable – Can We Get Rid of Poverty?

While I think this understanding of the passage, I think it is important to first consider the possibility. History has long had the existence of a lower economic class. It was around in Jesus’ time and it certainly is still around today. It isn’t just in the U.S. either. It’s around the world. Side note: If you will recall my new definition of rich, wealth should be something that is considered world-wide, not just within the U.S. One of the easiest ways to see that there are large groups of poor people is to see the growth of payday loan companies, whose primary market is poor people.

I can’t help but ask then if poverty is inevitable? Since it seems that there has always been poor people, is there any hope to change the world for a better place? Is there any hope in a more equal world?

Why Is there Poverty?

While I still believe there is hope (you should never give up hope), there is something to say for how the world is constructed and why poverty exists. In fact, when you view the hierarchical structure of our financial world, with CEO’s making significantly more than the average worker. In fact, a Huffington post article relates how CEO’s pay grew 725 percent from 1978 to 2011, while worker pay grew only 5.7 percent, meaning that a CEO’s compensation grew 127 times faster.

It doesn’t take a genius to surmise that this isn’t right. While some may be against more equal pay, there is a huge inequality in these figures. But it only gets worse. This is indicative of the economic hierarchy. The rich are using their influence to get richer and the poor are only getting poorer. I believe that poverty, at least in its extreme form that in which it currently exists, is a direct result of the economic structure. Major organizations’ intentions to maximize profits by decreasing labor costs (through outsourcing jobs to developing countries), is only one example of the corruption we face. It is clear that the companies that participate in said international networks are not intending to help those particular regions where they are getting their laborers, but instead are doing so to pad their wallets with more money.

This current existence of neo-capitalism, full of greed, makes me question whether Jesus was right when saying the poor will always be with us.

A Better Way to Understand Mark 14:1-9

Yet, as I said before (and despite my misgivings about the current economic structure), there seems to be a more appropriate way to understand this passage. While it may seem clear what Jesus’ intention was, if we take this one sentence and separate it from the rest of the story, we are taking it out of context. Taking passages out of context is an recipe for disaster. This is how interpretations are twisted to fit a particular perspective.

We must honor the greater context of this story. When doing so, we understand what the author is really trying to communicate in writing this story.

The first thing to note is that this is happening at the house of Simon, the leper. A social outcast. Jesus often associated with social outcasts. It was a part of his radical vision for the Christian Kingdom. This setting isn’t accidental – it’s a part of the message that this story is trying to convey. We understand this when we see the woman enter the story. It becomes clear that she is not supposed to be there, by social standards because some of the people there began questioning what she was doing. Some even tried to go the “righteous route,” saying that there could have been better use for the perfume.

These types of statements happen all of the time, don’t they? Even today, I hear similar statements. This person goes on a mission trip, but the money would have been better spent just sending money to the people that they visited. All of that money was wasted on the airfare, when it could have been put to better use. While some may be concerned about the best use of money, these statements are often made our of ulterior motives.

It wasn’t about the perfume. It was about the woman being allowed to do what she did. The social status of women was very low and social guidelines often restricted them from being present at certain meals or meetings. I am pretty sure this is the case here. Her presence is being questioned.

What does Jesus do? How does he respond?

He affirms her, saying that she has done a special thing. He does mention the poor, but only to diffuse the argument. So, while we make a bigger deal out of his one statement, Jesus true message seems to be one of inclusion and equality. When we read the passage this way, it only indirectly deals with the issue of poverty. Jesus isn’t saying poverty isn’t important or something that we should work to get rid of – he is just placing the value of this woman over the political stance. We shouldn’t be so strict with our finances that it reinforces systems of injustice.

This is what the passage seems to be about. When we understand it this way, we aren’t asking if there will always be poor people, but how to eradicate poverty with compassion for the socially marginalized – the outcasts – the poor. That’s what Jesus did and what he was communicating here.

I know I am not the only one to call up various service lines to be connected overseas with international phone representatives. It’s always amazing to me to see how popular and frequent this is becoming these days. The reality is that U.S. companies are outsourcing labor in order to cut costs.

I have already made it clear that I consider most people in the U.S. rich by world standards, so it should be obvious that I am not trying to suggest that international workers do not have the right to these jobs. Instead, it is the unfortunate reality that U.S. corporations are taking advantage of international regulations to minimize expenses and maximize profit.

Recent Illegal Allegations on Infosys

A couple weeks ago, the story came out that Infosys, a major tech company, was illegally bringing workers to the U.S. with incorrect visas. Instead of issuing work related visas, Infosys was bringing workers over on B-1 visas. According to an article on Infosys, the company was issuing recommendations on what to say when going through customs to avoid suspicion. Not only were there allegations of illegal visa activity, Infosys was paying these workers Indian wages without withholding income tax of any sort.

This is a blatant attempt to lower expenses in labor costs, avoid major taxes, and maximize profit. It is another reason why greed can be so deadly. Not only were they breaking major laws, they were treating international workers poorly.

Religious Response to Excessive Outsourcing

Again, I feel it important to clarify that it is not my intention to promote any U.S. only labor laws. I believe immigrants have the right to compete for jobs. However, I find the system which tries to increase the profit of high end executives at the cost of nearly dehumanizing entry-level workers a major atrocity. No person deserves to be paid significantly lower wages just because they were born in another country.

God cares for all of humanity – not just rich Americans. While the nature of business is to seek a maximum profit, it should be within proper business ethics with a ground work of fair wages.

I hate to think what will happen to all of the persons and families that worked for Infosys as a result of the exposure to Infosys’s illegal activity. I can’t imagine the difficulty of working for a company for significantly lower wages than workers from another country and to be forced to leave your new home and job after something like this. While I know that international workers will adapt and continue to use their hard work ethic to give themselves an advantage in a time of high unemployment, it doesn’t make it okay to treat others this way.