Why Faith Must Lead

In New York City, nearly 2 out of 5 households do not have incomes adequate for self-
sufficiency— that is, enough money to pay for basic needs like shelter, food, clothing, child care, and health care. We of the Micah Institute—faith leaders from many traditions all across the city—believe that the city can and must address the crisis of workers paid poverty wages. Since the problems and the solutions are interconnected, we faith leaders intend to forge a “chain of justice” from relationships that link business, nonprofit, labor, foundation, and political sectors in spirit and good will to reveal a ‘beloved community.’

It is important to remember that when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was taken from America by a bullet, he was in Memphis to help its sanitation workers press their demand for a living wage. In other words, he already understood then that economic justice for all and racial justice for all rise from one root. He also understood that those who impose or benefit from great injustices are themselves bound and burdened by these evils until they lift the boot of oppression from the necks of the powerless. In this vision, Dr. King stood with the great prophets of Israel. Today, the moral and political challenge of closing the gaping wound of the wealth gap confronts this nation more forcefully than ever before.

Nowhere in the land do communities of moral purpose and training form more naturally or effectively than in religious communities. The reason for this is clear. Among all kinds of communities, only religious communities consciously aim to help their people connect to the highest imaginable good, both personally and publicly. Let others judge how well faith communities pursue this vision. Our appeal is to faith communities and their leaders to accept their unique moral calling to witness for economic justice for all.

Some in our communities come asking a prayer during a crisis of material need, which is also a spiritual need. Others may have relative ease from material want, yet want their eyes opened in compassion and wisdom, not alone to the pain of their neighbors but also to the crushing injustices of a system which can and must be changed. This too is a spiritual need.

As the accompanying pages show, the time is at hand to sow justice all across the great city of New York with a living wage law which sets a standard of $20.00 per hour for the worker’s labor.

We are calling on . . .

● faith leaders to teach and preach the connections between true faith and economic justice.

● communities of faith to study the statistics and the realities of living in New York to learn why this wage is right and just, and then to act.

● citizens, inspired by the faithful in their city, to press their representatives in city council and state government to create a real living wage for all New Yorkers of $20.00 per hour.

We expect this will be a long march to justice. Let us take heart. Remember that when liberty is proclaimed to the captive, to the poorest and most powerless, even the powerful are released from their bondage.

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