I am the Rich Oppressor

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Guest Post by Emily Hill
This is Part 1 of a 2 Part Series

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you… You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” James 5:1, 3-6

In the face of James’s  strong, fiery warning, our current cultural and economic climate makes it easy to point fingers at the rich. We love to make ourselves feel more righteous by comparing ourselves to others – putting ourselves on the good side and them on the bad side. Once we have ourselves set up on God’s good side, we can brush past this passage and onto the next verses, thankful that this isn’t a warning we have to worry about.

When we think about what this means on a deeper level, the rich oppressor isn’t much different than the murderer or adulterer. In Matthew 5 Jesus says, “ ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

It might be surprising to find the rich oppressor in your own heart.

You may be thinking, I don’t even have any workers who work for me and I certainly haven’t condemned or murdered anyone!

But think about this: Do you know who made the shirt you’re wearing? Do you know who picked the fruit you’re eating? In our increasingly global economy, it’s very difficult to know who made what we’re consuming and what business practices are involved in the supply chain of products we buy. We see it advertised, buy it off the rack and rarely think beyond that.

That’s not news to many of us; we’ve all heard the stories about horrific working conditions, accidents and fires in garment factories around the world. Does that change the way we shop? Often we feel bad for a while, sign a few petitions, and then go on shopping the way we want. We want new things and we want to keep up with the latest trends. And changing our habits is difficult.

We may slide back to our old ways unconsciously, but when we buy what we want at the expense of others isn’t that self-indulgent? Aren’t the wages of the workers crying out against us? We can either exploit people or value them and empower them. Very little of our purchase decisions are neutral.

For example, the majority of the world’s cocoa is grown on the Ivory Coast of Africa and much of it is harvested by child slaves. There’s also a website that estimates how many slaves work for you based on your life style. According to the estimate, 34 work for me. I am the rich oppressor.

So how are we supposed to live? The more we become aware of injustice in the world and our role in so much of it, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. We feel like we have to replace our entire wardrobe, grow all our own food or boycott everything. When that proves too overwhelming, we do nothing.

But just like every other sin, God’s grace covers us. We can be secure in its sufficiency, and in that confidence we can move forward – taking actions to become more just, to become more like Christ. Change starts in our own hearts and is fueled by Christ’s transforming power.

But then it grows in to practical action.

Part 2 of this series focuses on practical ways we can become more just in our purchasing behavior.



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