CNN ran a narrative by John Blake final week about Shawn Fain, the chief of the United Auto Staff, and the way he was deeply influenced by his religion. The article gave a brief historical past of the Social Gospel and appeared considerably shocked that there was nonetheless any such factor as a left-leaning iteration of the Christian religion. I used to be reminded of the headline The Washington Put up gave to a narrative again in 2008: “The Non secular Left? Is nothing sacred?!” I keep in mind that headline nicely. Click on on it and you may see why!
The ambivalent state of affairs of the Christian left is one other story for one more day. However there have been two issues that had been attention-grabbing concerning the CNN story. First, there was a whole absence of any details about the Catholic Church’s historical past with the commerce union motion and, second, the shortcoming to see why the labor motion and the Christian religion had been pure companions. Maybe supernatural companions too.
Blake solely mentions one Catholic in his piece, Dom Hélder Câmara, whom Blake misidentifies as a “Brazilian theologian” when he was an archbishop. Additionally it is unusual that Blake fails to say Walter Rauschenbusch who was the main theorist of the Social Gospel motion within the nineteenth century. However whereas our Protestant brothers and sisters had been birthing their Social Gospel motion, Roman Catholics had been busy beginning unions. The Knights of Labor, although based by a Quaker, grew to prominence beneath the management of a Catholic layman, Terrence Powderly.
The Knights of Labor needed to conduct their conferences in secret as a result of employers had been eager to expel members from their factories. At the moment, “secret societies” had been nonetheless a reason for nice concern to the Vatican, largely due to Freemasonry. (Apparently, it’s nonetheless a priority on the Vatican!) On the prompting of Canadian Cardinal Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau, the archbishop of Quebec, the Holy See condemned the Knights of Labor as a secret group.
American Cardinal James Gibbons, nonetheless, drafted a memorial letter to the Vatican, asking that the ban be lifted. The cardinal of Baltimore additionally wrote a letter to the Knights, to be learn at their conference, hoping to extend their numbers. Ultimately, the Vatican mentioned that membership within the Knights might be tolerated, however the proto-union was already in decline. The much more important consequence of the back-and-forth was the impact on the considering of Pope Leo XIII who, in 1891, wrote the Magna Carta for Catholic social educating, Rerum Novarum.
All through the twentieth century, labor monks had been lively, bringing Catholic social educating to rank-and-file staff. Msgr. George Higgins’ lengthy service as chaplain to the AFL-CIO was honored final yr with a panel and a particular Mass. Popes continued to show about the appropriate to arrange. The U.S. bishops filed an amicus transient supporting the appropriate to unionize within the Janus v. AFSCME case and bishops are often key in defeating anti-union laws, as occurred in New Hampshire in 2021.
Why does it make sense that organized labor was born within the bosom of Christianity on this nation? It’s true that Protestantism and the Enlightenment launched a strongly individualist and subjectivist understanding of the claims of the Christian religion. However a plain studying of the texts of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures evidences a extra communitarian understanding of ethics and perception.
Historic Israel was, for all intents and functions, a theocracy. God’s legislation dictated the group of Israelite society and set forth prescriptions and proscriptions for each people and society. Solely trendy, ill-informed, exegetes, individuals like Home Speaker Mike Johnson, assume that Yahweh’s instructions to look after the widow and the orphan, and to welcome the stranger, and to go away the gleanings of the harvest for the poor, had been invites to private charity. They had been legal guidelines for society as Mark Silk defined at Faith Information Service.
Christ preached a demanding ethic of non-public conversion however he additionally proclaimed the reign of God. He not solely confirmed the legislation of Moses, he ordered his apostles to evangelise the Gospel to all nations. As then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger mentioned within the introduction to the 1988 version of Henri de Lubac’s Catholicism: Christ and the Frequent Future of Man: “The thought of group and universality … permeates and shapes all the person components of Religion’s content material.”
So, when staff within the very spiritual nineteenth century regarded for metaphors and concepts concerning the solidarity they know they would want to reach organizing themselves into unions, it was solely pure that they turned to the identical verses and concepts that formed the Social Gospel and Catholic social educating again then and shaped Shawn Fain and tens of millions of non secular progressives immediately. There isn’t a group in American society with whom it’s simpler to share a dialog about Catholic social educating than the leaders of the American labor motion. It’s my expertise that the ideas drawn from papal educating are all the time obtained on the primary bounce amongst labor folks. They get it. They stay.
Nobody ought to have been shocked to examine Fain’s religion. Because the labor motion finds new power and assist in American society, the leaders of the Catholic Church, clerical and lay, would do nicely to face arm-in-arm with organized labor. Combating collectively for a extra simply society is our heritage and our hope.
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