Category Archives: economic inequality

College Cheating Scandal is a Symptom of Economic Inequality

When Will They Ever Learn?

Still More Proof That Cheating Is for Losers

by Web Minister Paul J. Bern

food_stamps_vs_exxonIt’s been all over the news all week long. The financial elite, including some of Hollywood’s most visible celebrities, have been caught up in the most massive college cheating scandal ever uncovered in American history. Interestingly enough, this matter only came to light as a byproduct of an unrelated securities fraud case that extended overseas, and not to Hollywood at all. The Boston Globe posted a fairly detailed article about this a week or so ago, which you can view from here. But this week’s commentary is not about that investigation. This week’s posting is concerning the evil forces behind this flagrant cheating. I am also writing this to take a stand against those who feel entitled just because they can afford to buy their way through life.

The handbook for humanity, the Bible, has a few things to say about that. I’m sure you can relate, but even if you can’t, please don’t bail out on me just yet. The thing is, if the Bible is really being taught properly, you don’t need to push it on people. Those who use the Bible as moral justification for driving people away have completely missed the point. The Holy Spirit of the risen Lord is never aggressive and never pushy. It is never accusatory, and it keeps no record of wrongs (see 1st Corinthians 13: 5). The true Holy Spirit is peaceful and gentle. The only exception would be if someone were in a state of sin, in which case the Holy Spirit would be convicting that person in their heart. If such conviction does not change that individual, it is at that point that their personal salvation begins to be endangered. Whatever that individual decides to do, it is imperative that we pray for such people, and to do everything possible to help them whenever we find ourselves in a position to do so.

It is written in First Corinthians chapter 6, “ 6) But instead, one brother takes another to court – and this in front of unbelievers! 7) The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8) Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.” Isn’t this really close to how things are today? People sue one another at the drop of a hat. They take great offense against stuff that doesn’t really matter in the long run. In so doing, they make themselves difficult people at best, or impossible to get along with at worst. Why not rather be cheated? Instead, those who accuse certain individuals of cheating or even of engaging in criminal activity, are often the ones who engage in such activities themselves. You know, like our politicians?

It is also written in the Gospel of Luke that cheating must be repaid 4 times the amount, as we see in the story of Zachaeus in Luke chapter 19: “ 5) When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ 6) So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7) All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’ 8) But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ 9) Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10) For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.‘”

Zacchaeus was a smart man. He knew he was a sinner, as are we all. He didn’t pause to consider questions about the degree to which he had sinned, or against which people. He confessed his sins to Christ on the spot, and he was not concerned about how people would view him as a result. Frankly, I find this refreshing. It took a lot of guts to do what Zacchaeus did, and I note that Jesus appreciated the candor of Zacchaeus. But the bottom line here is that Zacchaeus knew he had cheated people, and so offered to pay them back fourfold with Christ himself as an eyewitness, not including the rest of the crowd around them. So does anybody think those who have been indicted in the recent college bribery scandal will get the same kind of punishment? In light of how broken America’s educational and court systems are, I would be pleasantly surprised if any such thing were to occur.

The US judicial, educational, political and economic systems are broken, and it is looking increasingly like things are slowly going from bad to worse. Moreover, it appears that it is the rich who are engaged in the majority of the wrongdoing. The apostle James had something timeless to say regarding this matter: “ 1) My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2) Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3) If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ 4) have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5) Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6) But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7) Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong?” (James 2, verses 1-7)

I can’t help but love the apostle James. He’s so direct and to the point, but without being blunt or derisive. But you can already see where I’m going with this, so I’ll skip the long, drawn out explanation. Our educational and our court systems, like the others I mentioned further above, are guilty of showing favoritism to those who were willing to pay the price of admission. Our entire country, from the governmental system on down, reeks of the foul stench of corruption. Moreover, the majority of people don’t seem to care, which troubles me even more. If only more people would memorize, or at least familiarize themselves with, the above 7 verses from the beginning of James chapter 2, the currently unfolding college entrance cheating scandal would never have occurred. Where has America’s conscience gone?

The underlying issue here can be summed up in 2 words: economic inequality. I have written about this extensively in the past, and you can visit my ‘author’ website for more info. But for right now, suffice it to say that the most deserving students are being pushed to the side in favor of those whose wealthy parents bought their children’s way into a future in college, with their degrees in the subject of their choice already taken care of. Welcome to the United States of America, Inc., where everything can be bought for a price (subject to negotiation, of course!). Unfortunately, all of this buying and selling of influence is, for me at least, a bit unsettling and seemingly inappropriate. It is grossly unfair to those who got cheated out of an admission they deserved to get. And I will never stop standing up for truth and justice, and I will never stop standing against America’s atmosphere of corruption. It’s what Jesus would do.

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Lessons I Learned This Week on Helping the Helpless and Putting My Faith Into Practice

Bottles of Water and Eternal Rewards

by Minister Paul J. Bern

needing JesusThose of you who from here in Atlanta who know me personally are well aware that every time I’m out and about, I keep my eyes wide open for anyone in significant need. I’m not talking about the usual cadre of panhandlers posing as beggars. Atlanta is a town full of professional paupers, who hang around the MARTA light rail system that threads its way throughout Atlanta acting like little lost puppies. Since Georgia’s minimum wage is still stuck at a downright stingy $7.25 an hour, one can often make better than the minimum wage just by begging. Unlike some, however, I don’t necessarily see this as being the beggar’s ‘fault’ per Se. It’s more like capitalism has created these professional panhandlers by trapping them in the economic situations they are in.

Why do I think this way about those who are stuck in poverty? I am right in there with them, that’s why! I spent 16 years in IT, followed by 4 years as a contract delivery driver before my vehicle and my health abruptly gave out. In 2006, four months after my 50th birthday, I had a stroke which I was fortunate enough to survive relatively intact. It took about 3 years for me to get to the point where I felt like I was healthy enough to go back to work. But I was never able to return to the work force, and so I’ve been writing here at home ever since. One of these days, I’m going to make myself some real money for all my efforts, but for now let me get back on topic.

Earlier this week I had to make a trip to my neighborhood Off-the-wall Mart to pick up one of my prescriptions, plus a few other odds and ends. When I came out, I was tired from being on my feet for nearly an hour, and my little folding shopping cart that I currently use to get my groceries – plus those “odds and ends” – home, was full. So I sat down on one of the benches to take a break before walking my stuff and myself back to the bus stop about ¼ of a mile away. There was this younger Black guy, roughly about 30 or so I’d say, sitting there who looked like he was waiting on someone to come out of the store. After a couple of minutes, these 2 Latina ladies came out with a shopping cart full of stuff, and one of them was carrying a case of 20-ounce bottles of water. As they were walking by, the younger Black guy asked her if he could have one of those water bottles. He explained that he was in between jobs and was homeless, and hadn’t had anything to drink all day.

The Latina lady flatly refused him, and stormed off as if she were insulted by being asked for anything, let alone something she had just paid for ‘with her hard-earned money’. I remember being struck by her refusal to give a single bottle of water that, considering how big that case of water was, couldn’t have cost her more than about 40 cents or so. It was right about then that I noticed that the young Black man was dressed in worn-out clothes, and that he probably was being truthful about being unemployed and homeless. The guy sat back down, dejected, looking down at the pavement as he muttered, “Man, ain’t that enough to p**s off just about anybody? All I asked her for was a (bleeping) bottle of water.” At that point I took a dollar out of my wallet, plus most of my spare change, and I gave it all to him as I said, “Here, go inside a buy yourself a water and a small bag of chips. Never mind her.” After praying over that man and giving him my ‘elevator pitch’ about Jesus, I headed off to the bus stop.

I don’t know for sure if that homeless man gave his heart to Jesus, but even if he didn’t, something tells me he eventually will. But that got me to thinking about two related but distinct things. First, how cold that Latina lady and her friend pushing the cart, who was also Latina, had acted towards the homeless Black man. That man did not ask her for money, and he didn’t ask me either. That poor guy was in such bad shape that no one would help him, which is why I did. And second, I was struck by the realization that I had just seen inequality in action. People are talking about an impending civil war here in the US, but there is considerable argument as to the combatants will be. Many say it will be liberal against conservative, but I think it will be the wealthy elites and their mercenaries against everybody else. A few even try to claim this civil war will be racial in nature. Dylan Roof used that as his reason for killing 17 people engaged in Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina several years back, and look what that got him. No, Dylan, there will be no race wars. Enjoy your life sentence. Repent, and you can yet be saved, Dylan and all you other racists. Repent and turn to Jesus.

Jesus prophesied about those days, and about the turbulent and chaotic days still to come, in chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel. “34) ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35) For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – 36) a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” This could be considered a prophecy of any number of civil wars that have happened throughout the course of human history. Wars happen for all kinds of reasons, and they have divided families. But so has religion. I was raised a Catholic, but my former family will have nothing to do with me because I have renounced all belief and confidence in the Vatican. I place my full confidence and belief in Jesus Christ instead, having come to the realization that I could have a personal relationship with Him without the need for the papacy as intermediary. So all my conclusions here are based on personal experience, not merely my opinion.

As we continue together, it reads beginning in verse 37, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38) Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39) Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” The two Latina ladies with their case of water and shopping cart full of goods had everything they needed, and there was no way they were going to share it with anybody. So many fortunate people have good jobs, great families, decent incomes, and some own their own homes. Those who keep it all to themselves – their family, social and educational lives – and yet insist that they believe in Jesus, are deceiving themselves. They claim to serve Christ while serving only themselves, and sometimes their immediate families.

That’s the root cause of economic inequality. As wealth continues to be concentrated into a global cadre of about 400 families, while the remaining 7.6 billion individuals remain in grinding poverty, or are just barely keeping their collective heads above water, an ever-widening divide continues to form. That’s why all of us, both rich and poor, have a moral imperative to help others less fortunate than ourselves. Because, if we don’t do this while continuing to accumulate ‘stuff’ for ourselves, at some point that’s going to sneak up from behind and bite us really bad. So we can either take care of our own business exclusively, or we can take care of God’s business exclusively. The choice is truly ours to make. I made the choice to take up my cross for Christ’s name’s sake a long time ago, and I’ve never regretted it.

Which brings us around full circle to the homeless man, bottle of water and the words of Jesus, beginning at verse 40 to close out this week’s commentary. 40) “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41) Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42) And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (Matt. 10: verses 40-42) For some additional context, Jesus has been speaking to his apostles during their commissioning as such. So in verse 40, that’s what Jesus meant by, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me….”

Anyone who recognizes and welcomes a prophet gets the same reward as that prophet. Anyone who recognizes and welcomes a righteous (that is, faithful and/or proven trustworthy) man gets the same reward as that righteous man. Moreover, “…. if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…. that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Or, for that matter, a bottled water, whether it is cold or not. Which brings us full circle to my friend in front of the Off-the-wall Mart, and the ladies with the case of water and a shopping cart filled with goods. I could not give that homeless man a cup of cold water, but I did give him the means to get one. Those two ladies I wrote about won’t get their reward, or anything else but eternal condemnation, for that matter. I’m sure they were basically ‘good people’, but that won’t get anyone into a state of eternal life. Refusing to give somebody a bottle of water when they could easily have afforded it, however, can put you into a state of eternal death, even while you are still alive. That’s all for this week, but everyone please find a less fortunate person to help this week, even if you only give them your spare change. It could end up saving their life.

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Has the American Dream Died, or Did It Just Fall Asleep?

The American Dream Has Become a Nightmare

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

To view this on my website, or for small screen viewing, click here 🙂

The “American Dream” has at its core an escape from the real world to build a personalized utopia, a custom-made fantasy island of sorts. When we were taught to pursue this dream back when, we were ‘taught’ that if we work hard and diligently enough we’ll be able to make enough money to buy a house in the ‘right’ neighborhood so our kids go to the ‘right’ schools and buy enough stuff so as to please ourselves, stay even economically with our neighbors and relatives, and shut out the rest of the world so we can keep it all to ourselves. But the house and our neighborhood are not the only part of our island. Our cars and our Internet gives us the power to choose almost everything such as where we work, or where our houses or churches are. Not to mention who our friends are, too. Our cars allow us to escape what we don’t like about the neighborhoods we must sometimes live in.

If that is not enough, our TVs and our Internet connections allow us to filter out whatever else could intrude on us. Not that we need help to filter out what is unpleasant, the ‘lame stream media’ does that for us already. All one has to do is talk to those who are from other countries such as Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Israel/Gaza. Our media protects us from the real life negative stories about what our country and corporations do to others. In lieu of the unpleasant truth, our media reports only that which does not interfere with our consumption of their sponsors’ products. And out of that small selection that is left from all of this filtering, we use the remote to choose shows based on how they make us feel. What a dumb life this is! Ever considered turning off your cable TV and pocketing that money each month? Thank God we have the alternative media outlets such as Israeli News Live, We Are Change, SGT Report, Jason A and many, many other high-quality channels or websites to choose from!

Christendom as a whole sees this self-imposed isolation by its secular fellow Americans as an affirmation of his own similarly withdrawn theology. For example, I rarely see any articles or postings that call into question the extreme immorality of waging war. In its place their articles, Christian books and TV shows are concerned with fine theological points, pointless evangelical arguments, how to better manage church services, all about miracles real or imagined or engineered, and all the while oftentimes overemphasizing fund raising.

But it is not just the articles that show how we distance ourselves, but we use our gospel of individual salvation to shut out what we find disturbing. We so reduce our standing before God – in our own eyes – to our current state of inner self and beliefs that we become hyper vigilant over ourselves while ignoring the needs of others. As a result, we become agitated and even panicked when the concerns of the world ask for our time. And it isn’t just the negativity of the news that disturbs us, it is its complexity. Since things are simple when we only have to care for ourselves, we prefer to pay as little attention as possible to others. The apostle Paul wrote, “we have the mind of Christ”, but some ‘Christians’ aren’t acting like it.

And when we do see and respond to the suffering of others, it is only to a chosen few fellow Christians or to those whom we cannot avoid. But such an approach to helping others goes against what the Bible teaches. Isaiah chapters 58 and 59 and Jeremiah 22:16 (“He defended the cause of the poor and the needy, and so all went well. ‘Is that not what it means to know me’, says the Lord?”) closely tie helping those in need with having seen the light. Likewise, Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (see Matt. 25, verses 21-46) not only taught that those who helped others in need were the sheep who received eternal life, it also showed that those who neglected the needy, looking after only themselves, were banished from heaven forever! He also demonstrated this latter principle in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

In Jesus’ parable of the rich man, who built extra barns to hold the excess of his harvest and told himself to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow he could die – well, sure enough, he did. He begged Lazarus from the fires of hell to give him just one drop of cool water, but Lazarus could not. Last in my list is the book of Proverbs, containing such tasty nuggets of wisdom as, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (chapter 14, verse 31), and “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor, and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them” (chapter 22, verses 22-23).

But perhaps the most pathetic way that Christians fail in their missions of service, prayer and worship is by blindly submitting to authority. It is not that Christians are not called to submit to those in authority – quite the contrary! But many of today’s Christians do so as a way of shielding themselves from the risks that come with confronting evil, such as opposing corruption and speaking truth to power (think Rev. Dr. King, the Kennedy brothers, Huey Long, Malcolm X, and many more like them). Submission to authority, then, is sometimes practiced not in order to love God and others, but to secure for oneself the kind of world that is most comfortable.

And so when evil prevails in either the private or public sector, this legitimate command to submit to the authorities is used to hide the very ones who are perpetrating evil and mayhem, and especially government and workplace corruption. But not only are we negligent in our Christian duty when we fail to confront those who abuse their power, we also become complicit in their evil ways. And we do so in order to ride on the coattails of evil and power rather than risk any reprisal for challenging it. If we as a people – regardless of religious affiliation or the lack thereof – continue to allow abusive and corrupt authority to run our country, we will soon lose it forever.

Martin Luther King faced this very dilemma when he stood up to the legalized racism and racial hatred that was rampant in the American South. He wanted to honor and follow the commandment in Romans 13 that told him to submit to the authorities. At the same time, he knew that many authorities were enforcing unjust laws while allowing abuse and even murder. He could have submitted and just gone along with the status quo and he would have avoided making himself a target. But that would have been the coward’s way out! Had he remained quiet, others would have continued to suffer horribly. So King concluded that he could meet both responsibilities by using political dissent and organized passive resistance as forms of peaceful protest. When arrested, he made no effort to resist. He did not challenge the authority of the police, but he most definitely did challenge the validity of unjust laws and the society that profited from that authority. The institutionalized racism that Rev. Dr. King stood against exists to this very day! What are white or Caucasian Christians doing about this?

There is a Biblical reason why the American Dream is so desirable to Christians. It is because we see the American Dream as the Garden of Eden restored and thus it’s our Christian duty to make it so. In fact, some think that the purpose of God’s Word is to make Paradise accessible again, not understanding that we who call upon the name of the Lord are destined for a Paradise that will put the Garden of Eden to shame. Such Christians argue that basing one’s life on God’s Word is like following the right blueprints when constructing a building, and they have a point. The more we follow God’s Word, the more we can avoid the hazards of sin. But the big question becomes, did God give us His word to return us to the Garden or to help us through the wilderness? But before answering that question, we must understand why would Jesus commanded us to collect our treasures in heaven rather than on earth, and why the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us we are to look for a new home to come rather than a home here.

To believe that God’s Word tells us how to regain Paradise is inaccurate, to put it nicely. By the same token, the real attraction to the American Dream isn’t the opportunity to restore what was lost but to worship what can be found – the twin false gods of money and materialism. The American Dream is a monasticism with benefits. Its preachers assure us that we can be righteously selfish. The “prosperity gospel” is taught in churches like a canned sales pitch, and is gleefully and mistakenly received as truth by the gullible. It allows us to flee from what is unpleasant and distasteful in the world while enjoying its corruptible fruit. This makes America a trap for 21st century Christians. For when we try to take what we want instead of waiting on God, we become deaf and blind to both the world God wants us to share His love with, as well as our own depleted spiritual conditions.

My conclusion, then, is to reject materialism and the pursuit of economic gain! Jesus said, “One cannot serve two masters. He/she will either love one and despise the other, or cling to one while rejecting the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon (materialism)”. Choose today whom or what you will serve in life. You can either pursue wealth and material goods, or you can pursue a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and all that goes with it. There is so much more to choosing Christ than there is to choosing riches, which can be here one day and gone the next without warning. One cannot serve them both, since from the vantage point of the believer they are in opposite directions from each other.

Our wealth and possessions die with us or are willed to others after we are gone, but Jesus Christ lives today, tomorrow, and forever! It is He and he alone that is the correct choice for us to make. It is Christ alone who offers us the eternal salvation our souls urgently need. Right now would be a perfectly good time to do this (for those readers who haven’t already done so). Simply pray within yourself to Jesus and ask Him to take charge of your life. It doesn’t matter how you surrender to him, just do it. He always does a perfect job anyway, so there is no profit in resisting him. Ask Jesus now, he is waiting eagerly for you! And he loves you unconditionally!

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Free book excerpt #25 from Progressive Author and blogger Rev. Paul J. Bern

Coming this fall from Author Rev. Paul J. Bern: the 4th updated edition of his popular 2011 nonfiction work, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”

 

DCIM100MEDIA

DCIM100MEDIA

The second part of the Manifesto is what I will devote this chapter to. It summarizes the 11 Demands of the People and then organizes them into 7 basic human rights in such a way that they can be legislated into existence. How do we accomplish this? One way would be for a large group of people to go to Washington and demonstrate our disapproval by surrounding Congress outside the main Congressional building where the House of Representatives and the US Senate preside, and continuing to surround it while demanding that the Eight Fundamental Rights Of Mankind be passed into law in the form of a US Constitutional amendment. Nobody leaves until our demands are met. Our demonstrations will be peaceful, and weapons will be prohibited. I have lots of other ideas about how to go about changing the system, but for now let us take a chapter from this book to explain and analyze these basic human rights, how they apply to us middle Americans, and why these basic human rights are what this new Civil Rights movement represents.

[1] Rights of Workers and Independent Contractors

The basic rights of all workers can be broken down into six parts; fair minimum wage, right to unemployment protection, right to free vocational re-training for life, right to choice of career path regardless of economic status, right to organize, right to a flexible work week, and right to family and maternity leave.

The first thing on the list is also the highest priority, that of a fair and realistic minimum wage. As I write this the current minimum wage is only about $7.50 per hour. That’s a gross pay of $300.00 for a 40-hour work week, about $210.00 after all applicable taxes for a single person. Now, let us ask ourselves one basic question: could I live on $840.00 per month? Of course you can’t! But the need to raise the federal minimum wage to $14.00 per hour is only part of the solution because it is only part of the problem. The real problem that I see here is a moral issue that is disguised as an economic issue. The cost of living is so high today in the early 21st century that the true minimum wage should be close to $35,000.00 annually before taxes. That is what it costs a family of four to live week-to-week in 2018 dollars. If the US business community and/or Congress refuse to agree to any such thing, and it’s a sure bet that they will, then let there be protests and worker walkouts all across the country. We could even haggle down from the $14.00 level to, say, $12.00. The important thing will be to keep them talking to us. Sooner or later we will get the large increases we urgently need, even if it means shutting down the whole country for a day or more, or even a week.

But what about the times when the cost of living overwhelms us and a real financial emergency sets in, such as an unexpected car repair or a medical emergency? This brings me to the point that I wish to make, and it is this. In today’s world, if the net take-home pay of any given individual does not meet, or just barely meets, that same individuals daily cost of living, then that is tantamount to economic slavery. Let me say that again because this point simply cannot be overemphasized. If your take-home pay won’t even take you home, you are a slave. Oh, you are free to move around and to come and go as you choose, that is true. But if after you stop at the grocery store, pay the light bill (assuming you are fortunate enough to be able to do that), put gas in your tank (assuming you are lucky enough to still own a car) and set some money aside for next month’s rent or mortgage, then you peek into your wallet and realize that you have $7.00 left for the whole stinkin’ week, that’s when you know you are a slave. What happens to the people whose incomes are at or below minimum wage? They go hungry and are often homeless. And this is happening in the United States of America, supposedly the greatest country in the world, while millions of its people live in abject poverty. How much longer do we wait before taking matters into our own hands? After all, it’s the only way we are going to accomplish our goals.

On this point alone, there are enough issues on the collective dinner plate of the American people to foster open revolt throughout the land. Never mind everything else that I have written about. Think about it for a minute. How does it feel to be an economic slave? Makes you feel kind of angry, doesn’t it? It make us all feel violated because we have all been slaves, often without realizing it. The time to rise up and say, “No more!” has arrived. It’s time for all of us to get out from in front of out TV’s, our computers and our phones, and to get ourselves out into the streets and start protesting. Never mind your game consoles either, there’s no more time for that. And that’s just for this issue alone. Now allow me to mention the rest of these basic rights

The second right under worker’s rights is the right to better unemployment insurance, and to also allow independent contractors to draw unemployment provided certain conditions are met. Any worker who has lost his or her job through no fault of their own will be entitled to up to 52 weeks of unemployment compensation instead of the current maximum of 26 weeks of non-emergency benefits. Once the benefits have been exhausted, if the job seeker is unable to find full time work, they will have two options. The first will be to enlist in free vocational re-education, which will be offered for the lifetime of that worker or until retirement (more on that further below, so please stick with me). The second option will be to enlist as a worker in new public works projects, which will be described later in this chapter. Under this new 21st century plan, we can and will wipe out unemployment and poverty forever.

The third human right listed is the right to free vocational retraining for life. Anybody can go back to school and get retrained at will, up to and including a 2 year degree, and under this new system it will all be free of charge. We will be able to pay for it with the new tax code that I will describe to you later in this chapter. Students in the program who have children will, upon qualification, be given taxpayer-funded day care free of charge so they can get their education without having to worry about their kids. Much is being made right now about the fact that higher education is becoming more financially out of reach for an increasingly large percentage of the US population. Offering free taxpayer-funded reeducation will take down this barrier, and can be thus used as a tool for peaceful and orderly wealth redistribution.

The fourth human right under worker’s rights that I have written about is the choice of career path without economic qualification. This is basically a continuation and clarification of the above right to vocational retraining. It adds a civilian draft which is designed to eliminate unemployment and homelessness. Every able-bodied homeless person, newly released prisoners, and the long-term unemployed will be put to work in a public works program that I will explain in detail later in this chapter.

The next right I mentioned is simply the right for workers to organize. It will include a provision making it illegal for states to outlaw labor unions and it prohibits companies and corporations from preventing unionization. American workers will get worse working conditions, not better, if they do not organize. They also won’t stand a chance of getting pay raises, better benefits and investment opportunities because company management isn’t about to give away any of this voluntarily. The workers are going to have to collectively go to management and make their needs known.

The fifth human right that I mentioned is the right to a fair workweek. All workers who work more than 40 hours in a week, and all salaried managers who work more than 50 hours per week, will be entitled to compensation at time and a half. All companies with more than 100 employees will be required to offer either a four day workweek with a ten hour workday, or a five day workweek with an eight hour workday to all its workers. Workers who are paid biweekly will be paid overtime for all hours worked in a 40-hour week. It will be illegal to require such workers to work 80 hours over Less than two weeks before paying them overtime.

The right to family leave, which will include maternity leave for women, is the final right for all workers and independent contractors. It will be illegal for any company to fire any worker for taking maternity leave or family leave. Any worker who loses their job due to family or maternity leave will be required to be compensated by that employer with a minimum of 30 days pay to a maximum of one year’s salary pending arbitration…..

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The Swamp Isn’t Drained Yet, Mr. President. You’re Going to Need a Bigger Pump

The Ongoing Christian Hypocrisy In Washington D.C.

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

For better small screen viewing, click here 🙂

threat_from_washington Remember when we were kids in school? We used to recite the ‘pledge of allegiance’ to the flag every day. Among other things, the pledge calls us “one nation under God”. Judging from the way things are proceeding in Washington and the Middle East these days, America has become anything but that. We are faced with endless wars overseas with no end in sight, and these wars on multiple fronts have bankrupted our country. Meanwhile here at home, it is the American people who are faced with bankruptcy and even homelessness due to either long-term unemployment, or because of declining wages and rising costs for those who are working. Citizens everywhere continue to lose their houses to foreclosure under circumstances that are questionable at best or outright financial fraud at worst. The rapidly growing population of homeless people is already in the process of turning into a human tidal wave of misery and hopelessness. Here in Atlanta where I live, the homeless population on any given day averages around 5,000 or so, of which half are children! This is a gross social injustice, particularly considering that it is happening in the richest country in the world! Even the cave men lived in caves tens of thousands of years ago. So it is accurate to say that they had it better than the homeless folks do today. It is a basic human right to have a roof over your head. Shelter is not a privilege! Throwing men, women and children out into the elements for mere financial reasons is nothing short of barbaric!

 

As all this outrageous injustice continues, we see and hear our nation’s leaders in Washington invoking the name of God and quoting the Bible (out of context!) as a justification for waging immoral and illegal wars all over the globe, with many being of the clandestine variety. Meaning, the US taxpayers who are unknowingly funding their illegal activities have been clueless as to what is going on. But thanks to the Internet, people are rapidly waking up to what’s been going on, and this is happening on a global scale. Here at home, our nation’s lawmakers debate whether gay persons should serve openly in the military or not, and various individuals in our country’s leadership take a stand on whether they are pro-life or pro-choice. These side-issues are being debated while our country grapples with record deficits that threaten to swallow up what is left of the US economy, just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned. They pontificate about “family values” and their religious faith. In the meantime, one in every four American children doesn’t have enough to eat, and one in every five American school kids will be homeless at least once before they turn 18.

 

Moreover, “conservatives” in Congress threaten to do away with the American social safety net at a time of 1970’s era wages and rampant homelessness, just when it is needed the most! If these neoconservatives succeed in taking away, or even succeed in reducing, the social safety net that millions are currently depending upon because they can’t find work or enough of it (and often because they can’t even feed their kids), you can be sure there will be rioting in the streets at best, or another US civil war like in Syria or Yemen at worst. These current events line up with much of what I have been saying on my web site (or blog) since day one about what is wrong with the world in which we live, and how we should proceed to make it better. Anyone can be religious, but I choose to take it to the next level. I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to make a real difference. I can be super-spiritual all day long, but if I’m too stingy to buy a homeless lady and her two little kids a $10.00 or $12.00 box of fried chicken with some ‘sides’, what good am I?

 

My own faith is a blend of leftist Christian (yes, there is such a thing; think “social gospel” minus the emphasis on ‘social salvation’ from that era), plus Teddy-Roosevelt-style Populism and Bernie Sanders-style progressiveness (hence my website name Progressive Christian Ministries). So now you know why I particularly enjoy going after big government and main-stream denominations at all levels, taking them all to task not just because of their sometimes-misguided leadership, but challenging their thinking and their values. For example, many Republicans in Washington keep talking about God and politics as if they are interchangeable. They like to make it look like they are on the side of God, as if God were a political conservative like themselves. And they love to make it seem like the Democrats and “liberals” are a party of loose morality, favoring abortion and gay marriage, and hanging around with terrorists both domestic and foreign. They are experts at crafting and delivering their message – good enough to inspire many middle-class white folks to vote against their own best interests in the 2016 presidential elections. Their message works because it appeals to people’s base emotions, not their intellects. And reacting is so much easier than critical thinking, especially when we’re so emotionally drained from these years of unemployment, or working multiple part time jobs, or home foreclosures. They are so effective with their message that they don’t think twice before selling the idea that God wanted George W. Bush to attack Iraq, God favors Republicans, and God wanted Sarah Palin to be President. Or maybe Mike Huckabee.

 

Our lawmakers completely ignore the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. The first amendment to the US Constitution begins by saying, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…….” To me, this means anyone who wishes to engineer a merger of government and organized religion either knows nothing about the Constitution or they openly wish to break it. Either way, that means they would be committing treason if these neocons and right-wing extremists were to actually pull off such a political stunt as that. They publicly thump the Bibles on which they were sworn into office. They brag about giving 10% of their incomes to the churches they belong to, even though many don’t attend church at all. And they make sure they’re seen praying, whether it be in church, in public, or on TV. Jesus had something to say about that, and those serene words of wisdom are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago when they were first spoken. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew chapter 6, verses 5-6)

 

As we set aside today’s ideological hysteria and look at the facts, Jesus was part liberal and part socialist by today’s standards (hence the inspiration for the “social gospel” of 1,900 years later), and much of the New Testament condemns the attitude of the so-called religious right (which is neither as far as I am concerned). For example, Jesus condemned the greedy rich, saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” [Matthew 19:24] He denounced the money changers in the temple at Jerusalem as He threw them out, saying, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” [Matthew 21:13] And Jesus stood up for the poor and underprivileged, saying, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” [Matthew 25:40]

 

So then, how can our nation’s leadership, especially the conservative right-wingers, call themselves Christian? How does one call oneself a follower of Jesus Christ – and allegedly He alone – as they hold the unemployed, the disabled and retired pensioners hostage while fighting for more tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires? They don’t care about us, and they don’t care if we know that or not. We the people, America’s middle and working classes, need not tolerate what amounts to being openly insulted. We can and should fight back! Who is with me today? I’m just one disabled man, all I can do is write from here in my apartment. So I need all you able-bodied people to please, please, get out in the streets and protest, or do something more if you can. Our situation here in America has become intolerable!

 

Jesus acknowledged the need for government as well as tax-supported government services, saying, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.” [Matthew 22:21] So then how can these war hawks of Washington call themselves ‘Christians’ as they rail against paying their fair share of taxes? Never mind the fact that this is the same bunch of people who vehemently oppose national health care and food programs for poor kids! Never mind that these same people (and their financial backers) are the ones voting in favor of increasing funding of the largest and most formidable military in world history. Last year the US government spent more money on military expenditures than all the rest of the world combined. Then again, there is the fact that the United States has more people in prison than all the rest of the world’s countries – again, combined. There is something very, very wrong with this picture, that’s for sure. When faced with all these facts, I am forced to come to the conclusion that America isn’t the world’s greatest country anymore, if it ever really was. The American people have woken up to the fact that we’ve all been bamboozled for generations. It’s on us to correct this glaring problem, everybody. It’s up to us, the American people, to turn this around.

 

Jesus healed the sick – even lepers – for free. He didn’t ask them for an insurance card first, nor did he have any legal forms for anyone to sign. Jesus just healed people because it was the right thing to do, but more importantly because that’s one of the things he came here to do (let’s not forget Jesus’ main reason; his blood which He shed on a cross for each of us!). Jesus was the original “socialized medicine” personified. So then, how can certain conservatives call themselves ‘Christian’ (that is, followers of Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth) as they condemn the infinitely more profitable (and woefully insufficient) “Obamacare”? The truth of the matter is that much of the effectiveness of any government is directly proportional to how well it cares for its people. (By the way, it was Thomas Jefferson who first said that.) The United States is the last developed country in the world that does not have national health insurance for its citizens. Every other developed country – and many developing ones – has national health insurance, except for us. As I wrote above about shelter being a basic human right, so it is with health care.

 

Proper medical care is not a privilege available only to those who can afford to pay! Good quality health care is a basic human right that must be available to everyone without qualification, including preexisting conditions. The money to implement such a plan is already available with plenty to spare. All the government has to do is call off all the illegal wars and occupations overseas and bring our troops home. Whatever money is left over can be used for giant public works projects to put all the long-term unemployed back to work, or to send them back to school to learn a trade. Is there sufficient money to accomplish and finance this worthy goal? Absolutely, and all without adding to the federal deficit. Here’s an example: If the US military set aside one day’s expenses for the twin occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq (Again? Wasn’t once enough?) and put those funds in an interest-bearing account, there would be enough money to send every single American school kid to four years of college – fully paid for. We’d get all that from just one days military expenditures! So don’t tell me we can’t afford quality education without qualification! Oh yes we can!!

 

As he stood and delivered his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of the living God.” [Matthew 5:9] Still, the conservatives call themselves ‘Christian’ as they continue to call for endless war, be it legally and morally justified or not. At the same time, they expound on how pro-life or anti-abortion they are. So, let me get this straight. In order to be a good Christian, one must be pro-war and pro-life simultaneously? Or, one must be pro-life but opposed to putting the entire country on Medicare, then? And then our military and “intelligence” establishment tries to justify torture by saying so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” saves lives? So I ask them as I ask you all; in the words of the popular button and bumper sticker: Who would Jesus torture?

 

In the end, I see many neoconservatives, Republicans and other right-wing extremists paying much homage to the Bible while ignoring what is in between its covers. As for myself, I could not stand to live like that, being a Washington hypocrite or a modern-day Pharisee. My conscience simply would not allow me to do such a thing, and especially without taking it to the Lord in prayer beforehand! Let’s vote these right wing-nuts out of office during this year’s midterm elections first, and we’ll see what happens. But if nothing changes and our plight continues to slowly worsen, it’s going to be time to start all over again on a clean sheet of paper in 2020. If our country is still here, that is. It’s the only way we can peacefully force things in Washington to change. But if things don’t start changing, and soon, the civil wars of Syria and Yemen will be mushrooming from within America’s heartland, and with maximum vengeance! If governing power cannot be returned to the American people peacefully, then things will deteriorate to the point where we will simply have to retake it by force. Get ready, everybody. And, if you’re not already praying, please start. It’s the least you can do.

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The 99% Blog Supplemental Posting Regarding Vanquishing Student Loans

Two Ways to Legally Walk Away From Your Student Loan Without Filing Bankruptcy

by Author Rev. Paul J. Bern

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Sometimes being a minister doesn’t always involve things having to do with churches or even the concept of religion. Sometimes ministry is something that’s not what would be called ‘spiritual’ at all. Ministry is, to me at least, all about being a person focused exclusively on the needs of others, and sometimes those needs are of the more practical variety. That is what my inspiration is for writing this rather detailed posting today. It is my sincere hope that many hard-pressed individuals would be greatly assisted in their quest for financial independence. By that I mean independence from the damnable scourge of debt, a trap that multitudes the world over are caught up in. Being buried under a mountain of debt is not something that is confined to materialistic America. Debt is a global epidemic, and its root cause is the debt-based economic system we are all stuck living under, otherwise known as capitalism. Our current economic system is based on fractional reserve lending, which is where money is ‘loaned’ into existence as little more than digital bookkeeping entries. If this is starting to read kind of like a scam to you, that’s because it is. No wonder so many people are becoming disenchanted with capitalism!

But to finish my thought from a minute or so ago, I am writing this posting to help people – and because I have been through this very thing myself. Being unable to repay a student loan is not the borrower’s fault. Stagnant wages are to blame, wages that are at about the same level as the mid-to-late 1970’s. That’s why you’re unable to repay your loan(s). There are two ways, and only two ways, that you can legally walk away from your student loan. One is for younger workers, and the other is for older ones, of which I was one. For younger workers, the only way you can legally walk away from a student loan is to get a job in another country, and then become a citizen of that nation by renouncing your American citizenship. Of course, you will need a passport and a work visa to whatever country one wishes to emigrate to. There will also be a waiting period in your country of choice before one can declare legal citizenship, and this varies from country to country. Where are good places to emigrate to? Plenty, with South America, western Europe, parts of coastal Mexico, southeast Asia, or Canada, if you don’t mind cold weather, being among the perennial favorites. There is also a big demand for English teachers in mainland China, and you won’t need a teaching degree either. I have never been to any of the above places except for Canada, so I can’t vouch for any of these countries. Do your own research.

What about older workers still stuck with old student loans that can’t be repaid? Their first choice is the same as above, if they are able to do so. Some will consider emigration to be too impractical, especially those with families and with a mortgage to repay. Unless, of course, you walk away from the mortgage and all your other loans when you emigrate. Some would consider this to be unethical, but with desperate times usually calling for desperate measures there is no law against doing this very thing, and it happens all the time. Besides, since our capitalistic economic system is so predatory anyway, I see nothing wrong with giving them a taste of their own medicine once and a while. Just don’t make a habit of it.

But what about the second choice for older workers who can’t repay their student loans because they can’t find suitable work? The one-word answer is disability, but before you recoil at my response please allow me the chance to point some things out. Age discrimination is an unfortunate fact of the American job market and American life. In numerous other cultures globally speaking, their elders are held in the highest esteem and are viewed as sources of knowledge and experience. In short, older people get a lot more respect overseas than they do here. I had the misfortune of finding this out the hard way. Four months after my 50th birthday, I had a stroke of moderate severity, and it took about 2 weeks to return to my job as a courier contractor. But I was soon unable to continue working due to a series of misfortunes that would take too long to explain. So I returned to my old field of endeavor, which was the technology business. I had worked as a computer and IT professional for 20 years prior to getting into the better-paying transportation business. But I had a lot of trouble finding long-term job assignments from the IT staffing agencies I was working with. Within just a couple of years, those jobs evaporated too.

After a while, my health started failing again, and I eventually would up on disability. Once the process was completed, which took me about 2 years, I called the company that was holding my old student loan and told them I had just been put on disability. I explained my reasons for not having made a payment if over 5 years, telling them my income had dropped by nearly 80% (which can and does happen), and pleading with them for better terms. That’s when I learned that people who have become disabled don’t have to repay the remainder of their student loans. Once one is considered unable to work, the balance on that person’s student loan(s) are forgiven no matter how much they owe. Period, end of story. That’s how I got out from under mine. My only mistake is that I could have filed for disability years before and hadn’t realized I was eligible. So basically, if you are older than 50 years of age here in America, if you lose your job and have no job prospects, you don’t have to have a stroke to get disability. Use some other medical condition – everybody has one – to get yours. You might as well. Your plight exists because your government allowed it to develop through their own mismanagement and malfeasance in office! Now that you’re down and out through no fault of your own, make the government help you get on your feet. There is never any shame in asking for help, and there is certainly no shame in demanding it when you have to!

One more thing about disability, and that is the unfortunate happenstance of court convictions for various crimes, particularly for people of color and minorities. Court convictions, even for nonviolent offenses, can oftentimes be a barrier to employment. In a worst-case scenario, being a convicted felon can qualify some people for disability simply because they’re felons. Sometimes this is for good reason, but not always. But if you’re a middle-aged man or woman, and especially if you’re older than that, disability may be your best way out. I guess that’s all I have to say, and I sure hope this helps a few people retake control of their finances. Everyone enjoy their day!

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The “Tax Cuts” Just Passed by the Trump White House Are a Gross Injustice

Fair Warning to All Rich Oppressors;

Not From Myself, But From God

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

For better small screen viewing, click here 🙂

threat_from_washington I am finding myself witnessing once again what amounts to the enforced liquidation of America’s middle class, coming in the form of president Trump’s new tax bill. This recently-passed piece of legislation cuts funding for the poorest, most vulnerable of Americans and gives it all to the richest 10% of US taxpayers. These funds will be distributed in the form of various tax breaks for individuals and corporations who don’t need them because they already pay too little – with the bulk of the tax burden shouldered by America’s middle and working classes. Even though our tax refunds will be bigger next year, so will the tax rate for the bottom 50% of all Americans. This week I want to share with you all a quotation from the Bible that ties in with this topic very well.

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice for my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain except to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand still upraised.” (Isaiah chapter 10, verses 1-4)

What’s a modern example of what the prophet Isaiah wrote about here, which was roughly 2,700 years ago? The pathetic state of wages, globally speaking, is the first thing that comes to my mind. If any one of you has ever had to take a minimum wage job – and I would define anything under $12.00 per hour to be a ‘minimal wage’ – then you know exactly what I mean. Here in Atlanta, Ga. the minimum is still set at a paltry $7.25 per hour. There are lots of homeless shelters in and near downtown Atlanta, and they all stay full, and with ‘waiting lists’ to boot. Georgia’s ultra-low minimum wage is the reason why. Do the math and it’s easy to see why these hapless individuals can’t rent apartments.

Another example of a modern-day “unjust law” is most definitely the Drug War, which is actually a massive race-based roundup of the poor. These are mostly people of color, mainly Black and Latino(a), and it is no coincidence that they are the ones who can least afford to hire a lawyer. Moreover, as I proved conclusively in my 2016 book, “Cannabis Legalization and the Bible: Compatible or Not?”, the Marijuana plant was made by God on the third day of Creation (see Genesis 1: 11). Cigarettes are legal, they kill over 50,000 people annually, and everybody’s just fine with that, particularly law enforcement (“You will smoke these and you will like them”). But marijuana, which is classified as a dangerous drug when it is not, remains illegal. This is a whole series of laws designed to prosecute those who use a substance that can’t be taxed. The Drug War is all about the money, including the huge profits being “earned” by the private prison industry. It has nothing to do with justice whatsoever!

What’s an example of an “oppressive decree”? One example would be the federal income tax, which was passed in 1919 so America could pay her debts incurred by the First World War. This was a law passed at 3AM and signed by only a handful of people. By the time Congress found out about it when they convened around the first of the following week, and since news traveled so slowly back then, there was nothing they could do even though a lot of lawmakers were very upset at that time. Another example of an “oppressive decree” would be the Patriot Act, which has been renewed 3 times since 2001 even though it is being used against American citizens as well as foreign nationals. In this respect, the Patriot Act as it is currently written and being implemented is unconstitutional!

What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?” I have already shown that the prophet was referring to the End Times, or Last Days, which I have clearly depicted in previous weekly commentary’s. I have also proven conclusively that the United States is Mystery Babylon in Ezekiel chapter 7, Zechariah chapter 12, and Revelation chapter18. I fully realize that what I’m about to write here is not a popular topic, but the Bible clearly states that the USA is going to endure a nuclear attack at some point in the not-too-distant future. Whether this attack comes in the form of a lone terrorist bomb or from a nuclear tactical first strike from Russia and China combined, I can’t say. I do not have access to any such information except that which God gives me, or that He helps me deduce on my own. So the conclusion here in verse 3 is that the “day of reckoning” is a day in the fairly near future when the Nuclear Age, which was started by the USA with the twin nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, will soon come back and bite America in the backside. This ‘blow-back’ from 73 years ago will be absolutely devastating to America! Personally, I have become concerned enough about my country’s future that I just went and got myself a passport!

Nothing will remain except to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand still upraised.” As I mentioned before, there are still a lot of people who get infuriated when I write or tell them that this verse and others like it throughout the Bible are talking about the United States. But it’s true! Just look around you. America’s military is stretched dangerously thin in a number of places around the globe. America now has over 750 military bases scattered around the world in about 160 countries at last count. It takes lots and lots of people to man those bases. Many of them are costly and simply unneeded.

But before any of them can be shut down, the Deep State itself must first be shut down. But is it moral for Christians to participate in such seditious activities? Not normally, but in cases where the government is corrupt to the core, and in cases where the government threatens the livelihood and personal safety of its citizens, then yes – it is not only OK, but such activities should be encouraged whether in or out of church. There are a number of nonviolent ways this can be accomplished, like hack attacks on their computer infrastructure or ransomware attacks, to name 2 examples. Similar attacks on its ‘players’ would be still another. I’m sure you can think of more, and then implement them. But by all means, do something! Because if we don’t, what little is left of civil liberties in America, like the freedom of speech that makes my writing this Web posting possible, will be gone forever.

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Justice, mercy, and the ending of the West Virginia teacher’s strike

Progressive Christianity, Worker’s Rights and Social Justice

by pastor Paul J. Bern

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The recent settlement of the West Virginia teacher’s strike, which resulted in a 5% pay raise after lasting for nearly two weeks, will soon echo across the landscape of American labor, and hopefully for the entire world as well. People everywhere – and I mean globally – are literally starving for a pay raise. Today’s labor market – not just in America but globally – already has within it the seeds of revolution, and the people are most definitely ready to rise up, if only I could get you all to turn off your damned televisions and gaming consoles!! This isn’t about religion, this is about justice and equality, and the Bible has plenty to say about both. So, for those of you who may think the Bible is some antiquated rule book that has lost its relevance, allow me to set the record straight.

In Psalm 106 verse 3, it says, “Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.” In Proverbs 29 verse 4, it says, “By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down.” Come to think of it, I’m going to send that Bible verse to every member of Congress in Washington, D.C.! The prophet Isaiah lamented the lack of justice in his own time – so this problem is not new – when he wrote, “So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, and honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.” Here’s one more sample of the mind of Almighty God: “And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts, do not think evil of each other’.” All of the above truths were brought sharply into focus most recently by the West Virginia teacher’s strike. The ugly truth we all must face is this – if our net take-home pay won’t even cover the most basic of living expenses, we are economic slaves! Rather than elaborate here, allow me to post an excerpt of my first book from 2011, now in its third updated edition. Enjoy!

The Ongoing Battle for Worker’s Rights Across America

(excerpt from, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, by Rev. Paul J. Bern)

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America has become a ticking time bomb of inequality and lack of opportunity. The rights of US workers have been trampled underfoot by the rich multinational corporations and the top 1% elite, who have outsourced all our jobs overseas as they leave us high and dry on the island of minimum wage jobs with no futures. There are also a growing number of employed people who, despite having a job, are still living in poverty. There are at least 19 million US workers who now fall into this rapidly growing category. The median US income of $35,000.00 a year is not going to get you far in today’s economy, and half of the country is making less than that. The reason we struggle with these things is because the Economic Elite have robbed us all through the systematic confiscation of middle class wealth, security and prosperity. This has caused tremendous suffering among workers throughout the world, it is no less than a criminal act, and it is the result of the largest single transfer of wealth in all of human history from the world’s middle classes to the rich.

 

 

The first thing on any list of worker’s rights is that of a fair and realistic minimum wage, and more fundamentally, the basic human right to a decent livelihood. Unemployment as we have previously known it must now come to an end forever. This does not mean unemployment will be eliminated, but periods of unemployment can and should be converted to times of retraining to acquire new skills or to even completely change careers. What gives any wealthy corporate 1%’er CEO or their subordinates the right to tell anybody, “Sorry, you are not needed around here anymore. Your skills, experience, and your work ethic no longer matter here. Our company’s bottom line and the interests of our shareholders are far more important than that of our workers.” This is the essence of what it means to be fired. In my view, this is demeaning to the point of being abusive, and it is therefore an abuse of authority.

 

This brings me to the point that I wish to make. In today’s world, if the net take-home pay of any given individual does not meet, or just barely meets, that same individual’s daily cost of living, then that is tantamount to economic slavery. Let me say that again because this point simply cannot be overemphasized. If your take-home pay won’t even take you home, you are a slave. Oh, you are free to move around and to come and go as you choose and take care of business, that is true. But if after you go to the grocery store, pay the light bill (assuming you are fortunate enough to be able to do that), put gas in your tank (assuming you are lucky enough to still own a car) and set some money aside for this month’s rent or mortgage (if you’re not already on the street or living with relatives) – and then, after all that you peek into your wallet and realize that you have $7.00 left to live on for the whole stinking’ week, that’s when you know you are a slave! What happens to the people whose incomes are at or below minimum wage? They go hungry and are often homeless. Many of these newly homeless, formerly middle class people also have kids who have fallen into poverty along with their parents. As I write this, it is profoundly sad to report that 1 in every 5 American kids will be homeless at some point in their childhoods. And this is happening in the United States of America, supposedly the richest country in the world? This is a moral outrage, a social injustice, and it is economic discrimination of the worst kind!

Since it is an issue of economic discrimination (regardless of race or religion), it also becomes a 21st century civil rights issue creating a demand for fundamental change in the way our economy works and the way our government works. This too, then, is cause for protests, demonstrations, boycotts, occupations, general strikes and other forms of peaceful civil disobedience. On this point alone, there are enough issues on the collective dinner plate of the American people to foster open revolt throughout the land. Never mind everything else that I have written about. Think about it for a minute. How does it feel to be a slave? Makes you feel kind of angry, doesn’t it? Maybe even violated on a certain level, like we’ve been raped? The time to rise up and say, “No more!” has arrived. It’s time for all of us to get out from in front of out TV’s and our gaming consoles and computers and to get our backsides out in the streets and start protesting – a lot! And that’s just for this issue alone. Now allow me to point out a couple of subcategories.

 

The first sub-category under worker’s rights is the right to better and more comprehensive unemployment insurance, and to also allow some independent contractors to draw unemployment provided certain conditions are met (subject to future legislation or referendum). Any worker who has lost his or her job through no fault of their own will be entitled to up to 52 weeks of unemployment compensation instead of the current maximum of 26 weeks due to a continued turnover in the job markets of most developed countries, starting with the US. Besides their job search, at any time during the worker’s period of unemployment he or she should have two other options available to them to assist in the development of their careers. The first should be the ability to sign up for public works projects to obtain immediate employment if it is needed. (The worker’s second option will be reeducation, and I will touch on that one next so please bear with me). Workers will be required to choose one of the above to qualify for benefits. We have been needing massive public works projects to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure for decades. I would conservatively estimate that anywhere from 1-3 million people could be employed this way as contract laborers, salaried employees, or subcontractors, depending on the need. The fact of the matter is that we need jobs, we need lots of them, and we need them right now! Seven twenty five an hour won’t work either. Let’s strike and protest for action while we engage in other methods of passive resistance on this matter. We might as well, because things are going to continue to get worse until we do.

 

The next sub-category of worker’s rights is the right to free vocational retraining for life. Period, end of story. Anybody can go back to school and get retrained at will, up to and including a 2 year degree (with a 4-year available for some additional cost) at little or no cost. Large, wealthy corporations with robust cash flows, as well as millionaires and the super-rich, will supply the necessary funding through what I call in my book “the excess wealth tax” (you can buy the book on Amazon from right here). Since corporate America made the decision to send their factories and all the jobs those factories provided overseas to lower their labor costs, and since this action has caused the obliteration of millions of American careers, it will be corporate America who will shoulder the expense of retraining these people whose careers evaporated through no fault of their own. If they take your job away, or if they export or downsize your career out of existence like I experienced myself, then it is those same corporate henchmen who must pay for your reeducation. Higher public education is a basic, fundamental human right. It is not a privilege! As of today, higher education, and the fundamental right to improve and enrich ourselves, is an essential human right that must be had by all without qualification!

 

Now I know what at least some of you are thinking right now – “who’s gonna pay for all this?” That is a perfectly valid question. Let me put all this into perspective for you. If your US government took all the money that was spent in a single day on the twin occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the clandestine and illegal wars and “black ops” in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere and set it aside in an enormous savings account, there would be enough money to send every American school age kid from the first grade through high school and upwards to any public college, state university, or vocational or technical school to earn their degree of choice with the tuition fully paid for, plus the cost of all their books and supplies, their meals during school hours, Internet access, new computers, and with access to public transportation covered for those who need it.

So, for those who say we can’t afford to send everyone to public or community colleges with most if not all of their expenses fully paid, or that the money to accomplish this just isn’t there, either doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or they are elitists and bigots who can’t stand to see middle and working class and minority students getting ahead. Access to higher education – and looking after the children of those who are retraining – is an American civil right that should be equally available to all without qualification, not just to those who can afford the ‘tuition’. Would you like to see test scores improve in our nation’s schools? Tell all those kids that they are all going to public college at taxpayer expense, and watch their grades shoot up like rockets at Cape Canaveral. Give them an incentive to do better and our kids will rise to the challenge every time!

 

The right to family and sick leave, which must include maternity leave for women, is the final right I have listed for all workers and independent contractors. Every other country in the developed world from Europe to Canada to Japan has paid family and sick leave for its workers – all except for the US. It’s way past time for Congress and President Trump to bring our country up to speed with the rest of the world. Moreover, medical, family and maternity leave should be allowed for up to 3 months per calendar year, and it must be made illegal to fire someone from his or her job because that employee needed to take family or sick leave. The right of all individuals to have medical, family or maternity leave must be had by all, without interference or fear of retribution, for the strengthening of our families and the nurturing of our children. The fundamental rights of workers must be honored and acknowledged by rule of law, and by a culture change that puts people before profits, which goes hand in hand with Progressive Christianity. As the old ways of greed-based capitalism continue to die of old age, this is the new reality we must all embrace if we are to thrive in the 21st century.

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Who we say we are, as opposed to who many of us actually are

Some Very Hard Questions for ‘Christian America’

By pastor Paul J. Bern

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food-not-war

The United States has always had a time-honored tradition of being a Christian nation founded by Christians for Christians. This tradition was only recently brought into question by none other than former president Obama, who said back in 2010 that “America is no longer a Christian nation”. Contrary to what our President thought, our great country was in actuality founded on religious freedom by the early Pilgrims, who were Protestants escaping religious persecution by the church of England, not to mention the Vatican. Ever since then, the tradition of Christianity (regardless of whether you belong to a church denomination or not) has been passed down through the generations until modern times. Within the last generation or so, particularly within the last 10 or 20 years, there has been a noticeable drop in church attendance throughout North America and much of Europe. People have been turning away from their faith in droves. Protestant churches are losing members at about the same rate in which they are gaining new ones, the Catholic church is doing even worse, with the end result being what amounts to a revolving door of membership and participation. I have been aware of this for some time and, speaking as a minister, this has really been bothering me lately. So, I have been contemplating the reasons for this diminishing of faith and commitment, within the church and without, in order to try to change them.

 

A journalist once asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of Western civilization and Christianity. He answered: “It’s a good idea. They ought to try it”. Similarly, we might urge followers of world religions: “Those are some nice moral principles. You ought to live by them.” Reliable polls tell us that America is the most religious nation in the industrialized world. More that 90 percent of our population say they believe in God, and that they pray regularly. In his New Testament Epistle, James expressed the Christian view that “faith without works is dead.” Similarly, Judaism calls for “mitzvah’s” — good deeds. And Islam also requires acts of charity. How do these sentiments translate into action? Let’s look at our national religious behavior report card for a reality check.

 

  • America is the world’s richest nation. Yet the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 54 million Americans live in poverty. That includes one in four children. If another country was doing this to ourselves and our children, we’d be at war. Why aren’t we doing more to help out the weak, the vulnerable, the disenfranchised, and the weary? Why do so many prosperous people keep it all to themselves?

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: The U.S. poverty rate is the absolute worst among developed nations according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Demographers say that the poverty rate will rise this year from 21 percent to 27 percent, which will be the highest percentage since the government began calculating poverty figures in 1959. Fifty four million Americans are on food stamps (the highest ever) and the number is expected to rise above fifty six million by the end of 2019.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: According to the Census Bureau, 19 million people lived in working-poor families in 2008. The 2010 census showed a much higher figure approaching 24%. As of 2016, the last year demographics are available, that number is approaching one third. Things are close to becoming exponentially worse! The Feeding America Network reports that only 36 percent of their client households have one or more adults working. These are people who want to work but can’t find jobs, or who can’t feed their kids or themselves because they only make minimum wage. For this to happen in the richest country in the world is inexcusable!!

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that 700,000 to 2 million people are homeless on any given night in America. Here in Atlanta where I reside, estimates of the homeless population on any given night range from 3,000-10,000 people. Also, a new class has emerged in America: the working homeless. The current minimum wage of $7.25 hourly here in Georgia and elsewhere (primarily “right to work” states like Georgia) is pitifully insufficient income for a single person to rent an apartment, let alone a family.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: The elderly, the poor and others on fixed incomes are often forced to choose between food and medicine. Speaking as a retired technology professional and an Internet pastor who worked for 35 years in the professional world, this is a social outrage and an economic injustice that I have personally experienced. Speak up for the less fortunate, because you have a better than even chance you may wind up that way yourself some day!

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: 56 million Americans, including 26 million children, experienced hunger or the risk of hunger in 2016. That’s more than a fourth of all households. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hunger in American households has nearly doubled in the last five years. As I write this in early 2018, this number has swelled to at least 54 million, and the number of underfed American kids is approaching 28%. In the richest country in the world, this is simply inexcusable! We have to do something, and by writing this I’m trying to help accomplish exactly that.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: American restaurants throw away more than 6,000 tons of food every day and grocery stores discard an estimated thirty million pounds of food daily. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Loss Project estimates that Americans throw out 25.9 million tons of food each year. More disturbing: a University of Arizona study reports that 40 to 50 percent of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten. America’s wastefulness is downright sinful in the sight of the Lord; there is no better way to describe it.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t provide very low cost health care for all its citizens. So-called “Obamacare” promised to correct much of that, but it is nowhere near enough. All the president and Congress had to do was to put the whole country on Medicare. Doing so would eliminate the need for Medicaid, saving over half a billion dollars annually, and if Obamacare were to be merged together with Medicare, the extra expenditures for Obamacare would be eliminated as well. And, we would have one health care system for the entire country.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: We have the best medical technology and treatment capability in the world. Yet the United States ranks 37th for health care system performance by the World Health Organization. Why is this so?

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: The latest report on life expectancy shows a slight drop in the United States that will place us even lower than the current ranking of 49th among nations of the world – a lower life expectancy than many less developed countries. A Columbia University study attributes our decline from 11th place in 1950 to the much lower present ranking to our inadequate profit-driven health care system.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: The current US minimum wage of $7.25 hourly for roughly two thirds of the country, which was raised from $5.15 four years prior to that, still keeps families stuck at or below the poverty line. France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, England, the Isle of Man, and many other nations – particularly Australia – have a much higher minimum wage than we do.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: The latest census figures show the gap between rich and poor widening to the largest margin ever. The top 20 percent of workers earning more than $100,000 a year received 49.4.percent of all income compared with the 3.4 percent earned by the bottom 20 percent. The richest 1 percent pockets more than 30 percent of total income which is greater than the total amount earned by the bottom 50 percent combined. Economic inequality – not just in the US but globally – is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, and when it does, the greed-based capitalist economic system we are currently stuck with will have to submit to a complete make-over or face extinction.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: The wealthiest segment of the population is fighting tooth and nail for lower tax rates and other tax breaks while joblessness, poverty, crime, homelessness and hunger are rampant in America.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: In 1994 a million innocents were slaughtered in Rwanda. We watched and did nothing. Similarly, we did little to stop the genocide in Darfur. Further slaughter is now ongoing in Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Yemen while the world watches and does nothing. Will U.S. “leadership” intervene on humanitarian grounds? History does not suggest a positive answer. Nor do the Scriptures, where regarding such people it is written, “Let the blood of our sins be on ourselves and our children!” (Matthew 27: 25) And so it is, unless God starts seeing some major changes of heart among us all.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: There are at least 59 Holocaust museums in the United States dedicated to raising awareness of the Nazi genocide and to help prevent similar horrors from ever happening again. Add to that the numerous holocaust museums and memorials around the world. Yet genocides, mass murders, school shootings and other atrocities such as child sex slave trafficking persist. Who are the customers for these pimps? Who is supplying the weapons to these mass shooters?Who is taking decisive action, who is pretending, and who is doing nothing except complaining? Some of us need to put our Christian money where our mouths are.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: Americans make up 5 percent of the world’s population, and yet our country produces 25 percent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, which are raising the earth’s temperature (“greenhouse effect”) to dangerous levels. How is it that we are trashing the planet God created for each of us, while continuing to profess our love for its Maker?

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: Fossil fuel consumption is destroying the planet, but we refuse to develop a “Manhattan Project” for alternative energy, nor do we have one for battery technology so we can park the majority of our gas and diesel burning cars and trucks, something that is sorely needed.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: Scientists warn that the environmental doomsday clock is ticking. The icebergs are breaking away and melting before our eyes, revealing islands we never saw before. We watch and debate but do too little to preserve the environment for ourselves and future generations. In our hubris we forget that we are guests on a tiny rock floating – in an infinite universe of rocks – that uniquely supports life in a delicate balance of natural and mysterious forces.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: Smoking continues to compromise the health of more than 20 percent of our population. The Surgeon General tells us that cigarette, pipe and cigar smoking, in addition to contributing to a number of cancers, increases the risk of almost every known disease. The American Lung Association reports that each day nearly 6,000 teens under 18 years of age start smoking. But we refuse to put an end to tobacco use. At the same time, medical and recreational marijuana is still illegal at the federal level while having been proved to be not only harmless, but with significant medical uses and benefits. In so doing, we have criminalized a creation of Almighty God’s (see Genesis 1: 11) that does no harm, while allowing the use of one that does!

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: Leaders of some of our biggest corporations and privately held firms, as well as prominent investment advisers (men and women of “faith”), have cheated, deceived and destroyed their companies and clients, ruining the lives and futures of untold numbers of individuals and families for their own profit.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: We have the largest prison population in the world. Currently more than 3 million people are incarcerated, 1 in every 18 adults is in prison, on parole or probation adding up to a total of over 10 million. One out of every eight Americans you see on the street or in traffic has a criminal conviction in their background. The U.S has a greater prison population (in percentage of population) than many countries that we consider to be in violation of human rights.

  • We are a religious nation, and yet: According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, world military spending for 2012 reached $1.531 trillion, a six percent increase over 2008 and a forty-nine percent increase over the year 2000. The United States accounted for forty-six percent of the total world military expenditure ($661 billion). China was a distant second accounting for 6.6. percent followed by France’s 4.2 percent, the UK’s 3.8 percent and Russia’s 3.5 percent. The proposed U.S. military budget for 2018 is $886 billion. Nice job, Washington!

 

What is religion? Organized religion is a multi-billion-dollar business disguised as a honeycomb of non-profits (actually, more like a hornet’s nest). On the other hand, followers of Jesus – who Himself was crucified mainly because he preached against organized government and organized religion – exercise the very essence of true Spirituality by showing love, caring, serving, giving, sharing, oneness, brotherhood and sisterhood, compassion, empathy and selflessness. Summed up: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I’m so glad that we are a religious nation. If only we were all Christian too….

 

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Passing the Dream Act and Progressive Christianity Go Together Very Well

Immigration Reform, the Dream Act,

and Progressive Christianity

by pastor Paul J. Bern

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food-not-warThis week’s message revolves around the current topic of immigration reform, a.k.a. the “dreamers”, as opposed to what the Bible says. Not any particular government, faith or denomination, mind you, but none other than the Word of God! We have all heard more than enough from the American media ‘presstitutes’ regarding both sides of this issue as dictated by their Republican and Democrat masters. From conservative to progressive to liberal, as well as independent voters like myself who do not follow the crowd, the issue of ‘illegal immigration’ festers like an open wound across America without any first aid being applied. Like any other kind of serious wound, illegal immigration is an American political issue that needs immediate attention.

 

First let me say that I was formerly on the conservative side of this issue due to the fact that had once lost a good job in the computer/IT profession due to my being replaced by workers who had just arrived on H1B work visas. So, I was understandably bitter because I had lost my job to an imported worker despite the fact that I was more qualified. Actually it wasn’t just myself either. The company I was working for at that time had laid off everyone in the branch office where I worked and replaced us all with a batch of workers from the Philippines with green cards. At the time I felt like my career had been stolen right out from under me, and all attempts to replace this job of mine had yielded only temporary jobs that lasted from several months duration to as little as one day.

 

Then one day in the early summer of 2008, I took yet another temporary job out in west Texas, and so I put most of my things in storage and left Atlanta for parts previously unknown to me. I had never been to Texas before, and I found a completely different culture than what I was accustomed to back in Atlanta. There were three things I noticed immediately soon after my arrival. The first was the oppressive heat and humidity, which made Atlanta seem mild by comparison. The second was that people ate burritos in place of burgers. There were burrito joints on nearly every corner and a few McDonald’s, and that was just about it. The third thing I noticed was that approximately one third of the population was Hispanic (or Latino/Latina, take your pick). One of the first things I remember thinking when I realized that one third of the population spoke only Spanish was that this must be ground zero for so-called illegal immigration, or so I thought at the time.

 

But I spent four months out there in Texas, and as my days turned into weeks I began to notice little things that seemed insignificant in and of themselves. For example, I saw Latino men – and a few women as well – hanging around temp agencies, construction sites, and even at a U-haul truck rental company in the hopes of getting a job at least for that day. I remember being struck by the parallels between what those immigrants were having to endure as they searched for work and a piece of the so-called American dream compared to my own job search experiences. Some of these workers lived at homeless shelters, others in campers or vans, and the more prosperous ones lived in rented mobile homes or apartments. I saw the same thing day after day, with hundreds of workers gathered around in groups of as few as eight or ten, and as many as several dozen men and women. And so I found myself beginning to question my own intense dislike of these immigrant workers.

 

Before I go any further with this message, I think I should point out that my basis for resenting many of these immigrant workers was economic rather than racial, and more social than cultural. Nevertheless, my beliefs and opinions were heavily slanted towards an American rather than a more realistic world view, and so I found myself beginning to question my motives for feeling the way I did. One day soon after I did some research on-line and at the local library regarding this issue, and here is what I found out. The average worker in Mexico earns the equivalent of about $50.00 per month USD, and this is so because of reasons that I was previously only generally aware of – namely, the differences in currency valuation between the two countries, and the fact that Mexico is by and large a third world country that happens to border the United States. When you live in a third world country,m the workers earn third world level ‘wages’.

When these same workers come to the US they make minimum wage, more or less, which is currently still stuck at only $7.25 per hour in Texas as well as Georgia. Some are paid substantially less while those who enforce the rules look the other way. Since a sizable chunk of these workers make less than minimum wage while being paid in cash under the table, I’m going to use a rounded out number of $7.00 hourly. A 40-hour work week at seven dollars an hour yields gross pretax earnings of $280.00 per week before taxes and Social Security. But since many of these workers don’t work full time their take home pay is even less. At any rate, this works out to gross earnings of $1,120.00 per month for a 40 hour week. If each worker pays a regular tax rate as we Americans do, and many don’t because their employers are cheating the tax man by paying in cash, they wind up with an average net take-home pay of approximately $740.00 per month.

 

I challenge anybody out there to try and live even for only a month on such substandard pay as this! Seven hundred stinking dollars – go ahead and try that! I challenge anybody who thinks they can live on such an absurdly small amount of money for an entire month, especially if you’re a homeowner. In order to better understand this, instead of Mexico and the US being the two countries involved, let’s use the US and Canada instead. If any given American working professional were offered a job in Canada, what would that be in relation to the US and Mexico? When we do the math, for any Mexican/Latino who emigrates to America, the jump from fifty bucks a month to 740 dollars equals a pay increase that is 11.4 times the going rate in Mexico or, for that matter, any central American country.

 

Now, let’s contrast that to an American jumping ship and leaving the US to go and work and live in Canada. With an average net earnings of roughly $35,000.00 annually (before taxes) for American workers, if any of us were to be offered a job in Canada – or for that matter any other developed or emerging country worldwide – at 11.4 times the going rate here in the US, that would amount to an increase in take-home pay to $399,000.00 annually before taxes. OK, so let’s ask ourselves a simple question: Would you or I be interested in a pay increase of 11.4 times the amount we have been earning previously? Without a doubt!! So, now you know why the Latino/Latina folks are migrating – legally or not – to the US in search of work. It’s not because they are foreign invaders on an economic and social offensive to overrun America. It’s because they are economic refugees from the third world who are searching for a better life for themselves and their families! So, instead of resenting or even hating this influx of foreign workers, the Christian thing to do would be to reach out to the Hispanic communities in all fifty states and minister to them. Like so many long-term unemployed here in America, they don’t want a handout, they simply want to go to work. But I felt convicted in the Holy Spirit for harboring such negative and bitter thoughts, and I repented immediately and have never looked back. Sometimes it’s best to simply admit we’re wrong and move on. So let this be a cautionary lesson for everyone.

 

Showing compassion to foreigners and strangers is central to biblical teaching and morality, and there are quite a few people of faith who have started joining the fight to pass immigration reform, including myself. Congress needs to pass this into law because it is the morally right thing to do. Those who base their position on immigration reform on unacknowledged or hidden racial prejudice, irrational fear, or worries about losing elections to far-right ideologues are too often the same people who loudly proclaim their religious convictions as guiding their political decisions in violation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. Politicians who are professing Christians need to consider what their faith has to say about immigration if they want to be considered authentic. If they oppose reform and refuse to offer compassion to our immigrant brothers and sisters, they should justify their positions on moral grounds (if they can). We join with other faith communities in asking for a moral and religious conversation about immigration reform – not just a political one. God’s passionate, abiding concern for immigrants and foreigners, strangers and travelers – and for our neighbors – is obvious to anyone reading through Scripture.

 

It is the biblical call to “welcome the stranger” and Jesus’ concern for “the least of these” that inspires and motivates us. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself … ” (Leviticus 19:33-34). The biblical word “ger” for the foreigners in our midst occurs an astounding 92 times in the Hebrew scriptures, with the consistent instruction to protect them. In the New Testament, the stranger, and all who are vulnerable, are at the very heart of the Gospel (Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10, verses 25-37) is just one example of many). In the book of Matthew, Jesus offers a vision in which caring for foreigners is the defining mark of God’s kingdom: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36). Now let me ask you all – when’s the last time you did that for somebody? When’s the last time you did any of the above for a stranger?

 

That evangelical as well as mainstream Christians would finally act to reform the immigration system should surprise no one who has a conscience, not just for theological reasons, but also for moral reasons. Undocumented immigrants have joined our congregations; we understand the problem firsthand. They are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. And we know that by reforming our immigration laws, we can create a system that also reflects the best values of our nation and the highest ideals of our faith. We act because, as the book of James reminds us, “faith without works is dead.”

 

For me, I think the biggest change hasn’t been in the pulpit, it’s been in the pews and out in the streets. It’s one thing when 11 million people are a statistic. But it’s an entirely different matter when one of those 11 million is your friend, a human being who you now know as a neighbor, or as a co-worker or a worshiper. Our faith has always been about compassion and it compels us to do something. If we take the principle of compassion out of the Bible, it wouldn’t be the Bible any more. Compassion is indeed all over the Bible. I pray it will also be found in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and in the workplace and our neighborhoods and subdivisions. It’s time for Christians in and out of Congress to stand up in support of immigration reform, and for the Dreamers, or to explain why they won’t — as Christians. If they follow their faith, we will see the miracle we need. And let’s remember that there is no such thing as an illegal human being.

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