Labor Day was established as an official U.S. holiday 123 years ago to recognize and celebrate workers on the first Monday of September.
This day, the U.S. Department of Labor explains, “is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers” and recognizes “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”
Like most holidays, the annual observance has become commercialized, with attention shifting from the original intent to myriad special deals and promotions by nearly every retail store.
Nevertheless, the occasion still offers ministers a ready-made opportunity to address a number of important matters in weekend sermons and Bible studies – from general reflections on labor and the importance of maintaining work-life balance, to combating the plague of modern-day slavery (labor and sex trafficking), addressing the existence of poverty and hunger even in high-income nations like the U.S., and raising awareness about worker exploitation in global factories producing the goods we use and consume daily.
To aid local churches and their leaders in preparing for this upcoming holiday, EthicsDaily.com is running a two-part series this week (beginning with my column today).
Tomorrow, Nell Green, who serves with her husband, Butch, as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Houston, will speak to the ongoing exploitation of workers, including that of children, in the form of labor trafficking.
In addition to this new content, I want to call attention to several relevant resources from the EthicsDaily.com archives that can help churches in planning services this holiday weekend:
Bill Tillman, director of theological education for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, offered a Christian perspective on work for Labor Day 2016.
A recent EthicsDaily.com news brief provided U.N. data on hunger and poverty, which revealed that 21 percent of children in 41 high-income nations currently live in poverty. The U.S. is one of five nations said to “have child poverty rates substantially above the rich-world average.”
Matt Sapp, pastor of Heritage Baptist Fellowship in Canton, Georgia, spoke to the need for Sabbath last spring, writing, “Most days many of us are convinced that the business will collapse, the family will disintegrate, the church will dissolve or the world will stop turning if we’re not there to constantly keep the plates spinning. … Rest shouldn’t be a four-letter word.”
An EthicsDaily.com news brief on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops letter for Labor Day 2016 includes links to 15 resources related to work, ethics in manufacturing and rest.
My column for Labor Day 2015 highlights texts for preaching and Bible study related to being a good employee, how employers should treat their workers, and the importance of rest / Sabbath.
A collection of prayers for workers written by Baptist social reformer Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) is the focus of a 2013 Labor Day column by Bill Pitts, professor of church history at Baylor University.
“Rauschenbusch called for an economic system built on justice, marked above all by fair treatment of those who labor for wages,” Pitts wrote. “His prayers speak to his aspirations for all laborers in the United States. They still resonate.”
I hope we’ll use this holiday weekend not only to rest from our labors, but also to pray, with Rauschenbush, to be united “not by the bond of money and of profit alone, but by the glow of neighborly good-will, by the thrill of common joys, and the pride of common possessions” and to “remember that [a city’s or nation’s] true wealth and greatness consist, not in the abundance of things we possess, but in the justice of her institutions and the brotherhood of her children.”
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series for Labor Day 2017. Part 2, “5 Ways to Reduce the Demand for Labor Trafficking” is available here.