Inner City Diary
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Why I can't serve God and the union bosses
November 14, 2004
Last week several of my parishioners jokingly asked if I would be joining "the union."

I was shocked when I opened the paper last week and noticed the smiling clergy willing to resign their concerns to the collective care of Buzz Hargrove and the Canadian Auto Workers.

I understand that some parishioners were suitably unimpressed. They understood what this move was saying about their churches. Others wondered, "If there's a strike or a collective agreement to be negotiated, is it with the church or with the denomination?"  

And let's be real honest. I bet some church members, unionized in their own workplaces, also wondered how this would impact the financial viability of their congregations or stifle the practical creativity of their ministries.

Understand my perspective. As a Baptist minister, I minister in an environment of congregational, not denominational, government.

I'm essentially offering my services to a church which has the right to fire me on any given Sunday.

All it would take is a vote of our local church members and I'd be out looking for work elsewhere.

Free to 'shake the dust'

On the other hand, it's possible that I may one day feel that my church was treating me unfairly or, worse, despising the Word as I feel led to share it.

In that case I would be free as Christ advised his followers to "shake the dust" from my feet and move elsewhere.

This, to me, is the way it should be.

I can't imagine signing my ministry of spiritual care over to Buzz Hargrove or the Canadian Auto Workers.

Not that he's a bad guy or doesn't deserve all that money he collects. It's just that I feel I'd be paying someone else to do the things I should be doing myself.

I can't imagine being told that enough people voted to strike and I should join a picket line outside my church.

I can't imagine preventing people from attending worship.

Worse yet, preventing another minister from crossing the picket line to deliver the word of God to a church.

Would I be forced to call him a "scab?"

I can't quite imagine a union crew drafting rules regarding what I'm allowed to do in the course of following God's call to my congregation and the world around me.

I can't quite imagine the prophets of old unionizing under the banner of the United Chariot Workers.

Heck, I can't even imagine working at Deer Lodge Centre and feeling that my right to more money gives me the right to deprive the needy of care or basic cleanliness.

Actually, this flap about unionizing clergy has resurfaced some of my ongoing questions about unions.

There was a time when unions provided an essential service.

It was a time and place when the needs of workers were trampled, the workplace was abysmal, and respect for employees was on par with that granted slaves.

Unions took the lead in negotiating respectful hours, decent wages and caring benefits for employees.

I'm all for a good, safe, and fair work situation -- for both workers and management.

Too often, however, the modern practice of unions is more about advancing greed than protecting needs.

There's no end to their reasons to strike. No matter what concessions are granted in one collective agreement, union reps spy out some other unionized workplace which has squeezed more money and benefits out of their employer.

Then, regardless of the differences in their situation or the ability of their company to sustain their demands, they demand more in their next collective agreement. Unionized workplaces leapfrog each other in ever-escalating demands with other unionized workplaces.

The creed of unions legislates a presumed "right" to materialism and formalizes a supposed need to "keep up with the Joneses." It enshrines the right to profit which is not tied to production.

Many poor and willing people in my neighbourhood would love a job that pays a fraction of what these folks make. Great employers have fled our province or been bankrupted by this unionized obsession with greed.

Too often, the modern union has also proven to be more about protecting sloth than preventing slavery of workers. They protect some workers' "right" not to be productive, not to be creative in pursuit of new efficiencies, not to partner with non-union folk.

I can't tell you how often someone has suggested a creative solution to a community problem and had to withdraw the offer because their "union wouldn't allow it."

I've seen guys who would and should get fired for their bad attitude and lack of productivity. But they revel in the protection of their union, regardless of the stress their sloth causes fellow workers and their employer.

I've heard the boasts of some that the epitome of a successful union is negotiating an agreement that will even pay you for not working.

Some of my unionized friends will take me to task for picking on unions. And I'm sure there's stuff I've missed.

But in their hearts -- and in their workplace -- they see the ways their own unions protect sloth, advance greed and stifle creativity.

And if they're honest, they'll admit they won't confront the status quo because of the way they profit from it. In the process they sacrifice truth at the altar of profit.

That brings me back to the church and the notion of unionizing clergy.

Human frailty

I need to acknowledge that some ministers and some churches have it rough. The fact that we meet to address spiritual matters does not negate the human frailty and faults of the folks involved.

Despite the fact that we're created in the image of God, clergy and congregations can act quite ungodly in their ministry with each other.

But the test of a church is not whether hypocrisy exists. There is no realm free of hypocrites. The test is rather how we deal with our individual and collective hypocrisies.

And that's precisely why I can't quite imagine consigning my spiritual calling to an institutionalized union movement.

They refuse to acknowledge and address their own hypocrisies
Copyright 2004
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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