As I’ve been reading the first third of the Book of Mormon, I’ve been thinking about the “laborer in Zion.”
Here are a few scriptural passages that are on my mind:
And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes … and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor…. If they should have charity, they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish. But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish (2 Nephi 26:20, 30-31).
And what thank they [the Gentiles] for the Bible which they receive from them? … Do they remember the the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles? (2 Nephi 29:4)
The Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few. And the Lord of the vineyard said unto them: Go to, and labor in the vineyard, with might. For behold this is the last time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand, and the season speedily cometh; and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself against the time which will soon come. And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them. (Jacob 5:70-72)
“There was a strict command throughout all the churches that there should be no persecutions among them, that there should be equality among all men; … that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.” (Mosiah 27:3-4)
If I interpret the scriptures correctly, they call for (at least ideally) an equality of consecrated laborers, an equality which unfortunately is currently exemplified only in the temple (as far as I know). This would mean, I take it, that the bricklayer is as esteemed as the scientist, the full-time mother as valued as the engineer.
In Zion, laborers would not be alienated from their work, nor from each other. Rather, all labor would be consecrated for Zion, and all laborers would be intricately connected with each other’s work. The businessman would converse with the stonemason on an economic strategy, while rolling up his sleeves to assist with the cuts of today’s stones. No hand would be uncalloused and no mind would be unrefined.
There would be no more blue collars and white collars. Only “willing men [and women] who wear the worker’s seal” (hymn 252). No more bosses. Simply servants. No occupation would be denigrated or ignoble. Rather, all laborers would be worthy of their hire.
Of course, such a condition will only come about — in time — through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Certainly government programs will not be sufficient. The love of God must “dwell in the hearts of the people” (4 Nephi 1:15).
However, this does not mean that we should not strive, as dual citizens of the kingdom of God and the nations of this world, to labor — right here and now — with all our heart, might, mind, and strength to strive closer to equalized labor in our nations and communities. In doing so, let us not forget this declaration of Latter-day Saint belief:
We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. (D&C 134:1)
In considering the causes we stand for and the government officials we elect, I hope we consider the future dignity of the laborer as one of our most important “issues” (just my opinion). We are living in a world in which the wealth of the world is held in a few hands, and which it is harder and harder for many to make ends meet. Fathers and mothers are working harder than ever to put food on the table, pay the rent, and have adequate health care benefits.
Some will justify this inequality by assuming that such wealth will “trickle down” to the masses. But it doesn’t take an economist to see this philosophy as a king-pauper state in new clothes. Such a position is all the more striking when we consider the way that many U.S. corporations grind upon the face of the poor in third-world countries (but that is another story — I’ll stick to the U.S. in this post). (Note: I do not intend to knock on free trade, merely today’s amoral, unrestrained, and empirialist free trade.)
I realize that we vote for presidents, not their spouses, but I just have to share that I was very impressed with a recent speech by Michelle Obama, which reminded me of some of the themes I have discussed above. (Yes, in the interest of honest disclosure, I am rooting for Obama right now.)
Here is an excerpt of Michelle’s speech, given at a campaign stop (not sure where) on April 15 — video is available here from CNN.
We are struggling like we’ve never struggled before in my lifetime… When I look at the life that I had growing up — things have gotten harder… I think about life from the lens of how I grew up. There’s a lot of people talking about elitism and all of that. But let me tell you who me and Barack are so that you are not confused…. I am the product of a working-class upbringing. I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a working class community. My father was a city worker, a stationary fireman — operated a pump for the water filtration plant — his entire life. That’s what he did. My mother stayed at home — because, see, way back then you could. You could raise a family of four on a single city-worker’s salary, way back then. I don’t know if you can do that now….
But, see, what my father knew is that the fact that he got up everyday and sacrificed allowed me and my brother to reach for dreams that he had to put aside for himself. Imagine a man like my father, a woman like my mother — neither of them went to college — being able to send not one, but two of us, to Princeton. But the beauty of my upbringing and why I share it everywhere I go — because first of all I’m proud of it — but second of all, one thing that is clear to me as I travel around the country is that most Americans are just like my parents: they don’t want much. People aren’t asking for much. They just want to know if they get up and go to work every day, like they are willing to do, that they’ll earn enough to take care of their families. You know, my father didn’t mind having a high bar. He just wanted the bar to be still. He just wanted it to be fair. He wanted to know that if he got sick he wouldn’t go bankrupt. He wanted to know that he could send his kids to some decent schools in the neighborhood and they’d get an education, maybe aspire to go to college, but at least get a good job and be able to take care of themselves….
That’s all my father wanted. That’s all that most Americans want. But we’re not there. And if I’m telling you something you don’t know, let me know. Maybe things are better, and I’m just missing the boat. Maybe I’m out of touch. But here’s what I see … I am seeing life getting harder and harder for regular folks. Those jobs that my father had — those solid blue-collar jobs are dwindling all over this country. Jobs moving overseas, plants closing … and if you’re lucky enough to have a job, nine times out of ten your salary’s not keeping up with the cost of living, so everybody’s gotta work.
Now, I know, of course, that the vision of Michelle Obama here is not (necessarily) Zion. However, she describes the plight of the laborer in America rather well. Moreover, her description of her father and mother is very similar to my own — a blue-collar worker and (nearly) full-time mother, without college educations, who struggled to make ends meet in order to make things better for their six children, all of which have graduated from universities (or will in the next year), and several of which have received, or will receive, advanced degrees. And I know I am not alone. But I pray that I never forget the labored sacrifice of my parents and ancestors — that I never forget the backs that my blessings have been carried on (speaking of this, please check out Candice’s post on Mayan weaving and remembering suffering through narratives). And that I strive to labor — with my hands and my heart — for the next generation. But I worry for today’s laborers and parents. I worry that their respect has dwindled (along with their benefits), and that their work is alienated from the community. I worry that they can no longer have a stay-at-home parent. I worry that their jobs are not at all secure. And, most of all, I worry that those who are comfortable don’t care. Talk about alienation.
But I am optimistic. And my optimism is rooted in the bright morning of the restored gospel, which offers the restoration of the dignity of the laborer. The restoration of a community of laborers, all of which are equal in the sight of the Lord — and, hopefully, in the sight of man as well.
Filed under: Politics, Scripture | Tagged: blue-collar workers, Book of Mormon, consecration, economics, families, Gospel of Jesus Christ, government, laborer in Zion, Michelle Obama, Mormons, Obama, Politics, sacrifice, scriptures, work |