NOTE: This is the statement delivered by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, on the front steps of the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C.
If you don’t work, you can’t eat. Those words are contained in the Pauline corpus, a tune sung by Bobby Byrd and a statement I heard growing up within my community. In my childhood it was offered as a way of incentivizing us to prepare ourselves well, develop a strong work ethic, seek gainful employment and be responsible for our well being and the well being of our families. While it is a simplistic statement, subject to disclaimers and limitations, it does underscore a core principle of our society - hard work should equal the ability to maintain one’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
However, that principle has been jeopardized for countless individuals in our society due to no fault of their own. They are gainfully employed and work hard every day to meet the demands of their employers. And yet, they have been cast to the sidelines as they find themselves in the middle of failed political negotiations and partisan strategizing.
As our partial-governmental shutdown reached its 26th day, the longest in history, we continue to hear stories of individuals facing the threat of eviction, having to choose between medicine and food, falling behind in car payments, student loan payments and the like. And, even though landlords and other creditors are slowly assuring those affected that they will be given latitude to meet their obligations, the gainfully employed should not have to suffer such insecure circumstances. There is an inherent dignity to be found in work. That dignity is being denied to hundreds of thousands of persons as this impasse continues.
And, as is always the case, the most marginalized are the most deeply impacted. Those who receive assistance, those who live in government subsidized housing, those living in tribal communities and who receive their health care in those communities. These individuals and their families are suffering under the weight of failing to receive the resources or services they rely upon. Again, their dignity is being sacrificed and that is unacceptable.
Even as Pres. Trump has signed a bill guaranteeing backpay to some, those who are contract employees have absolutely no guarantee of backpay or even returning to their jobs at all.
These are real consequences for real individuals and families.
And, the circumstances that caused this quagmire cannot and should not be ignored. As a bishop of the United Methodist Church, and a member of the Council of Bishop’s Immigration Task-Force I share our perspective of the issue of migration and immigration. From our Social Principles I offer the following:
Human migration is as old as human history. Individuals, families, tribes and nations have been on the move since the days of Abraham, Sarah and even before. Today, global migration as a factor - in the quest for justice - is a major priority of The United Methodist Church. This concern in rooted in both a biblical mandate for justice and a commitment to the future of the church. In the Book of Law, and to an even greater extent in the prophetic scriptures, concern for the stranger focuses on justice and the sharing of resources that flow from the bounty of God.
As a United Methodist Bishop there is no “us” and “them,” there is only one common humanity, created of God and beloved of God.
Therefore, I call upon Pres. Donald Trump, Speaker Pelosi, and Senator McConnell to re-enter negotiations, reopen our federal government, reinstate the furloughed employees and allow them to resume the dignity of work, and the means to care for themselves and their families.