There are more than 2,000 verses in the Holy Bible about the poor. From the Psalms and Proverbs to the words of Jesus himself, the scriptures make clear that God has a heart for the impoverished among us. Why, then, does a society that professes to be founded on Christian principles not show that heart for the poor through policy choices?
Too many hard-working Americans have to work second (and sometimes even third) jobs to put food on their family’s table. These people, our neighbors — the same essential workers who are keeping our economy from sinking into complete collapse during COVID-19 — deserve our support. That’s why I’m asking my parishioners to vote “yes” on Amendment 2, which would raise the minimum wage in Florida to $15.
Some 200,000 Floridians, a disproportionate number of whom are women or people of color, work minimum wage jobs. That’s 200,000 people who each live on less than $1,400 per month, in a state where the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is more than $1,000 per month. How can we, as Christians, abide this? How can we ask parents to choose between spending time with their children and taking a second job to meet their basic needs? How is this letting “justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream?”
If you aren’t swayed by the “what would Jesus do?” of it all, then you’ll be happy to know that there are solid economic arguments for raising the minimum wage. Besides providing a living wage for Florida’s families, raising salaries is a proven way to provide a capital injection into Florida’s economy — when more people have more money, they spend it in more places, stimulating local businesses and providing a buffer for job growth.
There are now, and have always been, opponents to any sort of minimum wage increase. In fact, when the minimum wage was first introduced, fearmongers claimed that the very concept was a threat to our economy and democracy, and that jobs would disappear. It didn’t happen. Those same opponents claim that sudden increases will leave businesses in the lurch. Amendment 2 is worded very carefully to provide a gradual increase in the minimum wage over five years, starting at $10 per hour in 2021 and then increasing by $1 per year until 2026. Businesses will have plenty of time to adjust.
Even with facts as compelling as those, as a pastor, I always have to return to the teachings of Jesus. Giving everyone, even the least of these, a chance to take care of themselves and their families is a Christian value. It should be an American value.
It’s really a question of basic human dignity. People who work hard and do the right things should not be stuck in the impossible quicksand of poverty, a condition that strips people of their self-worth and creates a situation no child should ever have to live in.
Imagine a Florida where working a full-time job earns you a living wage. Imagine the children who will get to spend more time being loved by and learning from their parents. Imagine parents who can choose to go back to school and better themselves. Imagine families with enough wiggle room to contribute to the local economy. Most of all, imagine a Florida where the “least of these” know that their neighbors value them and their contributions to society.
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Proverbs 28:27 says “Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse.” Don’t turn a blind eye to God’s people. This election season, giving to the poor is as simple as voting “yes” on Amendment 2.
The Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer is the executive director of the Florida Council of Churches. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.