The phrase “Right to Work” has received lots of press lately. And the Bible has something important to say about work. In fact, God’s view of work is related to His view of compassion.
In two recent posts we highlighted four of seven principles of compassion, or social justice, identified by Marvin Olasky in The Tragedy of American Compassion. The first post, There is No True Social Justice Without Personal Relationship explained Olasky’s principles of Affiliation and Bonding. The second, Social Justice Requires Both a Warm Heart and a Clear Head, dealt with Categorization and Discernment. This post is the third in the series.
The fifth principle is Employment. God is a creative God and we are made in His image. He has made us to work. In fact, to work brings dignity to the individual and abundance to society. We find in Genesis 2:15 these words: The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. God put man in the Garden to take care of it. This happened before the Fall, not after it. Work was important. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes wrote, So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him? (Ecclesiastes 3:22 NIV). In God’s economy, human work is our sacred calling. Employment matters. Nothing creates dependency faster than to deny a man his labor.
About ten years ago a man Ego Brown in Washington, D.C. created a shoe-shine business with class. He wore a tuxedo and a black felt hat and argyle socks. He created a business that employed 20 other street-people shining shoes in Washington, D.C. He made sure they had a shower and provided them with training and a shoeshine kit.
But the federal government stepped in. They said Ego Brown didn’t have a business license. They said, further, that shining shoes was demeaning. In their view, it was much better to take money from the State. You don’t have to demean yourself; the State will give you money! So they shut Ego Brown down.
Brown did not accept that premise. He went to court and, after fighting the system for four years he won, and relaunched his business.
In the years I served with Food for the Hungry, we started a micro-enterprise program to empower entrepreneurs who needed a little start-up capital. It was fun to look around FHI circles and see this kind of empowerment. With just a little capital, an individual with an idea could launch a business and employ others. I spent time with a woman in Mathare, Kenya, named Mary who worked as a rag picker. Surely picking rags is near the bottom of the world’s trades. Food for the Hungry gave her a loan, and Mary was able to hire another person to help her and double her storage space. She retired the loan in six months. Her income had more than doubled, and she was able to keep her daughter in college with the additional funds. This is a picture of the principle of Employment at its best.
Olasky’s sixth principle is Freedom. This concept relates to God’s purposeful intentions for people. God made humans for a purpose. But humans need opportunities that only exist in free societies, societies that protect individuals and communities from the intrusion of the State. Freedom empowers people to reach their God-given potential and avoid being enslaved by well-intentioned, smiling bureaucrats and charity workers. Even with good intentions we can end up enslaving people with programs.
Hernando Desoto wrote a very powerful book called The Other Path in which he critiques the non-formal economy in his country of Peru. He established the Institute for Liberty and Democracy and sent his workers out to find out what it would take to set up a two-sewing machine factory in Peru. He told them to do everything legally and not to pay any bribes.
Here’s what they found. To legally open a shop with two sewing machines required a financial outlay (in costs and fees) of $1,231 (the equivalent of 32 months of earnings at the minimum wage). The cost in time was 289 days at six hours a day. Over the course of 289 days, ten bribes were solicited. Clearly, the government was disempowering people.
Desoto said out of this experience,
I now know why some countries are poor and others are rich. We’re a world of 169 countries, and only about 25 of them have ‘made it’ economically. They were able to do so because they stripped governments of the power to deprive the humblest citizens of the fruits of their industry and creativity. The answer boils down to one word: Freedom.
Governments that foster an environment of freedom give the poor person with an idea the opportunity to work and employ others. Governments and institutions that disempower the poor were never His intention.
- Darrow Miller
 Olasky, p. 229.
 Eugene H. Methuin, “Crusader for Peru’s Have-Nots,” Reader’s Digest, January 1989, p. 139.