Sweatshops, Justice, and the Way of Jesus

On November 12th, Bridgetown Church hosted the lecture, Sweatshops, Justice, and the Way of Jesus, given by Dr. Gerry Breshears and Josh Porter. The lecture is now available via the Bridgetown podcast.

Today is a mere two weeks before the appropriately named “Black Friday.” Long before the Friday in question actually begins in the literal sense, consumers will have pitched tents outside of major retailers, enduring the rain and cold for days in the romantic hope of saving a few bucks on an Xbox. The sacrifice… The endurance… Chasing after that impossible dream. Black Friday is like the Olympics in that way.

These retailers will open their doors and institute elaborate systems—tickets, subcategorized lines, rain checks—to keep people from dying. Because the rabid fervor birthed from Black Friday anticipation actually leads to stampedes. Honest-to-God stampedes. Innocent shoppers being trampled to death. Shootings. People die on black Friday.

‘Tis the shopping season.

But not all of us bring guns to Best Buy or are even remotely willing to walk over another human being in order to get our hands on a television. Even so, chances are, most of us will shop in the coming months. Most of us will shop more than usual.

And if we manage to avoid the retail hamster wheel of the holiday season, we will, at some point, buy something. Food, entertainment… clothes. And as most of us—dare I say, all of us—do indeed shop, very few of us are privy to a glance behind the curtain in front of which these products sit.

Where did it come from? How did it get here? What does my purchase support?

But it isn’t with complete ignorance that we forego a peek behind the curtain. We’ve heard about injustice in the labor industry: stories about sweatshops in which children are forced to work grueling hours in deplorable conditions under the awful mastery of slave drivers. Factories that collapse and kill hundreds. Women that are trafficked into slavery in front of a sewing machine.

But we’ve heard other things as well. “This company is bad, that company is good.” “It’s not as bad as it sounds.” “It’s better than no job at all.” “The industry is inherently flawed. No one can shop without some blood on their hands.”

And how much can we actually know? Do we even have reasonable access to a glance behind the curtain, or is it all hearsay? And if we do acquire any real data, then what? Can or should that information actually affect or change where and how we shop?

For those of us that are disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, the fundamental precept of our apprenticeship to Jesus is that we live out the way of Jesus. That we learn his teachings, that we make the way he thinks and sees the way that we think and see. That we become like Jesus. That we carry on his work in the world.

And this is the presupposition out of which we’re working in this discussion. If our lives are indeed surrendered in their entirety to Jesus of Nazareth, this includes our choices as consumers. The church has been making better strides to speak out against the horrific plague of materialism here in America as it pertains to the way we handle our money, greed, excess, injustice. We’ve got a long, long way to go, but we’ve begun the conversation.

A conversation we’ve yet to really broach is what goes on behind our purchases in terms of where it came from and how, and how we, as followers of Jesus, do or do not adjust the way we shop in light of this information.

With this in mind, Dr. Gerry Breshears and I set out to discuss a biblical paradigm for labor ethics, and how we might apply these principles to the way we shop today.

Listen to Lecture

Author: Tyler Hanns

Creative & Communications Director