Sears, Jesus, and Thanksgiving

Sears, for the first time in 124 years, will be open on Thanksgiving Day. It’s as though the corporate world read my last post on the dangers of industrial Capitalism and the slave-wage system and decided they really wanted to prove my point.

Thus, we see the problem with corporations. Some CEO or board is saying, “Hey, a good way to make money is to open on Thanksgiving day, that way there will be limited competition against us.” Never mind the fact that this robs employees of time with their families or just a day off to rest and give thanks. Rather, they are forced to work and if they don’t, they risk termination (no one truly volunteers to work on Thanksgiving, at least not enough to occupy an entire department store).

Now, we can sit here and justify such actions by arguing that employees will get paid extra, that it’s only half a day, and so on. But these are excuses for unethical practices. The fact is, what Sears is doing is highly unethical – it’s robbing employees of time with their family; it’s putting the bottom line ahead of the person.

For Christians – or even minimally theistic realists – such a business practice is abhorrent because it places a man-made, abstract construct (money) above the imago Dei (the image of God). For Christians the situation is compounded due to the Incarnation. Since Christ came in the flesh and shares in both our flesh and our overall essence, when we exploit one human we are, in many ways, exploiting Christ. In fact, that’s exactly what He said in Matthew 25:40, where He said whatever is done to the least of humans was done unto Him. While there are multiple levels to this interpretation, on the philosophical level He is referring to the shared experience of the human nature. While this is not a pantheistic experience (there is still an I), our nature as a whole rests upon everyone and not one individual. That is to say that if we degrade the nature of one person, we degrade the nature of everyone. If we exploit one person, we exploit everyone. The reasoning behind this is that since we are all common in our nature and ontologically equal in our nature, to exploit one person within that nature means that all of us are then open to exploitation. Likewise, we devalue the nature of humanity and therefore inherently devalue ourselves.

Most importantly, however, when we allow such worker exploitation to exist, we devalue Christ. We must never forget that Christ shares in our nature. Thus, when companies such as Sears put monetary value ahead of the individual or ahead of the person, as Christians we cannot support such acts. We cannot support the exploitation of workers, the robbing of their quality time with family, and the like. We cannot say, “Well, a business can do what it wants” because the Bible speaks to the opposite of that claim. While we might live in a Capitalist society that doesn’t justify us supporting Capitalist actions, even if the Government has taken a laissez faire approach to certain ethical business practices.

The Bible is very clear that masters have an ultimate Master that they are accountable to. While slaves must obey their masters, even when such commands are difficult, the masters will ultimately be held accountable. In our Capitalist society the employee is a type of slave; the company controls future employment (in the form of recommendations) and current wage. The employee doesn’t have economic freedom, rather her freedom is tied up by the corporation. In the case of Sears, the corporate slave-masters have decided to work their wage-slaves on Thanksgiving Day. What choice do the wage-slaves have? Can they quit? In this economy, before Christmas, how could they ever hope to find a job? Can they lodge a complaint? Considering no laws were broken, how could they? Can they complain to the higher-ups? Again, considering the high unemployment rate, workers are a dime a dozen, so any dissenters could easily be fired and replaced. For all intents and purposes, the corporation becomes the wage-slave master, and from a Biblical point of view such a master is held to ethical standards.

Thankfully, we do live in a free-market economy, meaning we can punish such slave laborers by refusing to purchase their product. I would encourage Christians to do the ethical thing and avoid places that made their workers work on Thanksgiving; don’t just avoid these stores on Thanksgiving Day, avoid them for the entire Christmas season and send in letters to these companies letting them know why you’re not spending your money with them. Such punishment does work and can change corporate practices. Since we cannot rely on our government to create ethical laws (since our government is in itself unethical) we must do so through our purchasing power. Encourage your friends not to shop at such stores.

Some might bring up arguments that by boycotting these stores we’re only hurting the employees, we’re going to cause them to be without work, and so on. Not to be over-dramatic, but we must remember that such claims were made to justify the slavery of the 18th and 19th centuries. We were told that if we boycotted the slave trade, the slaves would go unfed, unsheltered, and sold off to other countries while the owners remained rich. Of course, these proved to be fanciful arguments. Human dignity is a recalcitrant fact in modern businesses and we must support human dignity, regardless of the consequences. Even if boycotting a store may hurt some employees, the consequences should never dictate the right action. Rather, we should do the right thing and not support unethical business practices, regardless of the consequences.

Remember that these workers share in the flesh of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They should be treated with dignity and respect, not made to work and forgo time with their families.