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Lawrence R. Wohlrabe, Published March 15 2014

Letter: A ‘living wage’ as table talk for the season

During these 40 days before Easter, many of us will gather at tables for shared meals – in homes, churches, communities. People of my faith tradition often begin such meals by praying: “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.”

Those words trip off our tongues so easily we often forget what we’re saying. Maybe that’s why some of us add a “second verse” to this venerable table prayer: “Blessed be God who is our bread; may all the world be clothed and fed.”

Sitting at table – for most of us, a table overflowing with food – it’s appropriate to pause and imagine other folks at other tables. What, for example, does the table of a “working poor” family look like? Why do 20 percent of Minnesotans work at jobs that pay less than $9.50 per hour? What might the rest of us do to help?

Minimum wage (or better yet, “living wage”) legislation is often written off as a political hot-button issue. I hope that Minnesotans – most of us belonging to faith communities that value care for the poor – will not allow this important moral issue to be reduced to “mere politics.”

What if we brought the issue of a living wage to our gatherings during this Lenten season? What if we pondered together the deep connections between poverty and health (as outlined in a recently released white paper from the Minnesota Department of Health)? What if we dreamed about how reliable and stable wages might help all families not just to survive but to thrive? What if we took time to learn about and discuss the “living wage” bill that’s before the Legislature?

What if such table talk even moved us to share our faith-based convictions with our representatives and senators in St. Paul? If we take that step, we’ll learn that both chambers of the Legislature support a raise in the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour – a significant step toward a “living wage.” We’ll also be able to explore a key issue hanging in the balance right now: whether this wage will be inflation-adjusted in the future so it does not lose value for wage-earners and those who depend upon them.

My church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, urges its members to “… pray, work and advocate that all might have a sufficient, sustainable livelihood.” For us an issue like “living wage” legislation is about more than politics as usual. It’s about the full, free, abundant life that our creator intends for all persons made in God’s image.

The Rev. Wohlrabe, Moorhead, is bishop of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.