Three years ago, I purchased a short book titled The Moral Underground in which the author, Professor Lisa Dodson, paints a rather depressing picture of the way some corporations treat their low-income workers. Her conclusion is that “helping the less fortunate in this context becomes a form of civil and corporate disobedience.”
Time magazine listed three of Dodson’s examples of civil disobedience: (1) a supervisor alters time cards so that employees can take better care of their families; (2) a school nurse keeps cots in her office so those with difficult home environments can get a few hours of needed rest; and (3) a doctor thumbs his nose at insurance regulations in order to provide medicine for an entire household.
This type of “guerilla” assistance is also mentioned in the biography Mountains Beyond Mountains. In it, Dr. Paul Farmer occasionally appropriates the medical supplies and equipment–from various Boston area institutions–he needs for his foreign humanitarian missions. As an example, “The first microscope in Cange (Haiti) was a real one, which he stole from Harvard Medical School. ‘Redistributive justice,’ he would later say.”
An even more aggressive position is taken by Rev. Tim Jomes, an Anglican priest. He advised members of his congregation to shoplift if they hit hard financial times. According to Rev. Jones, society’s actions toward those in real need leave few viable options. His superior strongly disagreed, say the “Church of England does not advise anyone to shoplift.”
SLC pastor Corey J. Hodges, who opposes situational ethics agrees with Jones’ superior:
When people try to quantify sin, the result is a subjective criterion. Usually the sins that one struggles with are justified while all others are condemned. . . . Instead of condoning theft, Jones should encourage his parishioners to give to the poor.
As an individual on a fixed income, I have limited economic resources for helping end poverty. And many parts of the current economic environment are skewed toward the rich. So how can I, as an individual, help level the playing field? How can I improve the safety net, given the current economic and political situation? I think most would agree that Jones’ approach is not an inspired one.
Hodges, however, implies a black-and-white situation, and ignores large gray areas that can and should be exploited.
For example, some consider the organization that I work for has been skewed toward helping larger resource users (those with political clout). By overtly, and sometimes subtly, encouraging our employers to look at the situations of those in real need, we can do more good than as individual donors.
What if a church requires a tithe for full-service membership? And what if individuals don’t like the way the money is spent? Are we obligated to pay the tithe, or are we morally obligated to use some of our “tithing” money to more directly help the poor (without going through the church)?
I encourage each individual to look to his or her conscience to determine what level and nature of support he or she can provide. We must all look at our jobs, religions, clubs, and families to see how we can push the boundaries to those in need.