by Ed Harrell
Columnist Victor Riesel first noted the efforts of the United Auto Workers Union to organize American religious denominations over two years ago. In a recent column he revealed that the union had won certification among the staff employees of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Riesel predicts that the union will now “seek members in all headquarters of all religions and such employees are in the thousands. I have nothing against unions and am openly in favor of religion, but this whole affair, apparently not a hoax, struck me successively as ridiculous, unchristian, and hopeful.
l confess that my first reaction was to let my mind wander irreverently over the possible scenarios posed by unionized religion, A union preacher might refuse to baptize more than three people a week, two in weeks that included funerals, and only one in weeks with weddings unless the groom (or in the cast of feminists, the bride) agreed to take him along on the honeymoon. House calls would be remunerated on a sliding scale ranging from $50 per hour for cantankerous old men to complimentary visits to young widows. One assumes that sermons would be purchased by the minute which would further increase the demand for short-winded preachers.
What struck me as unchristian about the story was the idea that any Christian would tie his labor in the Lord to his wages. The motive of those who preached in New Testament days was not good wages and decent working conditions (since they frequently worked with neither); nor was their service to God tied in any way to how others treated them. The apostle Paul’s motivation was, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Just as basic is my inability to put the concept of “church headquarters” in a Biblical framework. I know the Bible talks about the church having a ”head,” that is, Jesus Christ. His “quarters” are in heaven. Otherwise, all l can read about in the New Testament are local churches with their own officers and duties. I’m not so much opposed to organizing unions in church headquarters as l am to organizing church headquarters to start with.
But, the more l pondered this subject the more favorably inclined l became to the whole idea of unionizing church headquarters. l hope the Auto Workers succeed. Sooner or later there are bound to be management-labor problems. There is no way that average penny-pinching, pleasure- loving, money-mad church members will ever support their preachers at a level which will allow them to participate in the sins of their hell-bound customers. When this injustice becomes apparent to all, someone in church headquarters is going to get mad-l mean really mad. Church-headquarters union-big-wigs will pitch a fit, order the whole bunch to throw down their catechisms, dynamite the steeples, and close down the man-made religion business.
Round ’em up, Auto Workers. Of course, it probably won’t work. If we managed to close down all of these man-made American church headquarters, it would probably only open the way for a flood of cheap import Japanese churches.
Maybe it would be better to try to Christianize union organizers instead of unionizing church organizations.
CHRISTIANITY MAGAZINE JANUARY, 1984