Fulwider 4-24-2012

My Word: Sharing burden is just good religion

Fulwider, Bryan(Orlando Sentinel, April 24, 2012)

By Bryan Fulwider

When I read that some Seminole County School Board members accepted pay raises for themselves while denying pay raises to the county’s teachers, I understood why the teachers organized a protest.

Granted, giving an annual pay raise of $1,647 each to a handful of board members is scarcely a drop in the bucket compared to the $9 million it would cost to give the teachers the 3 percent increase they’re requesting. But, morally and symbolically, the $1,647 is huge. It brings to mind an aphorism I learned in childhood: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

I understand the need for belt-tightening during an economic downturn. My staff and I have been there and done that. But we’ve borne the pain together. We don’t have a favored few who, by virtue of their rank, are shielded from the economy’s vicissitudes while others must bear the full brunt.

Which brings me to my reason for writing: Too often today’s owners and managers, in looking out for their own interests, lose sight of their moral and social responsibilities to their workers. And this problem is nothing new. It already existed millennia ago when the various holy writings of the world’s great religions were penned.

“Look!” says the Christian Bible writer James. “The wages you failed to pay the workmen … are crying out against you. The cries … have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived in luxury and self-indugence …”

A few centuries earlier, Moses told the Hebrews not to forget the responsibility that comes with being an employer: “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien. … Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is … counting on it.”

The Quran declares that fair treatment of others is the true test of religion: “None of you has faith unless you love for your brother what you love for yourself.” Sikhism has at its very core the fair treatment of everyone. And I could cite many more such examples.

School-board members and public-school teachers are your employees and mine because we pay their wages through our taxes. I want all my employees treated fairly. When the economy is robust, I want all to benefit. When the economy falters, I want all to share the burden.

In short, what we need is simply sound management and good religion.

The Rev. Bryan Fulwider is senior minister of First Congregational Church of Winter Park and president of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.