Saturday, April 22, 2006

up/rooted discusses Wal-Mart


I apologize for not getting a summary of our last up/rooted gathering out sooner. We last met on the Monday before Easter, but since then I've been crazy busy with preparations for our church plant's big Easter kick-off.

We met on the tenth at Kristine Socall's home to view and discuss the documentary, Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Price. It was a disturbing look into the many unethical business practices of the world's second largest corporation (after Exxon). Of course they began by talking about the damage that Wal-Mart does to local businesses in small communities (an effect that I myself have personally experienced in several of the small rural communities I've lived in around the state of Michigan). They also mentioned the absurdly low wages and lack of decent benefits that Wal-Mart associates labor under. Apparently full-time Wal-Mart employees make so little that they still qualify for welfare, food stamps and government healthcare... and Wal-Mart's official benefits policy actually encourages their employees to apply for government assistance! But when Wal-Mart employees try to unionize to demand a living wage, the corporation goes into high-alert and utilizes rather extreme tactics to squash any unionizing attempts. The film also discussed the sweatshop conditions in China that Wal-Mart products are produced in, and the ecological damage that Wal-Mart stores often cause to their local environments.

For a short, and very humorous online cartoon that raises many of the same issues check out the "I've Got Friends With Low Wages" music video at

In short, the film raised a whole host of issues that make it clear that shopping (or not-shopping) at Wal-Mart is a practice directly related to how we live as followers of Christ that desire to stand against injustice in this world.

Of course, we didn't find any easy answers to how we should respond to these glaring issues. We talked about practical things like supporting local businesses, applying consumer pressure on Wal-Mart and writing to store managers and CEO's with our concerns. We also talked about deeper issues of consumerism and greed, and how to escape the materialistic trap of modern society altogether through practices of simplicity. We wondered together what the alternative to a Wal-Mart style economy could possibly be, and how to get there, given that giant corporations aren't going to be going away anytime soon. We explored ideas about subverting the system from the inside, so to speak, by influencing actual Wal-Mart managers and executives to make more ethical decisions.

Some might question whether these kind of concerns are really "faith" issues. We talked together about how whenever problems like these are raised it is easy for people to label them with terms like "liberal" or "hippie" and thereby dismiss them as important issues. But when one reads a Bible that says things like ""This is the kind of fast day I'm after [says the LORD]: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts...get rid of unfair practices." (Isaiah 58:6) you begin to see that fair wages and just business practices are the kinds of things God is passionate about too. Many of us agreed that these were not just "activist" issues, these were gospel issues.

At any rate, this discussion wrapped up our series on social justice issues at up/rooted. In May we are going to turn our attention to questions of how we "do church". Specifically looking at alternative models of church, such as house churches, intentional communities, cell churches and comparing them to more traditional or even mega-church models. Come help us explore the question of what the right way to do church really is. ;)

We will be gathering at the Caribou Coffee shop in Glen Ellyn near the corner of Roosevelt Rd and Main St just one mile west of I-355 on Monday, May 8 from 7-9pm. Hope you can make it!


-Mike Clawson
up/rooted.west co-coordinator