Volume 29, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2009
C. Melissa Snarr
Waging Religious Ethics
Living Wages and Framing Public Religious Ethics
IN THE PAST DECADE, RELIGIOUS ACTIVISTS HELPED PASS LIVING WAGE legislation in 177 municipalities across the United States. Drawing on concepts from social movement theory, this essay analyzes the framing success of these religious actors, particularly their mediation of theological inheritances, language, and rituals for broader political audiences. Much of the success of religious actors comes from their universalizing of ethical tropes such as "worker dignity" that resonate with dominant United States' culture while simultaneously not disrupting neoclassical economic ideals (such as independence from the welfare state). This approach entails significant ideological risks, for example, promoting independence from government as an ultimate value, but this framing strategy does introduce, at minimum, an effective triage mechanism in the U.S. capitalist economy and, optimally, a pathway for citizen economic education that funds future transformative politics. The essay concludes with suggestions for future framing for the movement.