Sabbath observance as a class privilege

I attend church almost every Sunday morning.  Not everybody is able to do this.

Nowadays many people are forced to work on Sunday mornings or work on flextime schedules so that they don’t know whether their Sunday mornings will be free or not.   And even more are unable to have an old-fashioned Sunday dinner with family or spend Sundays visiting relatives and family friends.

Closed-on-SundayI hadn’t given much thought to this until it was pointed out this Sunday morning by Peter House, who serves as summer minister at First Universalist Church of Rochester NY.

Peter grew up in one of those families of whom members say later, “We were poor, but we were happy, because we didn’t know we were poor.”  His mother was a poor widow who supported the family by working in a retail store.

When he was a boy, Sundays were spent going to church, visiting relatives, paying respects at the cemetery to deceased loved ones, and eating family meals.

This started to erode when he was in his early teens, with the repeal of the Sunday blue laws and the coming of big box retail stores.   Churches adapted by holding multiple Sunday services and even Saturday evening services, but it was no long possible for his family to count on all being together at the same time on Sunday.  His mother was sometimes free on Sunday mornings, but no longer could be sure of knowing when.

Traditional holidays are being broken down as well.  Black Friday means that store employees have to cut short their Thanksgiving in order to be read to open at 5 a.m. or even midnight.  Now Walmart opens all day on Thanksgiving.

Peter’s weekday job is teacher of special needs children.  As part of an effort to teach social skills to children, he once talked to six of his students about Thanksgiving.  Five of the six had mothers who had to work on Thanksgiving Day.   Some of them didn’t know what a traditional Thanksgiving meal consisted of.  One thought Thanksgiving dinner was hot dogs cut up into macaroni and cheese.

The teachers’ aides at his school, many of them women of color, have to moonlight at other jobs, often big-box retailers.   Many miss not being able to cook holiday meals for their families.  But the reality of employment in 21st century America is that they can’t.

Now it’s true that it is necessary that some kinds of workers—police, firefighters, hospital staff, electric power and telephone workers—be on duty 24 hours a day and seven days a week.  And even when Peter was a boy, there were some mom-and-pop stores that were open briefly on Sunday afternoons for people who had to make an emergency purpose.

And it also is true that there are religions such as Orthodox Judaism or Seventh Day Adventism whose Sabbath comes on a day other than Sunday, and are put at a disadvantage by Sunday closing laws.

And it also is true that most couples both work for pay, and don’t find it feasible to confine their shopping to mornings and evenings on weekdays.

And I admit it is true that I find it very convenient that all my favorite stores and restaurants are open on Sundays, and I found it even more convenient before I retired.

But should people be expected to sacrifice their family life and their religious practices for my convenience?  Just because they have less money than I do?

As Peter pointed out, most American business activity that is carried on Sundays and holidays could just as well be carried on during the regular week or on Saturday.

The neo-liberal ideology holds that whatever comes out of the workings of the free market is justified.  I think the free market is like a powerful and useful computer algorithm that needs to be monitored.

I am a moderate but not extreme supporter of the principle of separation of church and state.  I’m glad I don’t live in a country such as Iran where religious leaders are part of the governmental structure.

But to set aside a pay for prayer, reflection and family activities is an important humane value.  People should be free to observe a Sabbath if they choose.   They don’t have that choice if money values override all other values, including humane religious values.


How on-call and irregular scheduling harm the American workforce by Lonnie Golden for The Conversation.  [Added 9/7/2015]

Tags: , , , , ,

One Response to “Sabbath observance as a class privilege”

  1. Holden Says:

    I think this is just a natural erosion of our society, magnified by the internet age and a world where you can get almost anything you like instantly with little effort.

    Brick and Mortar stores rush to catch up by adding more convenience of their own (especially in the cases of retail). Eventually it becomes the norm and trickles on to other businesses.

    If Walmart is open all day on Thanksgiving… then why not the restaurant across the street, or other related businesses?

    I think its sad, especially for the poor kids who think ” Thanksgiving dinner was hot dogs cut up into macaroni and cheese.” That’s a depression era meal if I ever heard of one.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: