In the southeastern portion of San Diego, near where Broadway becomes 32nd Street, there's a square mile or so populated with close to a dozen churches-everything from organized religion to ecumenical start-ups. Sundays around 8:30 a.m., however, Christ the King Catholic church is by far the loudest. That's when the modest, mission-style church has its gospel mass and for an hour and a half holds sway as the most diverse, vibrant point in the city of San Diego.
A gospel mass would suggest a predominantly black congregation. At Christ the King, however, the robust choir is almost equally black, white, brown, young, old, male, female and so too is the congregation. What's more, listen closely to the readings and you'll notice the Bible's default masculine pronouns are interchanged with “she” and “her”-it's an enlightened church, no doubt.
That diversity was, this past Sunday, further enhanced by a rabbi in the pulpit. A female rabbi. A female rabbi who gave the homily (insert slight “Oh” of disbelief from anyone raised a strict Catholic).
In honor of the Monday holiday, the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice held its fourth annual Labor in the Pulpits drive through which local faith and labor leaders spread out to 40 or so different congregations for some timely discussion about social and economic justice in San Diego.
“Don't you think that's a brave church, having the rabbi talk during the homily?” Rabbi Laurie Coksey said of her scheduled talk at Christ the King. Although, added the rabbi, despite the one main difference of opinion (“whether Jesus is, or Jesus isn't” is how she puts it), “Jews and Catholics have a really profound understanding of ritual” that makes them, in some ways, very similar.
As for Christ the King, the congregation holds a special place with local social activists and labor organizers. “They're very involved in social justice issues,” explained Coksey, “they're an SDOP [San Diego Organizing Project] congregation. When a congregation is an SDOP-organized congregation, you know that from the inside they are really committed to social justice. And that's amazing.”
The theme of economic justice underscored Coksey's speech, and served as a catalyst to get things going for a city-wide “living wage” campaign that's going to swing into action in the coming months, with the hope of improving the wages of city workers to a livable level.
Low-income workers, said Coksey to the congregation, “are often invisible to us. They work as home health care workers caring for our infirm. They work as maids and janitors in our hotels and offices. They are landscapers at our public libraries. They earn minimum wages without benefits. That means no health or dental insurance. That means no paid sick days or vacation days. They don't have a retirement plan. It is unlikely that they can support their families by working only one job and sometimes even by working two jobs.
“Linda,” Coksey continued, “has worked in housekeeping for a fancy Mission Bay resort for almost a decade. She earns $7.73 an hour, that's $14,068 a year, and is not allowed to work more than seven hours a day. She pays $130 out of her paycheck every two weeks in order to buy health insurance for her family of seven. The resort that employs her at these shameful wages and does not pay her benefits sits on city-owned land on Mission Bay.”
San Diego's Center on Policy Initiatives, a social justice-oriented research organization has done a study recently on what it takes to get by in San Diego; that study provided Coksey with some killer stats.
According to the CPI study, to fulfill basic needs (housing, food, utilities, transportation) a single parent with one child would need to earn $14.07 an hour, with benefits. For a family of four with two working parents, each adult would need to earn $9.98 an hour-an amount that would barely put them above the federal poverty threshold of $17,463 a year.
Current minimum wage-$6.75 an hour-leaves that family of four $3,423 below the poverty line.
“These are a lot of numbers for a Sunday morning,” Coksey added. “But the numbers reflect the lives of real people living and working in our city.”