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Was Christ a Union Man?

Religious concepts and metaphors suffused the words and ideas of many late nineteenth-century American workers. The New and Old Testaments provided not only personal succor to many working people but also a set of allusions and parables they applied directly to their lives and struggles in industrial America. Working-class ideas and writing often were cast in stark millenarian terms, with prophesies of imminent doom predicted for capitalists who worshipped at Mammon’s temple and imminent redemption for hard-working, long-suffering, and God-fearing laboring men and women. Christ was uniformly depicted in workers' writing as a poor workingman put on Earth to teach the simple principles of brotherhood and unionism. In this 1897 essay in the Railway Times, titled “Christ,” Murphy O’Hea suggested that Jesus Christ’s early career as a “poor humble carpenter” proved "that the cause of Labor is holy."

Bethlehem. A stable. Royalty. A savior. A carpenter. Reformer.

What memories hallowed by a thousand sunny recollections, does not the name of Christ recall. The greatest reformer of his time—the grandest character the world’s history possesses. The holiest and hence purest of men: by some a hero, by others a divinity. The God-man. Nazareth. Jerusalem. The alpha omega of His divine life. . . . What adds luster to all His greatness and beauty is the fact that He was a poor humble carpenter—a son of toil, thus adding honor and dignity to the man who labors by the sweat of his brow. That all should do so is a command of God. He who shirks this responsibility is a drone, a clog upon the wheels of life. . . . To point with pride that the greatest, the holiest and grandest of men was a lowly workingman of the bench, the man of hammer and nails, and whose greatest heritage and glory was that same fact . . . proves that divinity is near the laborer, the man who works for his daily living, than the debauched cruel selfishness of wealth. . . . It proves that the cause of Labor is holy; that God honored and dignified it, and as such is the grandest heirloom given unto man. . . . Then, to defend labor is a virtue. To deprive it of lawful rights, to strangle it by insideous laws, reptilish and barbarous, an evil, a sin, and a crime against the mandates of the Creator himself. In such a cause prison bars are jewels grand; prison cells consecrated halls to God and man. . . .

Source: Murphy O’Hea, “Christ,” The Railway Times, 1 November 1895.

See Also:Introducing New Recruits to "Labor's Catechism"
"The Brotherhood of Man": A Unionist Uses the Bible
"In the Sight of God": Woes of a Miner's Wife
"Pumpkin Smasher" Predicts the Ultimate Redemption of Coal Miners