Recently the NY Times carried two revealing articles about Apple. One tells why they will never manufacture their stuff in the United States and the other describes the human cost borne in the manufacture of Iproducts. The two weave one big story: unless American workers are willing to endure conditions found in developing economies, they won’t get a bite of the apple.
In order to call ourselves civilised, we have to be appalled at what is barbaric. That doesn’t mean we won’t cooperate with barbarism in the international supply chain, we just keep it at arms length. The way we keep that distance is as follows:
- Make promises and protocols ensuring that an ethical approach is taken in all dealings
- Be shocked and promise action when that approach is breached
- Talk about the progress being made, how regrettable it is that such things happen and how much we hope for that new day when all is well all the time
- Reset to point 1.
There is always a tension between where the ideal is and where we are.
Every revolutionary, social reformer and visionary feels the tension. Even Apple feels it. They would love to make billions of dollars without anyone suffering for it. But until that unlikely day arrives, it will take its billions while they are there to be had. Apple has no feeling of responsibility to make that day happen. They prefer to wait for it to come even though they have the economic power to change the conditions of their suppliers’ workers overnight. It doesn’t have to wait for a change in human nature or the arrival of a heavenly kingdom which would transform people into true humanity. It only has to be willing to take a smaller slice of the pie.
Christians can tell them how that tension will work itself out because the church has been living in such a tension for two thousand years. It’s called an Eschatalogical Tension, generated by living in the space between the inauguration of the Kingdom and its arrival in full (the eschaton, the end). During that waiting time the church has usually fallen into the same thinking as Apple.
The Apostle Paul explained how the Kingdom could transform our worldview in this waiting time. Christ becomes our perspective. In him there are no longer divisions along race, gender or free/slave lines or any line we choose to separate and discriminate with. The call is to be fully transforming people not satisfied with waiting for the kingdom to come before people taste justice and peace. His call is to live as members of one family, dedicated to each other as God is dedicated to us.
However that sentiment didn’t stop Christians from owning slaves or creating first and second class members of the church. By giving into the temptation to defer the Kingdom life till the eschaton, people felt they could see Jesus’ words that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” as an excuse smothered in slate wiping grace rather than as the poignant observation of noble failure it was.
The struggle in the eschatological tension is to live as if the Kingdom has arrived already and allow the spirit to empower us to live by its values as today’s values. Apple knows the arrival of the ideal as reality is their final moment as a company with a license to print money and to make some men rich. The person who wants to be the slave owner knows the same. In their own misguided ways, they delay the kingdom because it profits them to do so. That profit is where their heart truly lies so they aren’t that fussed if it doesn’t arrive as long as its absence does not inconvenience them.
Jesus calls his followers to die to this world now so that they may be resurrected now in order to be free to live the gospel now. It is costly, sacrificial and, like it was for Jesus’ first followers, a shock to our sensibilities and upbringing. Heaven yearns to break in now whether we want it to or not.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html?_r=1&scp=5&sq=apple&st=cse & http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/business/ieconomy-apples-ipad-and-the-human-costs-for-workers-in-china.html?scp=9&sq=apple&st=cse