Gregory Nielsen has supported the work of Interfaith Worker Justice since 2010. Trained as a Nazarene minister, he believes advocating for workers in low-wage jobs as a central part of living out his faith, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Nielsen says his concern with worker justice grew out of his commitment to Christian charity. Indeed, it was this passion that led to his first encounter with IWJ’s Kim Bobo in 1985.
“I first met Kim when I was in seminary at Olivet Nazarene University,” Nielsen says. “She came to speak about her work with Bread for the World,” a Christian anti-hunger advocacy organization. Her lecture made an impression that lasted more than 25 years.
When Nielsen took a call at the First Church of the Nazarene in Los Angeles, his perspective expanded. The congregation, located in an poverty stricken neighborhood, worked extensively with the community. His ministry brought the needs of his congregation beyond charity.
Nielsen said it was talk-show host Thom Hartmann on the radio that crystalized his commitment work beyond charity.
“(Hartmann) was saying that the best anti-poverty program is a good-paying job. That really made sense to me,” Nielsen said. “The more well-paying jobs we have, the less people will need charity or government assistance.”
And there is clear biblical support, he said, listing passages in both the Old and New Testament that call for justice. The biblical calls for justice are rooted in the Imago Dei—all human beings deserve to be treated with respect because they are created in the image of God.
Nielsen tries to incorporate these messages into his pastoral work. In 1993, for instance, he remembers wrestling with Deuteronomy 24:14-15 – which calls on employers to pay workers fairly – while preparing a sermon for a fairly conservative congregation. Despite his worries, he found the congregation to his message.
Often people simply aren’t aware of the issues facing low-wage workers, so they misunderstand what life is like for them, he said. He has a better understanding of these issues because his wife, Elma, a home care aid, works hard giving 24-hour a day attention to patients. Although she’s fairly compensated, he knows that many home care workers are not.
In 2010, years after he’d lost track of Kim Bobo, Nielsen read about her work at IWJ in Rpn Snider's Just Generosity. Since then, he’s been a supporter who is cares deeply about our shared mission.