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The cavernous hallway outside Chicago City Council chambers is echoing with the sound of 150 people chanting, "We're fed up, we won't take it no mo'!"

The lady with the megaphone is leading a mix of union workers and community reform activists shouting slogans against the world's largest retailer. One of the protesters, Ella Hereth of the advocacy group Jobs with Justice, tells CT that Wal-Mart is the "poster boy for corporate exploitation."

She ticks off the complaints: low pay, scant benefits, race and sex discrimination, and profiting from mistreated workers in foreign "sweatshops." Before the Chicago City Council votes to block one store but allow another, aldermen label Wal-Mart "the worst company in America" and an "evildoer."

As it has grown into a powerhouse with sales of $256.3 billion—more than the sales of Microsoft and retail competitors Home Depot, Kroger, Target, and Costco combined—Wal-Mart has become a lightning rod nationwide in local tempests of moral outrage. Church leaders (primarily mainline, liberal, and Roman Catholic) have joined grassroots activists fearful that mindless global market factors will steamroll human dignity.

"Wal-Mart's practices are immoral and unfair," says Reginald Williams Jr., associate pastor for justice ministries at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Pastors at the 8,500-member Trinity United and eight other African American congregations in Chicago called for a boycott of Wal-Mart.

Such anger perplexes other Christians who think of Wal-Mart as a family-friendly place and a company founded on the biblical values of respect, service, and sacrifice. Founder Sam Walton's autobiography indicates he taught Sunday school in his church, prayed with his children, and ...

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May 2005

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