Synopsis of the ELCA's Social Statement on Economic Life
Economic matters pervade our lives. Human beings are responsible and accountable for economic life, but people often feel powerless in the face of it. The power, scope, and influence of economic thinking and practices in our day can feel god-like in how they rule over our lives. This raises central theological questions which this social statement addresses: In what or whom do we place out trust? How are certain economic assumptions in tension with what we as a church confess? How is Christian identity, freedom, and hope rooted in the Jesus Christ, rather than in economic success or failure? What is the relationship between God's reign of justice and the injustices we face in economic life?
Economic life is intended to be a means through which God's purposes for humankind and creation are to be served. When this does not occur, as a church we cannot remain silent because of who and whose we are. We are called to seek changes in economic life in light of the biblically-grounded imperative of "sufficient, sustainable livelihood for all." This means giving attention to the scope of God's concern ("for all"), the means by which life is sustained ("livelihood"), what is needed ("sufficiency"), and a long-term perspective ("sustainability").
"For all" refers to all people and creation. The power of God's suffering, self-giving love transforms and challenges the Church to stand with all who are overlooked for the sake of economic progress or greed—especially those who continue to live in poverty. Outrage over the plight of people living in poverty is a theme throughout the Bible. This statement renews our commitment as a church to creative, multi-faceted ways of addressing poverty Changes are needed in policies and practices of trade, investment, government spending and accountability, and international debt so that the poorest will benefit rather than being harmed.
"Livelihood" highlights themes of vocation, work, and human dignity. Our vocation is to seek what is good for people and the rest of creation in ways that glorify God and anticipate God's promised future. Strong families, neighborhoods, and schools are needed to prepare people for livelihood. In the face of competitive pressures and constant changes in jobs, this statement commits us as a church to deliberate together about the challenges people face in their work, to counsel and support those undergoing transitions, and calls for efforts to create and retain jobs.
Through our work we should be able to express and be treated in ways consistent with our God-given dignity. This dignity should be reflected in hiring, compensation, and worker rights practices, to which this church commits itself and calls other employers to do also. Insufficient income of low-paid workers should be raised or supplemented in order to move them out of poverty.
"Sufficiency" highlights the sharp contrast between those who do not have enough, and those who have too much. This statement commits us a church to respond to and address why so many in our midst continue to live in poverty. God calls us to a life of mutual generosity toward all who are our neighbors. Government also is expected to promote the common good and provide assistance for those unable to provide for their livelihood. Many of us have far more than we need, and fall into bondage to what we have. Consumerism and endless accumulation become ends in themselves. Enormous disparities in income and wealth become scandalous. Large transnational corporations continue to grow in financial power and influence. These disparities need to be lessened, and large corporate interests held more accountable to the whole human community.
"Sustainability" calls for efforts to ensure that natural and social systems will survive and thrive together over the long term. Attention must be given to the effects of economic activity on the wellbeing of both nature and human communities. Environmental sustainability requires appropriate policies and regulations that help reverse environment destruction. Sustaining agriculture as a viable means of livelihood involves addressing farmers' high risk levels, low prices, and the small proportion of the retail food dollar they typically receive. Sustainable development of low-income communities focuses on the communities' assets, the health and welfare of the residents, and on their plans for the the future of their community and the environment. Investments should sustain not only businesses but also communities and the environment.
In the face of our weariness in pursuit of "sufficient, sustainable livelihood for all," we as the Church hear the Word and receive the sacraments. What we receive is sufficient; it does sustain us. We are strengthened to persist in the struggle for justice as we look forward to the coming of God's kingdom in all its fullness.