Adopted by the Tenth Biennial Convention, Seattle,
Washington, June 24-July 2, 1980.
God wills humanity to exercise justice in its stewardship of
creation. Holy Scripture declares that the earth is the Lord's, and
that persons created in God's image are divinely authorized to care
for this earth and to share in its blessings. Since human community
is dependent on responsible stewardship, God commands that persons
deal equitably and compassionately in their use of the earth s
limited resources in order to sustain and fulfill the lives of
It is in obedient gratitude for all the gifts of God that we in
the Lutheran Church in America commit ourselves in faithful love to
struggle for economic justice as an integral part of the witness
and work of God s People in the world.
Economy in Society
The word, "economy," is derived from the Greek words which mean
the ordering of the household. In this basic sense, economy denotes
the activity of persons in the management of all the resources
(natural, human, and manufactured) of this world.
An economic system is the pattern of relationships, processes,
institutions, and regulations, together with the values underlying
them, by which the activities of production, distribution, and
consumption are carried out in and among societies and
Economic policies and institutions develop through social custom
and political decision. The allocation of the resources, burdens,
and benefits of the economy is variously done: by traditional
habits, by individual choice in the marketplace, by governmental
regulation, by the action of corporations, or by all of these.
Likewise the institutional constraints on economic activity are
made by these means separately or in combination.
Economic activity is embedded in the total life of a society.
Relations of production and distribution reflect the prevailing
patterns of power as well as the values by which a society lives.
The material allocations within a society are both an effect and a
cause of the basic character of that society. The economic choices
of the members and institutions of a society reflect what a society
is and influence what it is becoming. The fundamental questions
underlying any economic system are therefore political and moral in
nature. There are always technical questions that are peculiar to
the operation of any given system, but the basic issues are not
technical in character. For example, who may work? What should
motivate our labors? By whom and how should it be decided what to
produce, where to distribute, and how much to consume? Who
determines, and how, the "fairness" of prices, profits, wages,
benefits and strikes? How do we balance economic production and
environmental protection? Do our economic practices reflect or
reinforce child exploitation, sexism, ageism, racism, or
anti-Semitism? The answers, never final, emerge qualified and
compromised from the field of contending interests, powers, and
The organization of economic life has undergone vast changes
throughout the course of history, and no economic "system" has ever
shown itself to be permanent. The appearance of new conditions, the
development of new technologies, and the evolution of social values
and political structures have all occasioned the alteration or
replacement of economic institutions and relationships.
It is in such a world of continual change, amid graphic evidence
of both progress and exploitation, that the Holy Spirit calls the
church to bear witness to God's sovereign reign in our midst. As
the Lord of history God acts in society to judge and fulfill the
daily efforts of all people in their economic theory and
All persons are intended to respond in worship and work as one
human family to the Creator's love: to propagate, nurture and
extend human life and enhance its quality; to protect and use
wisely the world's resources; to participate with God in the
continuing work of creation; and to share equitably the product of
that work to the benefit of all people.
In a world broken by sin the Creator lovingly enables the doing
of justice. Into such a world God calls the redeemed in Christ to
be advocates and agents of justice for all.
The Image of God
Human life depends totally on a loving Creator. All
persons are made in God's image for a life of trust, obedience, and
Life under God is also meant to be life in community. There is
no humanity but co-humanity, for one cannot be human alone. It is
only together that persons can realize their creation in God's
image. This image is reflected as persons respond in love and
justice to one another's needs. Male and female persons are created
equally in the image of God. (Gen. 1:27) It is in the basic human
relationships of domestic, political, and economic life that
persons share in their common humanity. God's love encompasses all
people, and God intends that stewardship be practiced for the
benefit of the entire human family.
Created in the image of God, persons are together stewards of
God's bounty. They are accountable to God for how they use, abuse,
or neglect to use the manifold resources- including their own
bodies and capacities- which God has placed at their disposal.
Reflecting God's cosmic dominion as Creator, they are called to
care for the earth and "have dominion over," but not callously
dominate, every living thing. (Gen. 1:28)
Work, the expending of effort for productive ends, is a God-given
means by which human creatures exercise dominion. Through work,
persons together are enabled to perpetuate life and to enhance its
quality. By work they are both privileged and obligated to reflect
the Creator whose work they are.
Although sinful rebellion issues in burdens of toil and
alienation, the forgiving and renewing Lord holds out the
possibility of work as useful and satisfying, prompting the
Psalmist's prayer, "Establish the work of our hands? (Ps.
Work is thus meant for persons in community, not persons for
work. While participation in the community of work is meant to
enhance personal well-being, the identity of persons created in
God's image is neither defined by the work they do nor destroyed by
the absence of work. What a person does or has does not determine
what one is as the personal creature of a loving Creator.
Christian identity is also not to be equated with the work
Christians do. As new persons in Christ, Christians have been set
free and empowered to exercise their vocation through many roles,
occupations among them. However, Christians do not equate baptismal
vocation in God s kingdom with economic occupations in the
Justice may be described as distributive love. It is what God's
love does when many neighbors must be served with limited
resources. Justice is the form of God's creating and preserving
love as that love is mediated by reason and power through persons
and structures in community life. Injustice dehumanizes life and
prevents full participation in co-humanity. Justice is therefore
viewed simply as that which people need to be human.
God mandates the doing of justice. (Micah 6:8) The specific
content of that justice, however, is not directly revealed but is
discovered as life is lived amid claim and counterclaim. The
discernment of justice involves every aspect of the human being. It
is a task of reason, requiring the counting, measuring and
classifying of factors that admit to such analysis. It is
intuitive, involving the capacity for empathy. It is political,
involving the struggle for power among competing groups. Above all,
it is moral, involving the fundamental human capacity to know what
enhances and what destroys the being and dignity of the person.
That capacity, conscience, grows and is nurtured in the creative
interaction of persons and groups, in the recollection of and
reflection on past experience, and in the confronting of new
Therefore the doing of justice is the proper stewardship of the
social and material resources of creation in which our co-humanity
in God's image is being realized.
Social justice refers to those institutional and legal
arrangements which promote justice for all the members of
In addition to being the way in which God's providential love is
expressed socially, justice is also the way in which sinful persons
are required to do for others what, in their self-centeredness,
they would not otherwise do to meet their neighbors collective
Because human beings, both individually and collectively, are
self-centered, self-serving, and self-justifying, their defining
and doing of justice are inevitably tainted by the rationalization
of special interest. This sinful rationalization often leads to
such errors as the pitting of benevolence against justice and the
confusion of justice with righteousness. Social justice should not
be pitted against personal benevolence (often called charity) or
corporate benevolence (often called philanthropy); but neither
should benevolence be substituted for justice. In its true sense,
benevolence is the loving response directly to others in need; in
its false sense, it is the vain attempt to purchase a good
conscience and to avoid the demand for justice. Rightly understood,
benevolence and justice complement each other as different forms of
the Creator's providential love.
Neither personal nor corporate benevolence can accomplish what a
society is required to do for its members under justice; but a
society cannot remain sound if it leaves no room for benevolent
Justice and righteousness, as these terms are used in this
statement, are not to be confused or identified with each other.
Righteousness denotes the redeeming activity of God in Christ which
effects the forgiveness of sin, new life, and salvation. It frees
and empowers God's faithful servants to act lovingly and justly in
the world, not merely out of prudent self-regard, but also
sacrificially for their neighbors sake.
The attempt to equate human justice and divine righteousness
distorts Christ's Gospel and undermines God's law. In the name of
liberty, such self-righteousness enslaves; in the name of life, it
kills; in the name of abundance, it lays waste. God's holy wrath is
provoked when humans presume to rule society by a spurious
"gospel," thereby weakening the possibility of realizing justice,
peace, and civil order under God's law.
Justice takes place at the intersection of serving love and
enlightened self-interest. All sinners, including Christians, are
still able as the corrupted image of God to act justly out of such
self-regard; and forgiven Christians are empowered to move beyond
such self-regard. By the power of Christ working in them, they are
freed to enlarge the conventional limits of justice.
While the advancement of justice involves the interplay of
countervailing power, it depends finally upon the degree to which
the members of a community are either willing or constrained to
moderate their acquisitiveness in the interest of the common
Justice is a painful process, serving as both, the prerequisite
for and the fruit of civil peace. Although never fully completed,
struggles for justice draw people into the ongoing work of
approximating God's will in this sinful world.
God gives to human creatures the freedom and capacity to devise
the means of exercising the stewardship that has been entrusted to
them. They may therefore establish such social and legal
institutions as will facilitate the life of mutual responsibility
for which they have been created. Such humanly-devised means are
legitimate so long as they do not usurp the place of God as Lord
and owner of all things or thwart the will of God for the
well-being of the whole human family.
The Stewardship of Meanings and Values
God enables persons to employ ideas as tools of analysis and
evaluation. The fashioning and use of conceptual tools is never
finished. New historical situations may require new modes of
diagnosis and prescription. The refinement of appropriate concepts
is a vital part of the constructive work of seeking justice.
Understood as equity or fairness, economic justice does not mean
economic equality. It is rather the result of a discerning of, and
response to, the various needs of the members of a society,
respecting differences without being partial to power or special
interest. Equity implies a sense of the common good and a care for
the diversity of gifts and human resources that contribute to it.
At the same time it provides for those minimal necessities which,
in a given social and cultural setting, are prerequisites for
participation in society; and it provides for those members of the
society who, because of circumstances not of their making, cannot
provide for themselves.
Accessibility includes both the formal entitlements to political
participation and legal redress, and such substantive entitlements
(e.g., nutrition, shelter, health care, basic education, minimum
income and/or employment) as are needed for entrance into the
social and economic community. It also includes the provision of
the means by which the members of a community may participate in
decisions which affect the quality of the common life and that of
Accountability implies that economic actors must be held
answerable to the community for the consequences of their behavior.
Government properly establishes the legal means whereby people may
secure compensation for injury incurred, as a result of economic
decisions which have not taken account of their likely impact on
personal and community well-being.
Efficiency requires a responsible use of resources that is
genuinely productive by minimizing waste. This productivity is
conserving not only of material resources and time, but also of
human resources and the environment. The economy should be
structured to permit the calculation of efficiency so as to take
account of social and ecological waste.
Persons should be permitted and encouraged to participate in
fundamental as well as market decisions governing the economy.
Members of a society should be codeterminers of the quality of
their economic life. Such co-determination, requiring differing
structures appropriate for differing situations, is the basic right
of persons whom God has created in co-humanity as responsible
Stewardship requires careful forethought. Planning is vital to
the stewardship of material resources at all levels of human life:
personal, familial, communal, and political. Planning on economic
matters is more than technical. Questions of basic human value are
involved in both specifying economic goals and devising the means
of achieving them.
Planning should therefore be sufficiently pluralistic in
character to assure the possibility of self-correction and prevent
domination by one or a few special interests. It should be done on
a scale and level of social life which provide for the greatest
practical degree of participation and co-determination.
God has implanted in the human creature the capacity and
initiative to define the problems of material existence in
community and to effect positive change. No person or community
should relinquish that initiative or capacity, and social and
political institutions should be designed to encourage such
initiative at the local and intermediate levels of society. A
society is healthier when its members are encouraged to participate
responsibly in determining their own lives rather than being only
the passive consumers of goods and services.
Even in the present state of sinful estrangement, God's
intention remains that work be done and its fruits be enjoyed by
the whole human family. The division of labor according to
efficiency and the diversity of human gifts, along with the social
relations of productive activity, are means by which life in
co-humanity may be both extended and enriched.
Work that is beneficial to society glorifies the Creator. Those
who perform such work are to be esteemed for their contribution to
the common good. They are not to be judged by whether or not the
work is remunerative, or by the amount of remuneration. Vast
disparities of income and wealth are both divisive of the human
community and demeaning to its members.
Exclusion of persons from the community of work is a denial of
the opportunity of realizing the divine intention for
Humanly-devised economic arrangements which, in their operation,
tend both to exclude some persons from the community of work, and
subsequently to stigmatize such persons for not working, constitute
a double affront to the Creator and to persons created in God's
The concept of property is a legal means of determining
responsibility for the use of resources and humanly-produced
wealth. Property may be held by individuals, by business
corporations, by cooperative or communal self-help organizations,
or by government. In whatever manner it is held, property is held
in trust and its holder is accountable ultimately to God and
proximately to the community through its constituted authorities
for the ways in which the resource or wealth is, or is not,
While the holder of wealth-producing property is entitled to a
reasonable return, as determined contextually by the society, the
holder of such property may not assert exclusive claim on it or its
fruits. Justice requires that wealth be both productive and
contributory to the general well-being through both the provision
of new opportunities and the alleviation of human need.
The private ownership of property is a humanly devised legal
right which can serve as a means for the exercise of that
responsible stewardship which constitutes the divine image. Private
property is not an absolute human right but is always conditioned
by the will of God and the needs of the community. The obligation
to serve justifies the right to possess. The Creator does not
sanction the accumulation of economic power and possessions as ends
We affirm the inseparability of the economy from the whole of
human life. The criticism and reshaping of economic relations and
institutions is a fundamentally moral task in which Christians
should be actively involved. Economy, rightly understood, is the
God-given stewardship of life.
In Christ the People of God are freed and enabled individually
and corporately to participate in the quest for greater economic
justice and the achievement of the conditions of human well-being.
As a worldwide community of brothers and sisters, the church can
summon the human family to care for the earth responsibly while God
yet gives us time. This church calls upon its ministers and
congregations to engage in an intensive study over the next
biennium of the social statement, "Economic Justice: Stewardship of
Creation in Human Community," with a view to ascertaining the
content of this church's corporate stewardship within the present
historical setting. Such study is to consider both the
institutional allocation of the material and human resources of
this church internally and the work of public advocacy by this
This church directs its program agencies and offices to
facilitate such study through programs appropriate to their several
mandates. Such work should to the extent possible be planned and
executed through such means as the Staff Team on World Hunger
Concerns and the Staff Team on Fiscal Support. Each churchwide
agency shall report to the 1982 convention of this church the
results of its study and action, as well as its future intentions
in the field of economic justice.
Efforts are to be made by appropriate agencies of this church to
equip both the ministers and the laity to understand and apply the
orientation and principles embodied in this statement through such
- Seminary and college curricula;
- Continuing education for pastors;
- Conferences for parish lay leadership;
- Church school curricula; and
- Faith and Life Institutes
The Division for Mission in North America shall advise this
church as to appropriate ways of implementing this statement both
through advocacy in the public sector and through consultation and
shareholder action in the private corporate sector.
The administrative offices of this church, in consultation with
the Division for Mission in North America, shall study this
statement with a view to the application of its principles to this
church as a manager of resources, employer, fund-raiser, investor,
and purchaser and provider of goods and services.
The Division for Mission in North America shall continue the
work of issue-clarification and the constructive criticism of
ideology begun during the preparation of this statement. It shall
continue to involve the lay persons of relevant expertise and
experience who were engaged in the development of this statement as
well as others whom it may identify.
The Division for Mission in North America, through its program,
Advocacy for Global Justice, shall identify and act upon the global
and domestic implications of this statement as they impinge on the
reality of world hunger.
This church shall endeavor to implement this statement through
its inter-Lutheran and ecumenical involvements, both in North
America and worldwide.