Note: This is part of a series on the Social Statements adopted by the ELCA in Assembly. Previous reflections are available at www.montanasynod.org, archived.
The 1999 ELCA Churchwide Assembly considered and adopted the social statement on economic life, "Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All." A wide-ranging document, the statement concludes:
"Pursuing policies and practices that will lead to 'sufficient, sustainable livelihood for all' is such a formidable challenge that to many it seems unrealistic or not worth the effort. The Church as an employer, property owner, consumer, investor, and community of believers can be as caught up in the reigning economic assumptions as the rest of society....Empowered by God, we continue to act, pray, and hope that through economic life there truly will be sufficient, sustainable livelihood for all."
The statement was written with an acute awareness of globalization and its effect on the world's economy. Remember, this was before 9/11, and before Thomas Friedman's book on globalization, "The World is Flat." (2005) The social statement expresses a deep concern about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, using numerous biblical references to society's obligation to provide justice to the poor.
The fundamental question for people of faith considering economic life is: "In what or in whom shall we place out trust and hope?" And of course the response is: "To place our trust in something other than God is the essence of sin. It disrupts our relationships with God, one another, and the rest of creation, resulting in injustices and exploitation."
Among the issues addressed by the statement are the tension between the values arising from a market economy and Christian values of dependence on God, love of neighbor, reconciliation and cooperation. The statement addresses poverty, both domestic and global, calling the church to assess economic activities in terms of how they affect "all," especially people living in poverty. The statement's adoption in 1999 coincided with efforts by the United Nations to establish Millennium Goals to eradicate poverty. In addition, many religious groups worked to establish a millennium Jubilee, to free impoverished nations from the crippling burden of global debt.
The statement also addresses vocation, work and human dignity for all, reminding us that we are all made in God's image. The statement addresses wealth inequality and asks members to work for economic justice in the market place, in tax structures, and in daily life. It also addresses environmental sustainability, and justice for farmers.
You can find the entire statement at www.elca.org/socialstatements.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA