Economic Life

Welcome again to a discussion on the social statements of the ELCA.  The next social statement we will look at is: “Economic Life – Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All.”  This social statement was developed in 1999 and like all our social statements, it is designed to be a starting point for conversation and the process of making decisions with God and our Christian faith in mind.  You can read the entire social statement on the ELCA webpage.

The subtitle of the social statement gives us the framework the entire statement is built around: Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All.

  1. “For all” must include a special concern for people who are poor or live in poverty.
  2. “Livelihood” includes all things needed to sustain life such as food, clothing, and shelter along with less tangible things such as safety and education.
  3. “Sufficient” is about what is needed rather than what is wanted.
  4. “Sustainable” must include a long-term perspective – even beyond the life of individuals.

Our social statement teaches that the values of the economic world are in tension with our call to Christian living.  In a world that prizes individual success, amassing wealth, and bigger-is-better, we are called as Christians to live a life of humble and grateful service to others with Jesus as our guide.  It can be a challenging balance, but it is a part of what it means to “be in the world but not of the world.”  We are a part of a massive global economy – whether we would like to be or not.  Here are a few ideas about how we can navigate this challenging balance:

  1. Examine your balance of Needs vs. Wants:  It’s natural to use some of our wealth to purchase items that are ‘extras’ that are not something we need but instead are something we want.  When you choose to use your wealth to purchase things you want (but don’t necessarily need) maybe you could also purchase something someone less fortunate might want or need.  What if every time you splurged on a fancy coffee (or whatever your personal ‘wants’ are) you set aside an equal amount of wealth for our local food pantry?
  2. Examine the ethics of the businesses you frequent and the items you purchase:  We have so many choices with our purchases (sometimes too many!)  Identifying businesses that treat their employees well, are good stewards of natural resources, and are involved in philanthropic efforts can help create an economic system that is more Christ-like.
  3. Examine if you have made wealth into an idol: Wealth can easily be made into an idol – and we can easily fall into a trap of seeing wealth as a source of safety or security.  While living in the world requires us to operate within that economic system, relying on wealth for our happiness or peace makes our wealth into an idol. God is the only source of lasting peace.

These are just a few ways to examine our participation in economic life.  The call of a Christian to live in the world in order to serve the world is not an easy one.  With Christ as our guide, we can do our best to use the imperfect economic system we have to do God’s Work in the world.