Editor’s Introduction – The Ethics of Personal Finance

[1] We are now nearly four years into what has been termed variously the “Great Recession” and the “Lesser Depression.” Unemployment remains at its highest levels since the early 1980s, home foreclosures and short sales have become de rigueur in the housing market, and college students around the country are holding their collective breath as the U.S. Congress debates action to prevent the near-doubling of student loan interest rates set to go into effect July 1, 2012. Charities and non-profit groups, including churches, are still struggling to make up the financial ground they lost between 2008 and 2010.

[2] The Rev. Rick Foss’s question — “How can we create hopeful leaders in the church?” — is poignant in the midst of these struggles, especially as members of the clergy face the same personal financial challenges as the members of their churches. Rev. Foss includes in this list of struggles the realities of seminarian debt, a problem discussed in depth by the Rev. Joy L. McDonald Coltvet. Both authors highlight the staggering debt clergy often face after leaving seminary. Both also foreground the Church’s responsibility to alleviate this burden, and Rev. Coltvelt describes some ways the ELCA is currently assisting seminarians. Mark Granquist’s historical analysis of pastoral finances helps offer some context to these contemporary issues.

[3] Margaret Payne and Kate Walsh address questions of personal financial ethics in their respective articles. Payne’s article describes some of the benefits of tithing as a spiritual practice. In her article on socially responsible investing, Walsh offers practical advice and raises helpful questions for those seeking to invest their savings in ways that reflect their personal beliefs and faith.

[4] Together, the articles in this issue challenge us to consider the ethical dimensions of finance, both individually and in community, from the personal ethical decisions of investment to the church’s responsibility to seminarians and pastors in debt for their education.

Ryan P. Cumming

Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D. is program director of hunger education for ELCA World Hunger and senior lecturer at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.