Introduction to Economic Ethics in Everyday Life

[1] People never tire of quoting the late Tip O’Neill’s famous statement that “All politics is local.” Perhaps it is not entirely amiss to borrow this idea by stating that “All economic ethics is local.” That is to say, while there is considerable ethical discourse concerning mega concerns of economic justice and monumental failures of business ethics such as the Enron scandal, the ethical insights and attitudes that shape most people’s response to the larger issues of economic life are those developed and nurtured in the everyday decisions faced by individuals, families, and local communities. Equipping the saints for the vocation of Christian witness in economic life begins with the “local” realities of everyday life. This issue is a reminder of that task.

[2] Mark Allen Powell’s essay leads us into the biblical underpinnings of stewardship which, together with Shannon Jung’s piece on sharing, provide an orientation to the active virtues animating the ethics of every day economic life. Clint Schneckloth’s piece points out that what we eat, or don’t eat, can be a reflection of our faith. The virtue of frugality lifted up in the article by James Nash links our personal economic decisions with concerns for the environment and our culture of consumption. Nash probes the yearnings that underlie our “prodigality” and issues a challenge to the churches to nurture a joyful frugality. William Diehl’s account of the “Forum for Ethics in the Workplace” opens another dimension of our subject. Christians in dialogue with one another over the vexing issues of daily workplace life is one good example of a Lutheran notion of vocation at work through the mutual consolation and conversation of sisters and brothers. The forum example also suggests one method for ministry to one another in all matters of personal economic responsibility and its relation to the larger witness of the church in its concern for the common good and economic justice.

[3] There is no specific pattern of economic life that all Christians must follow; responsible choices can differ and Christians in good conscience can disagree on a variety of matters. Nonetheless, there are parameters we can discover in our deliberations with one another. It seems to me that these articles point us in that direction.

James M. Childs is Joseph A. Sittler Emeritus Professor of Theology and Ethics at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus Ohio.

James M. Childs

James M. Childs is Joseph A. Sittler Emeritus Professor of Theology and Ethics at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus Ohio.