Past and Present, The Church Speaks on Economic Matters and New Challenges

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Resistance in the 1980s
The Committee’s report to the 1985 Assembly was titled, Toward a Just, Caring and Dynamic Political Economy, reflecting a model of democratic participation that included the voluntary sector, revealed the salience of economic decision-making in politics, and which had a spiritual component. Pushing back at the “deregulatory” fervor and initial recession of the 1980’s, the report contains a fine synthesis of expert analysis on how to alleviate the conditions of marginalized groups and deal with slowed growth (due to energy and ecological considerations), deficits (due to military spending increases and tax decreases), and the eminently debatable inflation/employment trade-off.  More experimentation in economic and corporate governance is recommended, as is a form of economic planning or coordination termed “industrial policy,” which would moderate the economic dislocation of de-industrialization and have an analogue on the international level to manage trade and currency imbalances. In its conclusions, the study stresses the capacity of responsible individuals to challenge myths of market determinism and government demonization that dis-empower large numbers of citizens.

Vocation and Compensation
Two areas of economic concern that point somewhat beyond the focus of this survey are the related subjects of vocation and compensation. In 1967, a study of The Church, the Christian and Work sought to reclaim a Protestant Ethic that supported both full employment and good employment:

In… our contemporary economic situation obedience to the covenant demands the exercise of our imagination in the creation of new modes of work, the assertion of human worth as grounded in community rather than employment, the reminder that unemployment is essentially a problem of community, and the reaffirmation of vocation over occupation as the mark of (hu)man faithfulness to God.

In 1976, a report, The Theology of Compensation, provided the basis for some equalization of salaries in the United Presbyterian Church using a “circulation of funds” approach predicated on the unity of the denominational staff and governing bodies. Its theology was a kind of trade-off between egalitarian and meritocratic values. In 1983, the Presbyterian Church, U.S., commissioned a paper from Walter Brueggemann that put compensation in the context of the church’s distinctive embodiment of a contrast model to the world: a model of solidarity. In 1995, the re-united PCUSA adopted God’s Work in Our Hands, a strong call for full employment, fairness in and limits to excessive compensation based on a community-based doctrine of vocation. As the 2010 report, Neither Poverty Nor Riches, noted, none of these efforts have in themselves prevented a widening income spectrum both among pastors and within the national staff.

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The need to narrow the traditional income gap between men and women’s work was addressed in a 1988 study, All the Live Long Day: Women & Work, and in the 2008 resolution, God’s Work in Women’s Hands, which called for more effective strategies for pay equity. Both of these studies also looked at the restriction of women to particular kinds of jobs and the impact of the “double shift,” in which women, already propelled into the workforce by male wage stagnation, continue to carry the larger share of parenting responsibilities. Hence the call for more effective childcare in the United States, for more family-friendly policies overall, and for equal pay not simply for equal work, but for comparable work.

Toward Sustainable Development
Twentieth century Presbyterian social witness policy on economic matters reached a high point in 1996 with Hope for A Global Future: Toward Just and Sustainable Human Development. This book-length study included strong recommendations incorporating the church’s ecological commitments (notably in the 1981 energy report and the 1990 Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice), its long address to the root causes of hunger (that created a Hunger Program in 1976), and a re-evaluation of economic measures of productivity and development.[13]  Core ethical norms developed in previous policy are reinforced; participation (based in various rights), sufficiency (including frugality for those with enough), justice (related to equity), and sustainability (see below). The study also involved a research trip to Honduras which helped crystallize some of the concerns about previous failures of “sustainable development” and ways that a more holistic approach could correct them.[14]

While keeping a rigorous understanding of economic complexity, Hope for a Global Future adopts a definition of “sustainable development” that entails “not only improved economic standards of living but also the full complement of social, political, cultural, and transcendental values and rights,” along with a concern for the “quality of life” for future generations and even other species. This comprehensive vision is reflected in the wide-ranging recommendations, each applying a principle guided by the overall vision (see Appendix A).


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