Generosity and Market Economy, Panel 6. The Courage to Hope. Religions and Cultures in Dialogue. International Meeting for Peace, S. Egidio, Rome, 30th September. Eero Huovinen (Bishop emeritus of Helsinki, Lutheran)


Sorelle e fratelli in Cristo. È per me motive di grande gioia portarvi i saluti della Chiesa Luterana di Finlandia e la benedizione di Dio. Purtroppo non posso parlare oltre nella bella lingua italiana e quindi continuero in inglese.


My question is: what is the role of the Church in the midst of a strong market economy?

Two perils: accommodation and confrontation

Of old, the Church has faced two perils in her relationship to politics and economic life. The first is accommodation, ie. adjustment to the spirit of the time, to current circumstances and to the pursuits of those in power. The second temptation is confrontation or an oppositional attitude against the various forms of earthly power.

These two approaches have their own genuine history already in the New Testament. Jesus urges people to subject themselves to the imperial power, yet with a theological reservation: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:21)

Throughout the course of history both accommodation and confrontation have led to polarised positions, whereby both the church and the world, ie. people, have ended up suffering.

An opportunistic church that seeks to identify with those in power will end up in tragedy, sooner or later. Strict nationalism for example has been a hard temptation to bypass, especially for national churches that have passionately desired to identify with the destiny of a people or with a certain group of people.

How should we today think about the role of the Church between accommodation and confrontation? I will sum up my contribution only in two arguments: the Church has to be on the side of the people and on the side of cooperation.

On the side of the people

The Church is and she has to be on the side of the people. This argument may sound populistic or even trivial. Who wants to be against the people? The argument that the Church should be on the side of the people is, however, not self-evident.

The old prerequisite for moral philosophy has always been that we make a distinction between intrinsic and instrumental values, between ultimate goals and the means we use. If there arises confusion between ultimate objectives and the instruments by means of which we reach these goals, then the human sense of morality needs clarification.

When discussing the world of industry, of commerce, of investment and of banking, we are bound to deal with economic and monetary values. The church – and why not every person – needs to be cautious of two pitfalls.

First, money should not be demonised. Earning wages is not sinful. As we say in Finnish, every worker is worthy of his salary. Money has its own value as an instrument of productivity and economic activity. It is a necessary part of human undertakings. Pursuing profit and growth belongs to normal everyday life.

Secondly, money and economy should not be made into the ultimate goal of human activity. If so done, money will be deified.

According to the classical definition, to people their god is the one that they ultimately put their trust in and from whom they thus expect the greatest good. If money becomes an intrinsic value, it will, albeit often unknowingly, become a manmade god, an idol. Instead of money being the ultimate goal it ought to be an instrument in the service of matters greater than money itself.

So it is important to remember the distinction between intrinsic and instrumental values. And on this very basis it is significant that the Church should desire to be on the side of the people. People are more precious than money.

On the side of young people

Let me take only one concrete example. What could we do for young people? What kind of future do we wish to give to future generations?

Youth unemployment is one of the most serious threats to the future. Are we capable of guiding youth to study, work and strive to achieve goals?

The welfare state has two basic aspirations. On the one hand, it should create the prerequisites to afford youth opportunities. We need an encouraging and uplifting atmosphere. It must be seen to that young people have meaningful and rewarding options in life. On the other hand, we have to bear responsibility for those young people whose life control is fading away. We need social safety nets. No one is to be left behind.

On the side of cooperation

My second point is: the Church has to be on the side of cooperation.

In speaking about the cooperation I do not believe in easy solutions. An ideology that for the sake of cooperation loses its own identity loses its essence. A programme that clings to being right, without respect for others and people thinking differently, easily leads to violence, either physical or spiritual.

Our goal should be to reach for a more complex, even a paradoxical, approach. Genuine cooperation ought to allow space for both human uniqueness and for shared solidarity. The balance between individualism and communality is called for in all spheres of life, as much in politics as in religion.

It is difficult to evaluate if Western progress is still developing toward a greater appreciation of the individual. An overemphasis on individuality can lead to egoism and to indifference, to a hardening of attitudes.

In Finnish society cooperation has been and is a strong antidote against various extreme phenomena. For example, side by side with the public and private sectors there is a strong network of civic organisations. No matter how the roles of the government and the labour market organisations will be set up in the future, at least up till now they have managed to have good cooperation.

Walking in someone else’s shoes

The need for cooperation rises out of humanity. Even the strongest individual cannot live alone but needs others. “No man is an island”, but rather a section of a vast archipelago. Other people are not simply here to meet our needs, but they are the human purpose of our life. We are here for one another.

Walking in someone else’s shoes is one of the deepest universal adages and in its own way one of the core truths in the Christian faith. Most religions and ethical systems are united by the so-called Golden Rule, according to which we are to do for others what we wish them to do for us. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus expresses this in the following manner: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.” (Matthew 7:12)

Genuine cooperation and ethics are based on the fact that we are prepared to walk in someone else’s shoes, to see life and the world from her perspective.

The principle of the Golden Rule, however, extends far deeper than just to ethics in the Christian faith. When Jesus Christ, God’s Son, became human in this human world, he did not think of his own position, “…who… did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6–8)

While Christ is an ethical example of what we are to do in dealing with one another, he is much more: God among us, the bringer of mercy, the self-giving Lord and the Grace, the Saviour of the entire world.