Making sustainable, ethical choices for my family’s food, clothing and other consumer decisions whenever possible is important to me as a Christian. We’re called to love our neighbors and to be good stewards of both our own bodies and Creation. Buying locally and sustainably grown food rather than grocery store and factory farm fare, breastfeeding, using cloth diapers and reusable rather than disposable wherever we can, and buying fair trade are all things we’ve implemented in our home to various degrees. So when I had the chance to review Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices by Julie Clawson, I looked forward to seeing what she had to say about consumer choices from a Biblical point of view and what I could glean from her knowledge.
Ms. Clawson begins by encouraging the reader not to panic or get overwhelmed. The sheer enormity of the issues involved, the realization that our everyday lifestyle choices contribute to them, and the awareness that our faith should inform our approach to them can leave us feeling paralyzed. She encourages us to make small changes as we can, not to attempt to overhaul our entire lives overnight or feel guilty. Do what you can when you can. This is key. After this exhortation, she moves into an explanation of why our daily choices matter and why our faith should inform those choices.
Jesus commands us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27). These two commands encompass every one of our relationships.
When we choose to love God and love others, we have no choice but to treat others with respect and fairness as we acknowledge them as fellow image-bearers. We have to treat them as we ourselves desire to be treated and act in ways that show concern for their welfare. (p. 21)
So how does this apply to our everyday choices as a consumer? Purchasing goods that are produced in a way that is harmful to the environment or treats others unethically fails to apply the biblical mandates to be good stewards and to love others. Every decision we make is an ethical decision. Every decision we make affects others.
For example, the banana my daughter ate for breakfast this morning involved an ethical decision. By buying and eating that banana, I support everything that banana represents. If that banana was grown by farmers who were kept in near-slavelike conditions, paid pennies a day, exposed to hazardous chemicals and beaten by hired terrorists if they protested their work conditions, I am supporting those things. (p. 25)
As Christians, every area of our lives, including our choices as consumers, should be informed by our faith.
Living justly means understanding the impact of our decisions. It involves not only an awareness of the needs of others but also choosing to love others in a way that cares for their needs. It forces us to take a hard look at how our everyday choices (what we wear, what we eat, what we drive, etc.) affect others…We will still need to be consumers, but instead of being complicit in injustice, we can promote ethical consumption. Ethical consumption implies that we will apply our moral values and ethical standards to our consumer habits. We don’t opt out of a necessary system, but we attempt to redeem it as we live by a more consistent ethic. (p. 26)
Ms. Clawson is frank about the complexity of the issues and the reality that substantive change doesn’t happen overnight, but she urges us to be aware and take small steps wherever we’re able. This means we must educate ourselves so that we can be informed consumers and make wise, biblically ethical choices.
Everyday Justice serves as a resource to that end, a primer of sorts. This explanation of how the biblical mandate applies to our choices is followed by seven chapters, each addressing a different area:
Each chapter begins with background information on that particular issue, then goes on to give the biblical viewpoint, followed by practical ideas to apply a biblical ethic to the situation and then a resource list. Several chapters contain boxes that tell the story of an “everyday practitioner”: an ordinary person who has chosen to adjust their lifestyle and habits to reflect a more biblical ethic on that particular issue.
Since our consumer habits are something we’ve been focused on as a family already, I was aware of quite a bit of what she shared, although there was some new information for me too (I’d never really looked into the issues with chocolate, for example, although being a true chocoholic I should!). I really appreciated how the book is able to raise some shocking issues and motivate the reader to take action without making them feel guilty, or overwhelmed at the enormity of the issues.
The biblical call to love our neighbor as the motivating force behind our choices was the focus of the book. The call to be good stewards was somewhat implicit in the reasoning since there is definite overlap between them, but I wish she would have addressed it more explicitly alongside the call to love. Both are compelling reasons for action. I did find a couple of the suggested resources less than appealing, and I’m just not sold on global warming, but overall I think Ms. Clawson did an excellent job of raising awareness of an important issue that is so often overlooked by Christians. We of all people should be the most concerned about how our lifestyle and consumer choices affect others, no matter how small or insignificant that choice may seem in the grand scheme of things.
All in all, Everyday Justice serves as a great primer on the practical outworking of the biblical mandates to be good stewards and love our neighbors. It addresses an issue that should be important to every Christian.
Thanks so much to Intervarsity Press for providing a review copy to me! All opinions are my own.