Sabbath Economics

What is at Stake

Of the world's total population, more than one-third live on less than US$2 a day—a widely used measure of extreme poverty. In 2011, the world's richest nation, the United States, had a poverty rate of 15 percent, while the poverty rate for American children was 22 percent. One out of every eight people in the world is undernourished. Yet the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone. According to the UNDP, the cost of eradicating poverty would be only one percent of global income. Meanwhile, income inequalities have increased dramatically since the 1970s both within and between nations. The world's richest one percent today own 40 percent of global assets.

The problems of systemic poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and massive income disparities are not the result of irresistible laws of nature but rather of political choices and public policies that too often favor the haves over the have-nots. They are the result of a failure of moral imagination. In contrast to the competitive individualism and social Darwinism of laissez-faire capitalism, as well as the collectivism of pure communism, the APF embraces a vision of economic justice, solidarity with our neighbors, and care for the poor rooted in the ancient biblical ethics of the Sabbath year or year of Jubilee.

The Biblical Witness

Every seventh year, according to the Law of Moses in the Hebrew Bible, Israel was to enact a program of radical debt forgiveness. Every 50th year, or year of Jubilee, the land would be redistributed to prevent massive accumulations of wealth and to restore social equality while still allowing for private ownership and differences in wealth. The weekly Sabbath rest from labor was a small foretaste of the much bigger deliverance from oppressive economic relationships that every Israelite could look forward to when the Jubilee year arrived. (See Leviticus 25.)

In the New Testament, Jesus emerges as a Jubilee practitioner. He comes "to preach the Gospel to the poor…to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord" (a direct reference to the year of Jubilee). Jesus' warnings against unlimited capital accumulation and "lord mammon" are unequivocal. He tells his followers to live lives of dangerous generosity, giving and expecting nothing in return. And he tells them to actively pursue justice for the poor. Material care for the marginalized, the oppressed, and the hungry, Jesus taught, is what matters most to God at the final judgment. (See Matthew 6:16-24; 25:31-40; Mark 10:23-25; Luke 4:18-19.)

“God’s Laws Were Designed to Promote Social Equality”

The early Adventist pioneers understood—and in their denominational pay structure even put into practice in small but significant ways—the radical economic vision of social equality expressed in the Sabbath Jubilee. In her 1890 book, Patriarchs and Prophets, Adventist co-founder Ellen White wrote that the monopolistic accumulation of wealth by elite classes tends to "demoralize society and open the door to crimes of every description." God's laws, she declared, "were designed to promote social equality." They would "hinder the amassing of great wealth and the indulgence of unbounded luxury." They would also "prevent the consequent ignorance and degradation of tens of thousands whose ill-paid servitude is required to build up these colossal fortunes."

Get Involved

In the radical spirit of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and earlier generations of Adventists, the APF supports campaigns and actions that we believe are creative and prophetic expressions of what Sabbath economics might look like in our world today. We encourage APF members to explore concrete actions for economic justice in partnership with others from diverse backgrounds who hold similar values and concerns such as: