About the Brethren Economics Study Center

Peace, simplicity and community sound like vague ideals — but they have real content when applied to economics. Peace is vital for economic flourishing; simplicity reminds us that we could all be better off if we could all agree to live simpler lifestyles; community is what’s missing in a world drowning in “stuff” and thirsting for genuine relationships.

The Brethren Economics Study Center does not yet, strictly speaking, exist. But what does exist is an idea: that our society would be better off if it applied the ideals of peace, simplicity and community to our economic system.

1. Peace
is an idea that, if applied to our economic system, could do a world of good, on more ways than one. An economic system that placed less strain on natural resources and that depended less on a high-consumption lifestyle in the West would be consistent with eased tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere.

2. Simplicity
should appeal to those of us who feel harried in our personal lives. Some of us find ourselves in what game theorists call a “prisoner’s dilemma,” in which we could all be better off if we could all agree to live simpler lifestyles.

3. Community
is, for many of us, elusive. We have greater material affluence but far less contact with our neighbors than was true a generation ago. However, we can intentionally create community and build relationships — it just takes some thought, and some action.

This all came from
an effort in the Church of the Brethren to briefly describe ourselves. When the committees and consultants were done, here’s the tagline they came up with: “Another way of living: continuing the work of Jesus, peacefully, simply, together.” That’s what we aspire to as Brethren.

The mission of the Brethren Economics Study Center is to conduct research and education in applying the ideas of peace, simplicity and community to modern economic systems.

Questions and Answers

Q: What’s this about “Brethren”? Is this a men-only idea?
A: No! “Brethren” is a historical name for the church, which today is inclusive of women and has many women pastors and church leaders. Here’s an article on the church’s name.

Q: Is this effort sponsored by the Church of the Brethren?
A: No. Opinions expressed on this site are those of the authors and not the official positions of the Church of the Brethren.

Q: How did you get into this subject?
A: I am a professor of economics and a member of the Church of the Brethren. I have begun to see how the teachings of my faith might usefully illuminate study of our economic system. I first explored this formally in my 2002 book, Getting a Grip on Your Money. I hope to do additional writing on the subject.

Q: What’s with the basin and towel?
A: The basin and towel (above, left) are symbols of serving others — a radical idea in our time, when self-centeredness seems the spirit of the times. The basin and towel are reminders of the time that Jesus humbled himself to take on the role of a servant and wash the disciples’ feet. To brethren today, the basin and towel are inspiring symbols of our calling to serve others.

Q: What is the Hunger Scrounge?
A: It’s a youth activity designed to help us identify with people who do not have enough money to afford as much food as they would like. It tests the resourcefulness of the participating youth as they attempt to shop and cook on a highly limited budget. In brief, students pool 35 cents each, then take their money to the store, buy food and cook it and share the meal together. There is a complete account of the Hunger Scrounge with guidance for leaders at this link.

Our Goals
Here are our current goals, in increasing order of difficulty:

  • To collect a list of useful Web links on the economics of peace, simplicity and community.
  • To provide an annotated bibliography of scholarly and technical papers related to peace, simplicity and community.
  • To establish a working paper series so that scholars interested in the economics of peace, simplicity and community can more easily exchange ideas.
  • To establish a speaker’s series and speaker’s bureau to make it easy for interested audiences to hear more about these ideas.
  • And finally, to establish a Brethren House that would serve in a dual role: first, it would provide headquarters and offices; and second, it would serve as the hub of a series of informal experiments in simple living. Can such institutions as cooperative food purchasing and ride sharing work over the long term? These and other questions would be explored through Brethren House.

Some Resources (more to come!)