Can One Be An Effective Christian Business Person?
- Author: Gus Blanchard, St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Mahtomedi, MN.
- Updated: 05/13/2009
- Copyright: Gus Blanchard
Acts 2:43-45; Acts 4:32-35; Mark 10:17, 21-24
Gus Blanchard uses Scripture and our modern context of economic struggles to lead a devotion so that God guides us through these difficult times.
Can One Be An Effective Christian Business Person?
By Gus Blanchard
Can one be both a Christian and an effective, successful business person? Are the two systems of belief compatible, or mutually exclusive?
It seems like I've been hearing about the biblical mandate of serving and helping others, as well as the dangers or evils of money and money-making, almost from birth. I'll bet you grew up on some of these scriptures too:
Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Mark 10:17, 21-24
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"... Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to the disciples, "How hard it is it for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
I grew up in a warm and loving home where church and Christianity were central to our lives, but where the business world was also the source of our food, clothing and shelter (Dad was a Coca-Cola man from end of WW2 to retirement in 1982). As a grocery bagger, newspaper deliverer, Coke truck driver, college waiter and dining hall manager, my Christian beliefs and upbringing created no obvious conflicts between my faith and my income generation: I simply did the best I could, generally (not always) resulting in happy "customers" and no competitor losing his or her job. I couldn't see any obvious losers as a result of my effort, and there was plenty of positive feedback that felt good and reinforcing of more of the same.
But then came my adulthood and the corporate world in the mid-60s and, for three years, the U.S. Army, and my world changed. Advancement - more pay, better perks, more control of your own life and more power and influence over others - came at the expense of peers. If I was #1, they were less than that.' If I got the next promotion, they had to wait. If I received the "plum" job, they received something less. "Be All That YOU Can Be," unfortunately, is a recent motto for the Army: back then, it was more a case of "First One to the Top Wins, all the others lose."
The corporate world of the 1960s, 70s and 80s was increasingly that way too. Internal training and motivation programs used phrases such as:
- Crush the competition
- The Company's way, or the highway
- Meet the earnings goals, no matter what
- Never settle for second best - we are # 1
- One of us is going to lose this sale and his job, and it won't be me.
- Always tell the boss what she wants to hear - no bad news.
Does this sound like the mantra of a Christian?
And yet these same companies I worked for who put forward these values - and thousands more around the world - invested in their people's personal development, established charitable foundations that gave away tens - perhaps hundreds of billions to society, education and the arts, and otherwise worked hard to improve the lives of the communities in which they lived and worked. Supporting the United Way was a matter of continued employment at AT&T. In pursuit of a more diverse work force, many invested large amounts in recruitment, catch-up training, equal opportunity of advancement, and diversity training. Some, without endorsing a particular religion, made office space available for employees to worship together outside of normal business hours. I was able to describe my "management style" as The Golden Rule, without being called down for introducing religion in the work place. And successful companies were able to pay their people increasingly well, allowing them to further contribute to the needs of their communities while also living "the good life." That sounds better, doesn't it?
Compatible or incompatible? Former Harvard president and former treasury secretary, Larry Summers, is clear on this question: "It is hard in this world to do well. It is hard to do good. When I hear a claim that an institution is going to do both, I reach for my wallet and run for the door. You should too." He offers as an example Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-created corporations that were supposed to achieve a social goal - more affordable housing - while operating as businesses. They did neither well, eventually leaving their catastrophic debts for taxpayers to pay.
A far harsher assessment comes from a collection of essays on capitalism that I found on the Web: "One of the most important functions of religion is to provide us with a value structure through which to judge right and wrong. Capitalism is a philosophy of life that can only be described as the pseudo-religion of greed. It usurps the role of religion to provide a distorted morality. "Give to all who beg from you," Christianity teaches us. ':What's mine is mine," the capitalist answers. "Love your neighbor as yourself," is the Bible's Golden Rule. "Take care of number one," is the capitalist response. "Sell all your worldly possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow me," Jesus told one of his questioners. The capitalist just laughs."
Or how about these headlines from today's WSJ?
- Foreclosure Filings up 81% in 2008
- Shapiro Pledges Tough Enforcement (SEC)
- Nortel files for Chapter 11
- Microsoft is Exploring Job Cuts
- Motorola to layoff another 4,000.
- Democrats Unveil $825 billion Stimulus Measure
- Bernie Madoff Again Avoids Jail
- Economy Still Deteriorating
These are indications of our fallible humanity, aren't they? And of capitalism's major flaws. Not a lot to be proud of, since almost every problem referenced is directly or indirectly the result of decisions made and carried out by our fellow man.
Compatible or not? Judged strictly by the scriptural standards referenced above, it's hard to see how we can answer in the affirmative. And yet we are here together in this room and this building which we have all helped build and support, giving of our own time, talents and money to help our neighbors and serve others in their time of need. Were it not for the jobs we and our families hold (or held), it seems unlikely we would be able to do these things. So perhaps that's one in favor of compatibility.
No final answers from me - as it has in the past, I think this subject will always be on Mary's and my minds and in our hearts. But I did come across a very helpful thought which I'll close with. One of the first moral arguments against capitalism involves the issue of greed. And this is why many Christians feel ambivalent towards the free enterprise system. After all, some critics of capitalism contend that this economic system makes people greedy.
To resolve this issue we need to resolve the following question. Does capitalism make people greedy, or do we already have greedy people who use the economic freedom of the capitalistic system to achieve their ends? In light of the biblical description of our fallen human nature, the latter seems more likely.
Because people are sinful and selfish, some are going to use the capitalist system to feed their greed. But that is not so much a criticism of capitalism as it is a realization of the human condition. The goal of capitalism is not to change people but to protect' us from human sinfulness.
Capitalism is a system in which bad people can do the least harm, and good people have the freedom to do good works. Capitalism works well if you have completely moral individuals. But it also functions adequately when you have selfish and greedy people.
Greed is part of our sinfulness. The solution is not to change the economic system, but to change human nature with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mighty God, our Heavenly Father: we praise and thank you for being with us tonight. We thank you for the opportunity to serve your people through the collective efforts of this group and all members of St. Andrew's. You have blessed us with families, warm homes and hearts that want to make the world a better place. Tho' we may not yet be ready to follow the disciples' examples of giving all that we have away, show us how to serve and benefit the largest number of your people with the gifts you've given us. Be with us tonight and throughout the coming days, weeks and months as we seek to guide our church through challenging times. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen