I just want you to know you aren’t going to church with a crook…. More than anything else, I hope that my witness for Jesus Christ will not be jeopardized.
– Bernard Ebbers, church deacon, Sunday School teacher, self-proclaimed born-again Christian, and former CEO of Worldcom, speaking to his congregation at Easthaven Baptist Church after the scandal broke. The congregation responded with an enthusiastic standing ovation.
I believe in God and I believe in free markets.
– Ken Lay, former Enron CEO, son of a Baptist preacher and member-in-good-standing of Houston’s First United Methodist Church.
Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Adelphia Communications, Qwest Communications International, Tyco, Dynegy, ImClone, and Global Crossing. More often than not, those companies were run by Christians—at least in name, if not (as we now know) in actual practice. In one of the most damning articles I’ve ever read, The Wall Street Journal in July 2002 drew a correlation between the leadership of those disgraced companies and their (largely Evangelical) church affiliations. But Ebbers and Lay were not the only two Evangelical Christians to find themselves having to answer to the courts and shareholders for their fraudulent schemes. From the lowliest person involved in one of these well-known business scandals to the highest echelons of those disgraced companies, Christians were involved every step of the way promoting gross fraud and chicanery.
But how is this possible? How does your Sunday School teacher teach a great lesson on Sunday on telling the truth then turn around on Monday and defraud shareholders in his company to the tune of $3.8 billion?
It’s not Worldcom, it’s worldview.
As we saw in this series’ posts on The Industrial Church Revolution, Darwinian worldviews supplanted a coherent Christian worldview as the Industrial Revolution grew, feeding off the classism created by it. Not only were average Americans losers in this transition, but capitalism lost as well. The result was that the concentration of capitalism’s power moved from home-based economies in a divergent marketplace made up of individual families (largely governed by a Christian worldview that kept the purity of capitalistic ethics in check) to corporations that operated out of a survival-of-the-fittest mentality where the ends justifies the means. (Lest anyone think this is an oversimplification, try explaining the litany of ethically-bankrupt companies listed above any other way.)
Without a Christian worldview upholding it, capitalism takes on a truly wicked sheen. Darwin’s ethical base is…well, it doesn’t have one. It could be argued that ultimately the only ethic that can prevail in a system where passing on one’s genes (be it naturally or figuratively) is the only goal is “grab and maintain power at all cost.” This prevailing Darwinian ethic is remarkably similar to the ethics of many, if not most, of today’s large businesses. Matched with capitalism, Darwinian business practices become nothing short of hellish.
I live outside a city dominated by two enormous and exceptionally powerful companies lurking in the Top 10 of the Fortune 500. From my own personal experience, I can tell you that the mentality of those companies is that they would rather send entire departments within them to the guillotine than be #2 to any company in their marketspace. Microsoft, another company with a win-at-all-cost Darwinian worldview, regularly recruits ex-execs from both of those companies; the current leadership of the software giant reads like a Who’s Who of expatriates from both.
The question that must be asked here is if Darwinism has supplanted Christianity as the predominant worldview, then how can anyone expect the leaders of a company to operate the company in a way that is contrary to the soulless, anything-goes-ethics of Darwinism? The leopard can’t change its spots. So why do we think that the business world can change if the people running those businesses no longer operate from a Christian perspective?
Everyone here is tripping over the truth that the Social Darwinism that governs many businesses has a worldview that reeks of short-sightedness. Whatever is expedient in the moment is what gets the job done. Darwinism’s emphasis of passing on the genes of one generation to another totally foregoes the long-term view of life that Christianity possesses. Darwinism preaches just one generation, while Christianity preaches eternity. No wonder so many business decisions today lack any forethought other than “Let’s get through one more quarter and damn everything else.” So many of the recent trends in business—outsourcing, offshoring, age-ism, and so on—are based in short-term Darwinian thinking and not in a holistic Christian worldview that looks beyond a three-month chunk of time.
Apart from an expedient view of business, other odd things happen when a company lives by a Darwinian worldview. One of those oddities is that it renders Christians who work for a Darwinian company surprisingly mute at the most inopportune moments. In the city near me, one of those large companies came out in favor of a morally-questionable piece of local legislation designed to improve their recruiting pool. And while the company itself has many within it who are the bastions of their churches, those bastions did not speak out against the proposition. Worse still, they supported legislation elsewhere in the state that went against the company line, but they would say or do nothing locally to jeopardize their careers. Is this the example we should be setting for the generation that comes after us?
These examples are ultimately factors in the dichotomy that all Christians in the work world must face, yet the Church’s deathly silence on work issues is startling. Most people in a church spend eight or more hours a day doing their jobs, yet American Church leaders never speak to work issues. More often than not, those Church leaders are shown hobnobbing with folks like Lay, Ebbers, and Kozlowski. And though the name of the CEO here escapes me, a recent business leader who talks about his born-again Christianity was making the rounds of churches before his fraud trial, preaching from the pulpit. Somewhere along the line we have forgotten that “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And as for all the gladhanding too many Christian leaders give to corrupt business leaders, an old Southern aphorism is, “If you lie down with dogs, you get their fleas.”
The extension of this silence is that those who do stand up to corrupt business practices and pay the penalty for it are too often shunned by their churches. Congregants in many churches feel an unease when too many unemployed people start showing up around them. Yet if we Christians are to stand up to devilry in the marketplace we have to start rallying around Christians who take a stand against corporate corruption and the steamroller business trends that have their source in Darwinian thinking. It is one thing to tell a congregation that God does not care about image, yet if honing that image keeps a person in his job, what do we say to him when he stands up against that honing and winds up in the unemployment line? Remember, God takes care of the widows and orphans and can feed them from heaven with manna if He wishes, but He chose the Church to be His hands and feet. Yet what is the Church in this country doing to help Christians who take a stand and run afoul of Darwinian business practices?
This is the environment we face today, and though some think worldly answers like Sarbanes-Oxley will hold businesses in check, the only way to get past the brutal short-term Darwinian thinking that infects the majority of the business world—even within supposedly Christian businesses and organizations, as Nancy Pearcey so rightfully notes in her book Total Truth—is for Christians to not just lobby for a room to hold lunch-break Bible studies in, but to dig out the corrupt Darwinian foundation underlying business and install a Christian worldview. Christian leaders must refrain from endorsing business leaders who operate out of Darwinian principles even as they are reaching out to help pull down Darwinism within corporations. Christian leaders must start speaking to work issues and also offer businesses some incentive to endorse Christian means of running their businesses. God’s original call to work by “subduing the earth” should never mean “leaving a wake of Darwinian destruction behind in the process.” Let me tell you, God hates that kind of short-sightedness. If we cannot make the case that a Christian worldview trumps a Darwinian one when it comes to long-term health of businesses and the communities around us, then God help us all because the scandals and broken lives that result will only increase.
In the next installment of this series, we’ll take a look at several business issues being ignored by American Church leaders and what we can do about righting them. Tune in to The Redemption of Corporate America coming up soon.
Previous post in the series: The Christian & the Business World #6: The Industrial Church Revolution, Part 3
Next post in the series: The Christian & the Business World #8: The Redemption of Corporate America
8 thoughts on “The Christian & the Business World #7: Binding the Business Strongman”
Another extra-base hit, Dan. I’ll be blogging about it Thursday. Peace.
Thanks, Milton. It’s good to know that someone is reading the series. I know it’s long, but the problem is not a simple one and it’s got its tentacles deep—even in the Church. It’s an 800 lb. gorrilla kind of topic. I even had my wife read this post over to make sure I wasn’t cutting my own throat by posting it.
Everything about the Christian life challenges the worldly systems. We just can’t idly accept them; it’s not the way of Jesus. If they’re there in the biz world we need to shine the Light on them. It’s not just individual humans that love the darkness.
Keep it up Dan, keep it up! I am absolutely loving these posts. I have worked for about 6 different companies in the past 7 years, and I know exactly what you are talking about. I could write a book on the effects of General Systems Theory, and it’s effect on the morale and ethics of employees within a company. “Eat or be ate!” That is definitely the cry of corporate America.
And short-sidedness, man you got that right, I worked at a company that was into the phase of do whatever it takes to make it one more week. If that involved prostituting the owners’ mother out to pay the bills one more week then I think that is what would have happened. And the name of that company is, —— (ha, ha, did you think that I would really post it?) 🙂
Great post Dan, we differ a bit with you on the overall concept of big = unchristian (and that may not be your total view, but this post seemed to heavily lean that way). Anyway, great post, and great points overall.
We threw a post and link up about it on our blog and also added the additional point of how Christians & churches should act when they hire the world – i.e. see it as a mission field not a group to beat down with scripture and God.
Stay strong, be courageous and blog often.
This has been excellent Dan. I’m a fresh college graduate, and this series has been very helpful in terms what I need to be aware of.
Good stuff this. Keep up the good work. I’d like to extend the thinking a bit further, too …