Chapter 6: Love of God vs. the Pursuit of Profit
Loving God means loving people. Running a business means making a profit. Between these two lies a gap – or is it a yawning chasm!
What kind of paradoxical relationship exists between investing much of our working week in trying to make money, while at the same time attempting to be – before all else – committed to loving and following God? In other words, are the two goals of loving God and seeking to make a profit in any way compatible, or do they in fact take us in opposite directions?
For Wayne this has been an ongoing point of tension.
In my early years as a car dealer I was a little naïve in setting profit margins. I often determined them by what I felt would be a “fair” price. A very subjective decision. Sometimes a consideration was the number of hours I invested in the deal, though this became increasingly difficult to use as a measuring stick. The problem is that for some customers I invested huge effort and time for little or no return, and for others very little time for exceptional return. In the first situation I felt frustrated and sometimes taken advantage of … and occasionally I felt embarrassed by the second.
Rarely, however, did I consider the level of financial risk I was taking in buying the vehicle in a foreign country (Japan) and importing it here without knowing whether I could sell it for a profit. In the car industry there is no guarantee of a sale, and certainly no guarantee of a profit. Market conditions and consumer fickleness can mean that what is one month a safe buy in Japan can the next month be a worrying loss in New Zealand.
Even with buy-to-orders (where I bought and imported specific vehicles for customers) there was significant risk – risk that they might not like the vehicle when they finally saw it, that it might need unbudgeted-for repairs, or that customers might buy something else in the meantime and ignore their verbal agreement with me. To not take all this into account in my pricing was foolhardy.
There were other, perhaps more fundamental, questions that I learned to consider as well. For example, I knew that loving God was visibly expressed in loving people, so how might that look when dealing with customers? Could I genuinely seek to serve/love them wholeheartedly, or was this always going to be compromised by my equal determination to make money?
And then there was the question of whether profit was legitimate. Or was I just dabbling in “filthy lucre” and condemning myself to a life of greed and a fixation on money?
Temptations arose to take “shortcuts” and thus minimize costs and maximize profits. Rewinding odometers was not something I would ever consider, but there were opportunities to avoid doing small extra jobs on a car – a service, a groom, a panel repair, etc. Some of these jobs would eventually have to be done by the customer anyway; by shifting the responsibility onto them I could make a little more profit. But was this right?
I regularly felt pulled in two directions. Some people might think that a “Christian car dealer” was a contradiction in terms. But for me the real tension was in seeking to love God and pursue profit at the same time.
When we work in the marketplace as Jesus followers, there’s a phrase that often rings in our ears. The words come from Matthew, chapter 6: “You cannot serve both God and money.”
The central message of what Jesus says here is clear enough – we can have only one Master, one primary allegiance in life. Jim Wallis notes that the things that dominate our time, energy, thoughts and money are most likely the best indicators to what controls us – or what we worship.
That’s all very well, but if my job or my business requires me to give substantial energy to ways of making money, is this wrong? Have I then allowed money to become my master?
It’s the line between “pursuit” and “entrapment” that most of us find notoriously difficult to pin down. At what point does an energetic commitment to our work, edge onto the slippery slope towards enslavement? Can we draw a line between the two, or are we just kidding ourselves?
Rob Bellingham notes that there are three broad approaches Christians take in dealing with the tension between God and money.
God and money
Viewing financial prosperity as a sure sign of God’s blessing is an age-old response to the tension. It assumes that there is no conflict between the two. Not only can both be pursued at the same time but, in fact, one will automatically lead to the other. This is the creed of the “prosperity doctrine” or “health-and-wealth gospel”, and it’s usually backed up by many Old Testament passages and verses which reinforce the prevailing view of ancient Judaism: that material prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing.
God or money
Another way of responding to the tension is to draw a sharp line between loving God and the pursuit of money. Treat them as mutually exclusive … a straight choice: one or the other. When Jesus says, “You cannot serve both…”, this statement is taken to its logical conclusion. The result is that a faithful Christian should not get into business. Such “secular” work badly compromises one’s faith. Better to exit the marketplace and work “fulltime for the Lord”.
God then money
The alternative to both the others is to view it as a question of priorities. Jesus’ statement is a challenge to elevate God to the position of first place in our lives – first over everything else, including our business activities. Primary allegiance is the key. Which master will rule? This approach accepts the reality of an ongoing tension – one that will never be fully resolved. In this sense it is riskier and messier than the other two approaches which both offer simple resolutions. The “God then money” way assumes engagement in the marketplace.
None of us have any difficulty with the idea that God wants us to work for our living. We all agree that we should do our daily job to the best of our ability. We would be failing God if we did not give full value during the hours we work.
Let’s take that a step further. If we have a special skill at some particular activity, we should have no hesitation about giving it all we’ve got. In the film Chariots of Fire, the Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.”
Who would suggest that Michelangelo should not dedicate himself to his art? Who would stop Martin Luther King from giving his life for civil rights? Who would take Mother Teresa from her task of caring for broken people?
That which fulfils us, that which we excel in, should bring us pleasure – as running did to Eric Liddell. If there is an area of our work that does that for us, let’s embrace it as part of our lives for God, not something that is in competition with God. If that area is skill at making a profit – creating money that can be used for good in countless ways – then we have no need to feel it is wrong.
The crucial factor is that we do these things with God, that our love for them is within our love for God. Of course, that is not an easy balance to keep. Pursuing a profit can take the place of God, but so can any enthusiasm: a love of music, a spirit of adventure, a career in politics – the list is endless.
The key is that in our lives God comes first. Knowing this, we need to keep a watchful eye on our passions, whatever they are. We need to pursue them with wisdom. With God. Let’s always remember that Jesus made a special point of mentioning the deceptive allure of money. For a rich man to enter Heaven really is difficult. As we are about to see.
Most simply put, profit is the excess of income over costs. Another way to express it is as a return on the investment made in a business after all expenses are accounted for.
It is fair and reasonable to expect a return on the investment of capital that a person or group makes when starting and running a business. By choosing to invest capital in the business, the owner has lost the opportunity to invest the money elsewhere (like in a bank savings account where it might earn, say, 7% interest). He or she deserves to be compensated for this “opportunity cost”.
Many would argue that legitimate profit should also reflect the level of risk the individual or group is taking. An example of this is Wayne’s business of buying cars in Japan and importing them into New Zealand. We believe it is fair to factor in the risks he takes; there is a genuine chance that some of that money will be lost. Furthermore, without profit there can be no re-investment in stock and plant, which means that Wayne’s business will ultimately run down and fail.
So in the economic system we are part of, profit is both legitimate and necessary. However, this is not to say that economic profit should be the primary reason for commercial operation. Business is fundamentally intended to serve – providing goods and services that contribute to the wellbeing and development of the community. Profit is a necessary part of this – but not the only reason for a company’s existence. A Christian view of business won’t minimize profit-making, but neither will it raise it above all other concerns.
Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, in their well-known study of visionary companies, note that,
Profitability is a necessary condition for existence and a means to more important ends, but it is not the end in itself … Profit is like oxygen, food, water, and blood for the body; they are not the point of life, but without them, there is no life.
James C. Collins & Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (London: Random House, 1994), 55.
How should the level of profit be determined? This raises a whole hornet’s nest of issues and questions. But it needs to be considered.
The standard way that many determine the level of profit is by working out what the market will sustain. Whatever that is, is considered legitimate. It’s true that generally competition serves to keep prices within reasonable limits. It creates a trade-off between ensuring a successful and rewarding business … and protecting customers by giving them choices of cheaper or different products. However, it’s naïve to believe that the free market can always moderate this tension consistently and justly. For example, where essential services are controlled by a monopoly there is the potential for excessive profit to be made through unjust exploitation.
Usually the people who are hit hardest by unreasonable profitmaking are those who can least afford to pay the extra. This is particularly destructive in the business of lending. The least welloff in society frequently find that money from banks is not readily available to them. That leaves them at the mercy of financiers who exact exorbitant rates of interest. The justification offered by these lenders is that they need to cover bad debts and therefore must charge higher interest rates. But the reality is that many of the poorest will never climb out of debt. They are trapped and often end up with nothing.
New Testament scholar Wayne Grudem argues that profit needs to reflect the value my work has added. He suggests that, “Profit is…an indication that I have made something useful for others.”Such profit should reflect the person’s time, skill and risk. Grudem’s biblical argumentation is based on the mandate of Genesis 1:28; the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30); and its Lukan equivalent, the parable of the minas (Luke 19:13).
Two of Larry Burkett’s basic business maxims are, “provide a quality product at a fair price” and “treat your customers fairly”. We couldn’t agree more – but the problem comes when there is no real handle on how, in practice, these standards might be determined.
Alexander Hill takes a similar approach. Applying God’s justice to the world of commerce, he points out that justice should be the aim for both customer and seller, for both client and service provider. Therefore there’s nothing wrong with expecting to be rewarded for effort made and risk taken. We essentially agree with this “added value” principle. But again, making such assessments is deeply subjective and often based on societal expectations as well as supply-and-demand economics.
Let’s consider the following case, as an example of some of the issues involved:
Barbara, a real estate company director sells a house for clients Gerry and Norma. The price she secures for them is $475,000. It has taken her (and her associates) several days of work to market the property, show it to prospective buyers and eventually do the important negotiation work that happens when an offer is presented. For this service, she charges the client just under $21,000 including GST. When Gerry questions the high commission, Barbara trots out a well-argued line, including the “fact” that she managed to achieve a far better price for the house than Gerry and Norma would have managed by themselves. Her network of contacts, she says, is an incredibly valuable source of potential buyers, and her negotiating skills are second to no one.
In spite of Barbara’s points, Gerry and Norma are obviously disenchanted. Sure, they did sign the contract with Barbara’s company back at the beginning, but they clearly didn’t fully appreciate the implications.
It’s not made much better by the knowledge that when Barbara sold their last house five years ago, her commission was a more palatable $9500. What’s more, Gerry and Norma have also had to fork out over $2000 for pre-paid advertising costs – none of which (apart from a listing on the company’s website) were covered by Barbara’s company.
Barbara walks away from the conclusion of the after-sale conversation a little disturbed. The clients’ unhappiness has caused her to question whether she should re-consider some of the issues involved.
Where might Barbara start? The profit she charged was for “added value” – how should she calculate this in a fair way?
Some of the issues she might consider are:
What risk did Barbara take in marketing the property?
What is a fair payment for the time consumed by Barbara and her staff in selling it? (In other words, what are they worth?) And to what degree should Barbara factor in the time she and her staff consume working on houses that they end up not selling?
How much higher was the price Barbara negotiated than what might have been achieved if the client tried to sell the property without the assistance of a real estate company? Is there any reasonable way of estimating this?
What value should Barbara place on her well-honed marketing and negotiating skills? In other words, how much difference did they make to the eventual price?
What value should Barbara place on the extensive number of contacts and prospective buyers that her company has developed over the years?
What are other companies charging? (See below)
What value do the sellers place on the relatively hassle-free process of getting Barbara to sell their house?
In business, it is often easy for a Christian to just go along with the standard practice. That is, simply set your prices or charge-out rates based solely on how much you can get away with. After all, what your customers will be prepared to pay is usually dictated by what your competitors charge, or what is the industry-accepted practice.
To us, however, these factors (though far from irrelevant) are not enough. There are other considerations in our attempt to love God and pursue profit, such as:
Given that my assessment of the “added value” I’ve produced is subjective, do I feel comfortable that I am charging a fair/just price – one that is fair for me as well as fair for my customers?
Are there any factors that I am conveniently ignoring (or underplaying or overplaying or otherwise using to my own advantage) that are preventing me from seeing the issues a little more objectively?
Is there anyone I should talk with to gain some outside perspective?
Could it be that the particular profit issue I am looking at is a “blind spot” of my industry? (In other words, have we developed well-articulated justifications for our actions that help to support an industry-accepted practice that in other contexts would be difficult to justify?)
Is there anything about the customer’s circumstances that should affect what I charge them? (For example, a client’s ability to afford my services or goods.)
Wayne Grudem, Business for the Glory of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 41.
Take for example, the case we heard of recently, of a company that makes small volume, highly complex engineering machinery. They have produced a new machine that reduces the manufacturing costs by 70%, giving them a huge profit margin. What is a “fair” price for them to charge? If they determine it totally by supply and demand, they will make a “killing”. Alternatively, they could pass on some of the margin to their customers – but how much? And what about the need to be fair to the shareholders, given the fact that they have incurred costs developing the machinery and now marketing the product, meaning that the company probably won’t be profitable for another 2-3 years?
One of the deep challenges of living with the tension between loving God and the pursuit of profit is that greed always lurks as a potential threat. We all know from personal experience how easy it is to begin with good intentions and motives, but increasingly under the pressure of the market, be seduced so that profit-making becomes the sole, or at least main, arbiter of our business decisions.
If we are not to be consumed by greed, we would do well to remind ourselves regularly that our capacity for self-deception and convenient justification is intrinsic to our human condition. Having a healthy distrust of our own judgement is therefore important. So too is developing a relationship with a select few who can aid us in honestly talking through such complex issues.
Fellow pilgrims like this are a little more rare than they should be, but they can be found. Friends who will ask the hard questions but refuse to answer them for us – nor judge us for our response – are friends to be prized.
Loving God inevitably leads us to take into account the welfare of the other people affected by our decision-making – both locally and globally. It also involves considering wider issues – like the environment and the stewardship of resources. If we maximize profits at the expense of these wider concerns, we compromise our capacity to love God.
The writer of 1 John makes it clear that the most obvious way we can love God is by loving other people. He cites Jesus as our ultimate example: “Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.” ( 1 John 2:6 The Message). This means learning to care for and invest in the things Jesus cared about – loving our “neighbour”, caring for the poor and for justice, stewarding well the resources entrusted to us.
Sadly, we can too easily say we’re following Jesus but in reality be living counter to his example. 1 John is blunt in its assessment of such behaviour. It’s a lie, a sham.
The tragic case of Enron is a testimony to this. It’s really a tale of two stories – one of corporate greed, the other of pietistic faith.
White-Collar Crime's New Milestone
By Brooke A. Masters and Carrie Johnson, Washington Post, Friday, May 26, 2006
If there was one case the government had to make to define this as the era of corporate accountability, it was Enron.
But the Enron Corp. tale was complicated, with labyrinthine partnerships and intricate accounting entries, and no documents directly tying the guys at the top to the decisions carried out by others.
When the jury returned its verdicts – guilty on 25 of a combined 34 counts – it was a clear win. Jurors refused to let slide the two former chief executives who had become synonymous with corporate corruption, and who tried to blame underlings, advisers, institutional investors and the media for the Houston energy company's spectacular 2001 collapse.
"The jury says, you're the boss," said white-collar defense attorney Charles A. Stillman.
The convictions of Enron founder Kenneth L. Lay and former chief executive Jeffrey K. Skilling cap the Justice Department's five-year battle to hold top executives responsible for a flood of accounting fraud and corporate failures that undermined investor confidence, put tens of thousands of people out of work and hit the savings of millions of ordinary people.
Enron's 2001 bankruptcy exposed failures across the system of corporate governance, from audit companies that lacked true independence and board members who failed to ask skeptical questions to lawyers and bankers who blessed questionable deals in exchange for whopping fees. It also resulted in major changes to the regulatory system, including a federal law that requires top corporate executives to attest to the accuracy of financial statements.
Although the Enron convictions serve as a high-water mark for the government's efforts to crack down on high-level corporate lawbreaking, legal analysts cautioned that the case does not mark the end of white-collar crime. "Where there's money, there's going to be crime," said former U.S. Attorney David N. Kelley. "You never know what's going to surface."
As in many of the recent top corporate trials, prosecutors had few documents linking Skilling and Lay to the accounting maneuvers that hid billions of dollars in losses from investors. The case therefore came down to weighing the two men's credibility against that of the other Enron executives, who swore Lay and Skilling were involved.
That made the two men's performances on the stand that much more critical, and both of them fell short. Lay in particular came across as an irritable control freak, while Skilling strained credulity with his complicated explanations and convenient memory lapses, jurors said.
More than any other case, Enron symbolized the collapse of the 1990s stock market bubble and the revelation that many of the nation's highest-flying companies were far less substantial than they seemed. "This was the stock market's 9/11. How could the seventh-largest company collapse?" said Samuel W. Buell, a former federal prosecutor who worked on the early stages of the Enron case. "The fact that significant and highly credible companies engaged in misconduct of the rankest sort, pulling the wool over the eyes not just of investors but of analysts, journalists and regulators, is a very sorry chapter in our history, and one that deserves the right type of burial," said Harvey L. Pitt, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Ken Lay was both the CEO and Chairman of the Board for Enron. He was the son of a Baptist minister, and during most of his involvement with Enron was a Methodist, very active in the life of his church, enjoying good standing among his fellow believers. In 2001, Ken Lay claimed, “Looking back on my years in business I am convinced that God has been guiding me all the way. I’ve been able to make a bigger and more positive impact on more lives, more communities and more causes than I could have done any other way.”
And he was very generous in his giving to other causes, from literacy projects to church-planting efforts. He also proclaimed his innocence and denied any responsibility for wrongdoing.
Yet a certain Professor Hanson who had a number of students working at Enron says, “I think culture is critically important, the ethical environment in which one operates, and unfortunately Enron appears to have been a problematic ethical culture, which didn't encourage the kind of honesty and responsibility-taking that is central to any ethical organization.”
At the same time another professor observed, “When you look at this management – who for the last few years were taking great responsibility for what was happening at the company, the great success they enjoyed, being on the cover of every magazine, in the newspapers, being interviewed on television – now appearing before Congress and saying, ‘We didn't know, we didn't see, we weren't part of it, we didn't understand.’ I mean, that's a lack of responsibility. That is total irresponsibility”.
The story of Bernie Ebbers is remarkably similar. The founder of Worldcom and its former chief executive, Ebbers was known as a very generous man, a church deacon and civic leader. He taught a Sunday School class for young married couples, and his pastor said, “He is a man with a good heart.” When he proclaimed his innocence in church he received a standing ovation.
The trouble is, the congressional committee that investigated Worldcom said in its findings, “This was a case of pure theft, of insiders stealing from their own investors.”
These really are scary crimes for those of us who profess to follow Jesus. If the stories of Enron and Worldcom were simply of corporate and personal greed and dishonesty by executives who professed no faith in God, it would easily fit our preconceived views of who is most likely to act unethically.
The problem is, however, that not only were some of the key players professing Christians, they exhibited exemplary “Christian” behaviour in many aspects of their lives. This raises some very serious questions for us to ponder, questions such as:
How can Christians think and act like this?
Is it possible to think we’re serving one master, when we’re actually serving a different one?
How can Christians sincerely believe they are acting ethically when all the evidence points to deep deception and greed?
Are we ourselves in danger of this kind of hypocrisy?
If so, what can we do to avoid falling into the same trap?
The book of Amos is a powerful prophetic challenge to those of us who seek to follow God. The primary message is: if you say you love God then it must be reflected in the way you live.
In a sense, this book is talking to the Ken Lays and Bernie Ebbers of our world – people who feel as though they are following God faithfully, but in reality are living in two worlds – one where they practise piety, one where they practise business. And the two are as different as chalk is to cheese.
Amos is really the first of the biblical writers to go public with the truth that our worship goes hand in hand with our business – that our talk on finance and our walk with God can’t be separated.
As we read the book of Amos it quickly becomes clear how relevant are his words to our situation today. He’s speaking to a world where the “act of worship” has become reduced to the equivalent of a Sunday morning “worship hour” – rather than a life lived reflecting the values of Yahweh. Sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?
Here are some of the no-nonsense things Amos says:
People for them are only things – ways of making money.
They’d sell a poor man for a pair of shoes.
They’d sell their own grandmother!
I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fundraising schemes, your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice – oceans of it.
I want fairness – rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want. (Amos 2:6-7; 5:21-24 The Message)
In this, one of the Bible’s most dramatic cries, Amos shows how God must feel when our business behaviour on Monday makes a lie of our songs on Sunday.
Eugene Peterson notes:
The biblical prophets continue to be the most powerful and effective voices ever heard on this earth for keeping religion honest, humble and compassionate. Prophets sniff out injustice, especially injustice that is dressed up in religious garb. Prophets see through hypocrisy, especially hypocrisy that assumes a religious pose. They pay little attention to what men and women say about God or do for God. They listen to God and rigorously test all human language and action against what they hear. 
Amos is unequivocal – our worship is meaningless if we are making profits unjustly through exploiting others and accumulating wealth. If we truly seek to love God, it must be reflected in the ways we think about profit, in the ways we acquire profit, and in the ways we use profit.
Eugene Peterson, The Message (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), 1641.
This is the place to mention another area where our pursuit of profit may lead us to ignore God’s intentions. The conflict sprang into focus during the final decades of the twentieth century when damage to the environment became an issue. Suddenly western cultures were faced as never before with the pollution they had let loose. Looking at the rape of our environment, some blamed the Bible for fostering a mindset of exploitation. The wording that aroused this criticism is to be found in Genesis 1:28.
And God said unto them [the newly created humans], Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing…
The wording is that of the King James Version – the translation that was universally used during the centuries when western technology was on the rise. Critics focussed on the words “subdue” and “have dominion over”. The charge made against the Bible was that this was an excuse for pillaging the earth and its resources.
There may be an element of truth in this, but it is also a caricature. The words have constantly been quoted out of context. You’ll notice God’s instruction to “replenish the earth”, which rarely gets a mention from critics. In this regard, James Beattie and John Stenhouse have recently completed a study of the attitudes of nineteenth century Christian colonists in Otago (in southern New Zealand). They show that not only did the faith of these pioneers provide incentive for their cultivation of the soil as they burned off bush and tilled land for farming, planting crops and pasture grasses, but they were also involved in a number of significant conservation efforts. These were clearly an expression of concern for the earth, encouraged by their understanding of a wide range of biblical injunctions.
In the story of the Garden related in Genesis chapter 2, the man is invited to both cultivate and care for the garden (verse 15). Management of the land and its resources is an important element in any Christian environmental ethic: preserving what has been given at the same time as adding value to it. (This emphasis appears in numerous specific commands that are given in the Levitical law.) We humans are given “dominion” with a strong sense that it is the delegation of responsibility under God; eventually we will answer to God for how this responsibility has been exercised.
Historically this has most often been called Christian stewardship. Nowadays stewardship is more often related to church campaigns to raise money. Perhaps trusteeship is a more helpful word. We have been given responsibility to cultivate and care for our physical environment as trustees under God.
One example of exercising such “earthkeeping” is the Businesses for Social Responsibility movement which has promoted the idea of Triple Bottom Line Reporting. They encourage companies in their annual reporting to not only analyse and report on their financial performance, but also to audit social consequences and their environmental impact. They invite companies to develop some key performance indicators in each of these areas and to regularly measure and report on their full financial, social and environmental performance. Some people think that businesses only exist to maximize profits. Others, such as BSR, suggest that businesses also have a responsibility to help create a better world. Profit is not the sole goal.
1. Are there any tangible markers that might help us determine whether we are “pursuing profit” or “enslaved to the pursuit of profit”?
2. Read through the case study again about Barbara, the real estate agent. Discuss what might be appropriate if you were in Barbara’s situation. (You may like to use the questions listed in the case study as a starting point.)
3. Is an appropriate profit margin solely determined by what the market will bear? Or are there other ways to settle on a fair price? What other ways?
4. Early in the chapter we referred to this quotation from the book Built to Last, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras: “Profitability is a necessary condition for existence and a means to more important ends, but it is not the end in itself for many of the visionary companies. Profit is like oxygen, food, water, and blood for the body; they are not the point of life, but without them, there is no life.” To what extent do you agree/disagree? In what ways is this true or untrue for the enterprises you work with?
5. Are there any “industry-accepted” practices in your field of business that you think might be questionable? What might they be and why? (If there are others in your group who are involved in different industries, ask them what they see that needs to be questioned in yours.)
6. How important is it to have friends who will ask the hard questions? Do you talk over ethical dilemmas with friends? If so, what do you appreciate from them? For example, do you expect answers from them, or just help to clarify the issues? How important is it for you to know that they will not judge you for your response? What other ways can they help?
7. Discuss the questions we listed at the end of the stories about Enron. They are:
How can Christians think and act like this?
Is it possible to think we’re serving one master, when we’re actually serving a different one?
How can Christians sincerely believe they are acting ethically when all the evidence points to deep deception and greed?
Are we all in danger of this kind of hypocrisy?
If so, what can we do to avoid falling into the same trap?
8. If Amos were alive today, what specific attitudes and practices in your business culture do you think he would comment about, regarding the lifestyles of Christians?
9. We have noted above that the Businesses for Social Responsibility movement is trying to encourage companies in their annual reporting to “not only analyse and report on their financial performance but also to audit their social impact and environmental impact … Some people think that businesses only exist to maximize profits. Others suggest that businesses also have a responsibility to help create a better world.” A counter case is put that a business should limit itself to what it is designed to do – that is, conduct business. It should not set itself up to undertake environmental or social programmes. That, say proponents of this view, is the function of government, and of public or charitable organizations who are skilled and experienced in the demands of such intervention.
Do you think that businesses only exist to maximize profits, or do they also have a responsibility to help create a better world?
What do you think about Triple Bottom Line Reporting?
How might a company or organization that you know well go about this?
What might be some key performance indicators to measure social and environmental performance?
Al Gore (in An Inconvenient Truth) and others think that significant climate change has been caused by human activity, and is rapidly leading towards an environmental crisis. They argue that drastic and urgent action is necessary. How concerned do you think we need to be? What are some of the practical points at which this affects you? For example, your use of a car? Aeroplane travel? Heating your home and office…?
Christianity, Modernity and Culture: New Perspectives on New Zealand History, edited by John Stenhouse and GA Wood, (Adelaide: ATF Press, 2005), pp 180-203.