Monday, October 24, 2011

(12) Business From a Christian Point of View

      Basically, Economics, one of the liberal arts, is the study of how individuals and societies choose among alternative uses of scarce resources to produce and distribute both goods and services. Business executes these functions on the micro level. The firm utilizes human, material, and financial resources in order to produce a good or service at a profit....a great motivator, indispensable for survival and growth. To be competitive, the firm must be innovative and efficient to improve quality and reduce costs which make lower prices possible. Profits can be maximized by the efficient management of these resources in planning, organizing, leading, and controlling the main functions of human resource management, finance, production, and marketing.

       But profit maximization as an end in itself can lead to unchristian exploitation and social injustice, as the person becomes a simple commodity. Then profits will eventually fall since it is people that produce and they must be properly motivated. It is people who have buying power and discontent may lead to lower sales and government intervention. Even secular schools teach business ethics, business law, and social responsibility. But if they do not have a Biblical basis, executives will do what is legal to avoid lawsuits and what is ethical as Society views it for public relations purposes, but not what is necessarily morally right. The Atlanta based "Fellowship of Companies for Christ" found over 1200 Biblical verses and a number of parables that they claim relate directly to running a business.

       Marketing is not manipulating the customer to buy a product that s/he does not need, but rather as Philip Kotler look for customer needs and then adapt the organization and its products to better satisfy these needs at a profit. Salespersons should be honest about their product and strive to help the customer with his/her business, admitting that their product may not serve the customer well in certain applications. This builds up trust, customer loyalty, and ultimately the best possible form of advertizing.....word of mouth.
        Human Resource Management and Labor Relations boil down to treating people with love, dignity, and respect as espoused by Wayne Alderson and Tony Campolo in their "Value of the Person" movement. They call it Theory practice this "not because it is expedient, but because it is RIGHT". A person has value and dignity not because of wealth, position, or achievement, but due to the fact that s/he is created by God for eternity according to His image and likeness and because Christ is in "the least of mine"....the unborn, the poor, the uneducated, the handicapped, the aged, etc.

        Thus the employee is not simply another resource to be hired, used, and discarded when no longer useful for the good of the organization in our throw-away Society. There must be more Christian and more creative ways to handle personnel moves. Once a person is hired, s/he becomes a member of the organizational community. If the firm makes an error in selection, everything possible must be done to develop that person and find a fit somewhere in the organization. When a cutback is essential for survival and cannot be done by attrition or incentives, then the company must give the laid off employee every assistance in making the transition.

        When Management values and cares about its people as an interdependent Christian community where its members are aware of their individual importance and contribution, people identify with the organization, thus becoming more loyal and more motivated. There are Christian principles in conflict resolution (labor relations) as shown by Ken Sande in his book, "The Peacemaker". Richard C. Halverson, the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate said before retiring, "There is a lot of rhetoric about reconciliation, but it gets down to this: Can you love your neighbor and respect your enemies and those who spitefully use you? Keep greeting and loving people who won't talk to you. Sooner or later they'll break".

        As one Christian scholar in the area observed: "All the principles of modern Behavioral Science (in business) can be summarized in four words.....Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John". I like to tell my students: "I challenge you to make your work place more human where people care about each other". The college administration should reflect these values....relying on faith when conventional business practice may dictate compromising these values for the sake of survival.

        Finance. Banks mobilize savings from members of the community, all of whom are stewards of what God gave them. These funds can then be used to serve other members of the community. That is loans to or capital investments in firms as well as for home and consumer loans. It is capital investment that creates jobs and consumer demand that sustains them. Thus banks and other organizations in the private and public sectors are also stewards. In his Christian radio program on personal finances, Larry Burkett relies on Biblical admonitions against excessive debt. Many of the over leveraged firms which are in financial trouble could have learned something from a verse in Proverbs: "Hasty speculation brings poverty".

        A Christian Model of the Firm. God created us as social beings with many but different gifts to be used for the benefit of all of His children. Community is a natural manifestation of this, from the family to the Church and the nation. In general, a community is a group of interdependent people living or working together with common interests or goals. The key is interdependence....different abilities, skills, and resources are utilized for the common good through market exchange, taxes, government services, and voluntary sharing.

       The Core Community of the Firm consists of stockholders, managers, and other employees organized to produce a product or service at a profit. The Extended Community of the Firm extends the core community to include mainly suppliers and customers, but it may also include debtors, creditors, and distributors. Again their is mutual dependence.

       The Total Community of the Firm further broadens our concept of the business as community to include the surrounding population and its organizations, including governments. The firm depends upon a prosperous immediate political community for its sales, its supporting infrastructure, and services, its financial, material, and human resources. The surrounding community depends upon the firm for jobs, investment, and taxes for government services.

        Now with this model of the firm as a community and also as members of local, national, and global communities, it is easier to see God's plan in making us interdependent social beings. We can also see His will that all people become members of His Mystical Body. Community is a Christian concept and works with much greater efficiency if we love one another, i.e. care about each other. Inner conflict, on the other hand, can even destroy a firm. Mistrust by customers can bankrupt the company.

       With this model, business social responsibility, ethics, labor relations, personnel management, marketing, finance, accounting, and operations all fall into place. Christian morality is an excellent guide for business ethics. This foundation should also make it easier to understand how Christian principles can be applied to Business. It is our hypothesis that such Christian principles will lead to greater profitability in the long run and other positive results such as greater customer loyalty, better employee relations, social responsibility, etc. By applying the concept of Christian community and by practicing Christian principles, we can in little ways build the Lord's Kingdom and without imposing, integrate people more fully into that most sacred community, the Body of Christ.

        Therefore, we not only work for the organization and ourselves. There is something higher. Sincerely caring about colleagues and subordinate employees within the internal community or organization and serving the customer and the surrounding community are very compatible with profits. Interdependence and the common good are characteristics of both the internal and the external community.... Christian concepts that begin in the local church or parish community. Such social and ethical responsibility mean greater profits in the long run. In addition, such an attitude gives meaning and importance to the job and makes it more motivating, fulfilling, and satisfying.

        Community Awareness should be inculcated in the employees. It is a recognition of the importance of one's job as a significant contribution and a genuine concern to the point of greater effort for the welfare of fellow employees, the customers, and the surrounding community. There's nothing inspiring about working hard to maximize stockholder wealth or to make management look good. Workers can more easily identify with their fellow employees, who depend upon a prosperous company for higher wages and job security. They can easily identify with the customer who will use the product or service. And workers can identify with the surrounding community that needs the company as a source of jobs and taxes. Working for something higher can indeed be motivating. "Whatever you do, do for the glory of God". "Whatever you do to the least of mine, you do it unto me". "Love thy neighbor". Community Awareness thus gives meaning and importance even to the mundane job and makes it more motivating, fulfilling, and satisfying.

        A Christian community or any organization for that matter advances when each member humbly recognizes that s/he is endowed with some gifts and deficient in others. When all of these gifts are effectively pooled and every person does his/her part, there is a tremendous synergetic force for maximizing organizational effectiveness. That is diversity and discussion in an atmosphere of Christian love, trust, and openness to new ideas in working together for the Lord and His people, the common good.

        A study of Social and Economic Development from a Christian perspective would show that a mentality of greed, exploitation, laziness, dishonesty and corruption manifests itself in all parts of the economy in high costs, low productivity, high prices, poverty, conflict, social chaos, more crime, and more economic crises. Without God having to raise His hand, man punishes himself...."the wages of sin". The greatest obstacle to human progress is man himself. On the other hand, a Christian culture and mentality can foster economic development. For example, Israel and Judah in the Old Testament went through numerous cycles of greatness and disaster, including defeat and captivity. They rose when close to God and fell when they drifted from God into idolatry and corruption. When they would finally come back to God, they returned to greatness. This cycle repeated time and time again. Will this pattern repeat in the United States.

        Economic development is more effective when it follows the Christian principle of subsidiarity, i.e. the higher entity (government) should not do what the lower level (local government, private groups, and/or individuals) can do for themselves. In other words, the people concerned should be helped and empowered whenever possible to decide their direction and to do what is necessary. Then a tremendous energy, creativity, and resourcefulness may be tapped. The little church on the corner can often do more for the inner city community with $10,000 than a government bureaucracy can do with $100,000.

        The Free Market System and Christianity. Our free enterprise system can only work if for the common good if it is subject to the constraints of the God-given moral laws, professional ethics, and social business responsibility. Given our human nature, profit is a great motivator although the Christian should also be motivated by service. Then healthy competition with sufficient opportunities for entrepreneurship stimulates creativity, mobilizes resources, maximizes quality, and minimizes prices. Government should not interfere unless the private sector cannot or will not do what is necessary for the common good.

        If Business will not control itself against abuses, then Government must do it. The State does have the role of promoting social justice, protecting the public against abuses, preserving and providing incentives for individual initiative, stimulating private investment, facilitating small business formation, retraining displaced workers if necessary, providing information on the economy, promoting cooperation among companies and with the Government to increase exports in the face of foreign competition, doing basic research which is beyond the capability of the private sector, etc. When feasible, the Government should leave social services to private charities who are much more efficient and personal.....using matching grants and more tax incentives for voluntary charitable donations which enrich spiritually. Too often impersonal government agencies give without love and help without concern.

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