I am across this video clip last night by Noah Riner, a MBA student at Stanford. His observation is the constant refrain I've heard from businesspeople, over and over and over again, throughout my life.
Charles North and Bob Smietana wrote a book four years ago called Good Intentions: Nine Hot-Button Issues Viewed Through the Eyes of Faith. They make this observation:
In interviewing businesspeople for her book Church on Sunday, Work on Monday, [Laura] Nash discovered a chasm between how businesspeople and their pastors saw economics. Pastors and church leaders talked in restrictive terms about the need to limit greed. The businesspeople in their congregations had a different view.
Business people took a positive, additive view: faith was about expanding economic opportunity for more people through business success," says Nash. "For the business person, business was about solving problems and creating prosperity and it centered on specific activities."
The message from the church is that, while occupations like social work, teaching, or medicine are worthy vocations for Christians, participation in business is almost exclusively an exercise in sin management. There is no theology that affirms and guides the shalom-generating contribution that business makes in the world. Particularly ironic is to a see a theologian occupying the Sally Smith Chair of Theology, a position endowed by some prosperous businessperson, articulating blanket condemnations of business, markets and profit.
There are a number of reasons that predispose those who work in church institutional structures against business. I won't be addressing those here today. Rather, I want to highlight that the church offers no narrative and no support to businesspeople trying to navigate the waters of our modern economy. Then episodes of businesspeople behaving poorly come on the horizon. The response from churches? "See! We told you have evil those businesspeople really are." Then comes a whole new round of sermons, articles, and blog posts about consumerism and resisting greed. We are told to put our social justice badge on our sleeve, to run out the door, and to go Occupy Wall Street.
Well, I've got a better suggestion. How about we church leaders go look into mirror? Then we will see the weak link. Then how about we go occupy Main Street? How about we go into the lives and businesses of the businesspeople in our own congregations, learning what challenges they face and what visions animate them in their work. Instead of an endless barrages of caution and condemnation, how about we find ways to be a church that affirms and guides businesspeople as they live out Christian vocation. Granted, it isn't as sexy as protesting in the streets, but there will be no meaningful move toward a more shalom-filled world without it.