Where Do Evangelicals Stand on CEO Compensation?
The question I have now is: Among the CEOs that would be involved in the bailout, do any claim a strong religious identity? Because although Barney Frank frames the issue as a patriotic one, others might see it as an ethical and therefore perhaps moral or religious issue — particular if that CEO belongs to one faith community or another.
In their 2008 book, Good Intentions, journalist Bob Smietana and Baylor University economics professor Charles North argue that Christians can influence the issue of CEO pay through the clout of faith-oriented institutional investors. Smietana and North write that "the gap between rich and poor should trouble" Christians, and that Christians should "live out biblical concerns" over economic exploitation in general and the executive pay issue in particular "by keeping a watchful eye over companies where their churches have some clout." The authors borrow Warren Buffett's argument that better corporate governance will only come when large institutional investors act like owners and exert pressure over managers and boards. Smietana and North write:
Many Christian organizations are institutional investors — via pension funds and church endowments, for example. GuideStone Financial of the Southern Baptist Convention has over $10 billion in assets. Thrivent Financial for Luterhans manages $70 billion in assets. Other denominations, religious colleges and organizations such as the Knights of Columbus — all of these manage investment funds. Together, these religious organizations could wield the market clout of Buffett's 'large institutional investors.' They could push for reasonable approaches to CEO pay in the large companies whose stock they own.
I hope that other religion journalists will begin to look at how religious groups are — or are not — engaging these economic issues at a moment of crisis.
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Andrea Useem is publisher of ReligionWriter.com (where this article first appeared), a freelance journalist, and editor based in Northern Virginia. She holds a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Bachelors degree in religion from Dartmouth College.