The wave of recent business scandals presents Christian churches with a challenge. Commentators have spread blame widely for the scandals: Greed-infected officers, sleepy boards of directors, gutless attorneys and accountants, politicians hog-tied by corporate contributions. But what about the church? Does it share some of the blame?
What should we make of the fact that some of the now-disgraced executives were active in their churches and outspoken about their faith?
Historically, Christian thinking about business has swung between the two extremes of warm embrace and cynical rejection.
"Embrace" theology has wrapped Christian doctrine, capitalism, profits, and business practices in one big group hug: Capitalism forms part of God's kingdom, and the Lord rewards Christian ethics with an enhanced bottom line.
"Rejection" theology, on the other hand, identifies capitalism as a system built on greed and warns against the evils of accumulating wealth. The value of business, if any, is instrumental. The workplace can serve as a platform for evangelism and can generate funds for charitable work. But business itself is, if not sinful, at least dirty and distasteful. Robert A. Sirico wrote in Forbes magazine nearly a decade ago of how businesspeople leave the church because of open hostility from clergy who assume they sin more than others.
Neither approach is of particular use to a sincere Christian active in business. The church has fallen into these extremes for two reasons.
First, many Christians understand neither business nor the issues facing church members who work in it.
Second, and more troubling, many of us don't have a clear theology of business. The church urgently needs to identify and teach how God sees business and how ...1
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