How can a Christian Faith Inform Ethical Business Practice?
Individualistic concepts that allow domination of one over another just don’t hold up within this type of Christian understanding.
Business-as-usual oppresses people and planet. An enormous range of social and environmental injustices are committed by standard business practices knowing and unknowingly.
People, especially those who fall into one or more categories of additional vulnerability, are exploited through low pay, unsafe and abusive workplace conditions. Slavery is even a reality for some individuals. Oceans are filled with plastic and other waste which kills wildlife and destroys ecosystems. Air is polluted, and as a species, we are responsible for influencing our entire planet’s climate to change. Land-based environments and all kinds of ‘wild’ and ‘domesticated’ creatures are being exploited and destroyed.
Why? Basically, in pursuit of the industry accepted goal of all business leaders – the Holy Grail – more dollars. It’s all about the bottom line.
Traditionally, and typically still today, business students are trained that the only legitimate responsibility of a business leader is to maximise profits for the owners of the business. After all, it’s the owners of the business who have employed you to manage their business interests.
As someone who went the MBA route, I quickly learnt that this has become the ultimate responsibility of a business leader – whether you are a CEO, a managing director, or actually, any employee within a company. And as anyone who has ever tackled a business model or income sheet finds out, the goal of maximising profits is often most easily addressed by minimising costs. So it comes as no surprise that best practices across industries tend to focus on reducing expenses to grow the bottom line.
The problem is that to do this, to reduce these expenses, businesses often just end up sourcing cheaper resources, externalising any social or environmental damage. Business best practices are too often the worst practices for people and the planet.
But we are seeing a growing movement of people across national, socio-economic, cultural, ethnic, and religious boundaries questioning business-as-usual practices that oppress people and planet.
The reasons for this may seem obvious, especially if you’ve taken the time to read this post, and managed to get this far! For many of us, our gut intuition tells us to reject unjust business practices.
As a Christian, the lens I see this all through inexorably involves my faith.
As with many people of faith, Christians have reasons rooted deep within our anthropology and theology to reject any kind of unethical business approaches and practices. And as with many people of faith, there is no separation between our private faith and our outward practices, our faith beliefs inform our whole life. We can’t separate our workplaces activities from the faith we hold to at the core of our being.
I’d love to share a bit on how my Christian faith informs my approach to ethical business practice. My approach will not be the same approach taken by all Christians, but this is at least one Christian perspective that hopefully can add something to the conversation around how faith beliefs can inform ethical business practice.
To begin with, as a Christian, through my understanding of the anthropology of the Imagio Dei, I see humans as God’s Image-bearers. And then through a Trinitarian social theology of God, I understand God as social, as communal. Put together, I naturally understand our ‘selves’ as persons in relationship, with others, inseparably a part of the community. Individualistic concepts that allow domination of one over another just don’t hold up within this type of Christian understanding. Biblically, we can interpret the mission of Christ as bringing about the reconciliation of ALL things on earth (the letter of Colossians 1:15-23) through his peacemaking on the cross. We understand that all creation has been groaning and waiting for this gospel, alongside humanity (the letter of Romans 8:18-25). This cosmic-scale reconciliation is a vital part of our gospel. And so, if God is calling all creation and peoples, both men and women, to reconciliation with him, how can we knowingly choose to oppress this same creation and these same people?
Let’s take it right back to the very beginning for a moment. The book of Genesis. Christians traditionally held to a reading of Genesis as humanity having dominion over the earth. This reading of dominion, especially when combined with scientific enlightenment philosophies, led to the rampant exploitation of the planet and all its resources, including its creatures, for the exclusive use of humanity (or more realistically, for the benefit of the particular group of humans wielding the most power). Many Christians have since moved away from this, instead embracing a stewardship reading of Genesis. This reading sees Christians as the caretakers and managers of the planet, to look after it, using its resources but also caring for it, all the while acknowledging God as its rightful owner. To keep this succinct, suffice to say that a key reason for this shift was improved translation of the word in the original text from ‘dominion’ to ‘stewardship’. However, more recently, strong biblical and theological cases from across both protestant evangelical and catholic lines have called for a new reading of Genesis with the whole story of scripture. This reading sees humanity’s responsibility as one of intergenerational and universal solidarity with all humanity and creation.
As a Christian, as with many people of faith, I can’t create or keep a division between my internal faith and my outward actions. As with all people, my core beliefs, convictions and values bleed out through my actions and words. And so naturally, whether knowingly or unknowingly, I apply my faith-based beliefs to my vocational setting.
As a Christian with the understandings I’ve shared above – that humans are the Image-bearers of a God who is calling all creation and all people to reconcile with Him, and of individual persons being called into solidarity with all humanity and creation – my faith has significant implications for my approach to business.
Can I knowingly choose to oppress other people or our planet? Can I stand by while oppression is taking place? No, instead, my core Christian faith beliefs, convictions and values lead me to strongly reject unjust social and environmental business practices.
Whether you are a Christian, a person with a different faith identity, or identify otherwise – we have an opportunity to choose to work together in solidarity to intentionally re-imagine and reframe what it means to do business-as-usual. I love that while we may approach ethical business with different motivations and with different strategies and tactics, for us to be united in tackling unjust business systems and practices speaks volumes in hope for solidarity across all of our differences.
Instead of business-as-usual as we have known it, business best practices could actually become the best practices for people and planet, not just for profit. And business-as-usual could even serve to liberate people and planet.