International breaking news is detailing another global financial scandal. It’s massive. This is on top of struggles already being faced in business because of the global pandemic. The reputations of major banks and businesses are on the line, again.
Following is an excerpt from my book Church in Society: First-Century Citizenship Lessons for Twenty-First-Century Christians addressing the importance of personal ethics in business relationships.
First, a few words from the preface:
In the pages ahead, I hope to both inform and challenge your perspective on citizenship as a Christian. Like much of twenty-first-century Christianity, you and I have been influenced by the changing society in which we live. What if we could reverse that influence so that instead of changes in society influencing us, as Christians you and I influenced the changes in society?
Chapter Eleven – The Church, Public Engagement
… In short, Christians are best equipped for public engagement by a sincere, deep, developing, and intelligent commitment to follow Jesus in all of life. The Church is where that equipping is fostered.
In late April 2013, a friend invited me to join him at a May 3 luncheon at the Toronto Board of Trade. Another friend had committed to go and the idea was that we would make it a one-day Ottawa-Toronto-Ottawa road trip. I sometimes cringe when I think about the gap that might have been torn in the Canadian religious freedom team if Albertos, André, and I had experienced misadventure instead of adventure on that day.
The Toronto event was a conversation about the continuing threats to global capitalism following the 2008 global financial crisis. The participants were Father Raymond J. de Souza, editor-in-chief of Convivium Magazine; Mark Carney, completing his 2008 to 2013 term as Governor of the Bank of Canada; and Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. All three traced the world financial crisis that began in 2008 to a failure of individual personal ethics.
In his talk, Carney noted five Cs necessary for recovery and stability, including,
The fifth “C”—core values—is the responsibility of the financial sector and its leaders. Their behaviour during the crisis demonstrated that many were not being guided by sound core values…
More fundamentally, to think that compensation arrangements can ensure virtue is to miss the point entirely. Integrity cannot be legislated, and it certainly cannot be bought. It must come from within…
To help rebuild that foundation, bankers, like all of us, need to avoid compartmentalization or what the former chair of HSBC, Stephen Green, calls “the besetting sin of human beings.” When we compartmentalize, we divide our life into different realms, each with its own set of rules. Home is distinct from work; ethics from law.
In his comments, de Souza offered these thoughts on what Carney had said:
Integrity cannot be legislated and it certainly cannot be bought. It must come from within. But from within what? If regulation is insufficient, we must rely on the men and women of finance to regulate themselves. It’s the Governor’s argument about individual responsibility. They must do it from within.
But one might ask, then, what about those core values? If they must do it from within by their necessary core values, what is, in fact, at the core? The great theologian of the free society and free economy, Michael Novak, who is now in retirement—I recommend his works—taught us that the free market does what it does extremely well. It creates wealth, allocates resources etc., but it does not do metaphysics. That is to say, it does not provide from within itself a logic for the virtues that it actually requires to operate efficiently.
Those have to come from without, from outside of the market, from the realm of ethics, or for many people, faith. As Novak used to put it, the altar of the free market is empty. That is, the market is not supposed to provide us with a god or even with a meaning for life, but if there is no god somewhere else that provides those things then the market can easily be turned into a god itself, to catastrophic effect.
Let’s step back to the first-century A.D. I think one of the reasons Priscilla and Aquila could continue their business as tentmakers after being identified as members of a controversial religious sect was because their customers knew their business practices to be exemplary. Being people with unimpeachable good character allowed others to trust them personally and in their business operations. That trust also made them ideal as educators for Apollos the evangelist (Acts 18:24–26). Similarly, in Thyatira, Lydia’s reputation as a respected businesswoman was so good that she was known citywide simply by her first name (Acts 16:14).
Paul summarized this citizenship lesson succinctly:
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. — Colossians 3:23–24
As Christians, our public life, including in whatever line of work we engage, is to align with our personal faith, as for the Lord. That’s character, of the good variety. The influence of our character is experienced in every public interaction, and beyond.
Quotations are footnoted in the text of Church in Society. Here’s a look at the table of contents for those with an interest.