For years now Hillsong have been running a Christian Business Directory for Christians in western Sydney, and apart from the missiological issues this inevitably raises, I have also long wondered, what does it mean to call a business “Christian”?
In response to a question about psychology, I recently stated the following:
The wariness with psychology is due to the fact that many models, while useful, are grounded in unchristian assumptions that can catch the unwary. For example, given Freud associated religion with psychosis it is reasonable to expect that the psychodynamic model based on his teachings will present Christians with some challenges. I think uncritical rejection is just as problematic as uncritical acceptance, so I don’t advocate running away from the problem, but I won’t say integration is easy.
But I could say the same thing about business models. Many business models are equally grounded in unchristian assumptions. Is having a Christian as a CEO enough to call a business Christian? I think not. Nevertheless, many of us Christians are employed by businesses so it is not a problem we can run away from.
Here is something to chew on. For most corporations, maximising share value for shareholders is their highest virtue. In fact, under corporations law it is illegal for us to aim for anything else. Even the most enlightened corporations can only justify a triple bottom line when there are win / win solutions. When only win / lose solutions are available, economics inevitably wins.
Yet the good news suggests to us that the bottom line is never the bottom line. God is. So there will inevitably be some situations where God’s ways brings us into conflict with corporations law, where business ethics calls us to treat Christian ethics as an “externality”, where we have a choice to make.
I think this is where we need to recognize that corporations are amongst what the New Testament refers to as the “powers and principalities” and that whatever we might say about private corporations, public corporations at least (governed by shareholder concerns as they are) can never be viewed as completely “Christian”.
So what is a Christian employed by a public corporation to do? In this I suggest we look to exiles like Daniel for inspiration. Even when Daniel was placed in charge of the court astrologers of Babylon, even when he was made the equivalent of their CEO, reporting only to the board, his situation was hardly transformed into a Godly one. Yet in all his work he never compromised himself. So it is doable, it is just not easy.
With this in mind I would suggest that, for most of us, it is probably more useful to move on from talking about Christian businesses to talking about how to be a Christian in an unchristian business, how to work as a Christian when unchristian business models are the order of the day. The first step, as I have suggested with my psychology comments, is to look at core business assumptions.