catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 5 :: 2003.02.28 — 2003.03.13


Reclaiming the corporate culture

The real life skeletons currently tumbling out of Corporate America's walk-in closets provide ample evidence that reality is more engrossing than fiction. Not even John Grisham could concoct a plot where the coveted prize is admission of the twins to the chic Manhattan pre-school. The admission odds are undoubtedly Himalayan-esque: only 300 application slots are granted by phone within minutes of "open season" being declared. New York?s finest annually line up banks of phones and servants to furiously speed dial in a telephonic assault to ensure their designer off-spring have the chance to interview for one of 65 pre-school positions. Genetics as destiny is so pass?! If destiny is determined by graduating from the right university/high school/elementary sequence then naturally placement in an elite pre-school is the most critical crossroad in any three-year-old's road map to achieve enduring lifetime success!

Unfortunately for this humble scribe, "pre-school" meant pouring ditch water down an old drain pipe in an empty lot, as opposed to playing under the retractable roof which houses New York's 92nd Street Y outdoor terrace playground. Fortunately for telecom analyst Jack Grubman, father of the aforementioned twins, he worked for Citigroup, the world's biggest bank. And one of Citigroup's directors was Michael Armstrong, CEO of AT&T, a company massively over-valued in the late 90s stock market euphoria and in dire need of "analyst encouragement" to maintain its share price bubble. And Citigroup needed to continue mainlining on egregious investment banking fees to continue its torrid profit growth. Happily, for Jack at least, dozens of investment firms waited with baited breath for Grubman's advice on which telecom firms would be the cash cows of the coming communication convergence. Lest the twins be doomed to mingling with the great unwashed masses, Jack was able to see his way clear to "temporarily" raising his rating on AT&T's stock. Investors loaded up on another telecom lemon and Citigroup generated more banking profits. The twins, thank goodness, interviewed awesomely and were granted tenured pre-school positions and everyone lived happily ever after—OK, perhaps only for two years, but I digress.

Real life warm fuzzies like the above are enough to make just about anyone consider Marxism as a viable worldview, until one discovers that influence peddling in socialist countries is even more pronounced. In many nations, Grubmans's blatant conflict of interest would not be regarded as troublesome, but rather the acceptable exercise of privilege. What is wrong in the realm of business? US college students, freshly weaned from bootlegging music from the Napster website, have even caught a whiff of the corporate stench. A recent Businessweek article noted that 84% of students believe a business crisis exists and the vast majority desire that the CEO's be held personally responsible. Score one for common grace and the notion that our Creator provided each of us with an on-board moral compass. But then the pollsters went outside the realm of public decency and asked the students if they had ever cheated on an exam. 60% admitted they had and 81% said they would not report a classmate who cheated on a test. Nice to see the next generation of leaders strongly resembles the present motley cast! Score one for humanity's well documented double set of standards whereby we judge others much more harshly than ourselves. Lest anyone think the author is about to unfold a pocket-sized platform of puritanical superiority, I fit nicely with the majority of the student respondents in both survey questions. In fact, when I once cheated on a math test, I had the gall to be silently choked that the brightest student in the class, (from whom I "wisely" borrowed the answer), managed to get the question wrong! Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?

So what's a Christian with a troubled moral compass supposed to do? How does a Christian worldview intersect with the daily demands and decision-making of business in a distinctly secular arena? Surprisingly, for the majority who claim to "follow Christ," there simply isn't any overlap of Christian worldview and business. Nor should there be, they argue, since religion is personal (translation: confined to Sunday and quaint homilies from the pulpit). Monday arrives and many Christian business people switch into a completely different mode of action and thought, where Kingdom-work is pushed far away from attending to the steady drone and demands of the capitalist machine. As Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's once noted: "I serve God and work, although not necessarily in that order during the work week." Secular society lustily cheers this bifurcated (or "dualistic") existence among Christians. And well they should, as what could provide more comfort to a non-Christian than the daily reinforcing evidence that "the Jesus freaks" are, at their roots, just like everyone else, narrow-mindedly pursuing their own self-centered gain?

Nothing is more unsettling to society than a Christian who actually reads and attempts to live out a consistent application of Scripture in all walks of life. As C. S. Lewis's delectable Screwtape tells his nephew Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters, "If you can get him to the point of thinking that religion is all very well up to a point, you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and much more amusing." Mainstream Christianity has a pathological tendency to crawl a long way from quietly and unpretentiously following Scripture. Instead, we tend to stride piously into church and through society carrying over-sized bibles with perforated pages, all the easier to pull out the sections that aren't meaningful to how we wish to conduct our lives.

How can we readily explain away the inability of Christians in the past hundred years to competently address sex, alcohol, art, literature, music, dancing, card playing, movies, and yes, business? Each and every Christian movement has declared elements of God's good Creation as "forbidden" and to be avoided rather than addressed from a comprehensive world and life viewpoint that declares all of Creation created by, belonging to, and sustained by the Lord. Christians seem to have an overwhelming desire to approach Creation with a gigantic Sharpie and begin circling elements that are simply beyond the Creator's reach. Helpful, aren't we?

When portions of the Created order are placed on the scrap heap of history, many intractable theological questions are raised. First and foremost, "If we say we worship an all-powerful God, why isn't He able to reclaim all of what we manage to tarnish?" As Al Wolters states in Creation Regained,

The good Creation precedes, and is distinct from, the fall and its effects . . . thus the scope of redemption is as great as that of the fall: it embraces Creation as a whole. The obvious implication is that God?s people are called to promote renewal in every department of Creation. We have a redemptive task wherever our vocation places us in the world. Everywhere Creation calls for the honoring of God's standards.

Richard Neibuhr echoes the thought: "Christian hope resides in the conviction that life is a critical affair . . . and is good and that a conviction of its goodness forbids us to give up on any part of human life as beyond hope of redemption."


"It's all our business" for a host of reasons. Abandoning the realm of business to the Grubmans of the world effectively sanctions the notion that society, and specifically business, is a selfish smorgasbord served up daily for a party of one. John Calvin in his Institutes, suggests a different kind of societal banquet, a dinner characterized by social justice rather than self. He writes, "All the gifts we posses have been bestowed by God and entrusted to us on the condition that they be distributed for our neighbor's benefit." Christ's rallying cry is to endeavor to undertake our utmost with the Creational building blocks and blueprints He has left us. For "the Lord by His wisdom founded Creation" and "He who began a good work in you will see it to completion." (Proverbs 3:19 & Phillipians 1:5). Let the building begin!


The close of 2002 has not been kind to Jack. It turns out Citigroup made a small—OK, a million dollar donation, to the 92nd Street Y. And the donation was preceded by a fawning e-mail from Jack to the CEO of Citigroup asking for assistance in placing the twins in the heavenly pre-school and simultaneously mentioning that his AT&T analysis was looking favorable. Jack!!

I heartily recommend three books that touch upon on Christian worldview and business without requiring a PhD in philosophy to read. Al Wolters' book Creation Regained is a succinct and highly readable 100-page overview of the Reformed outlook. Lee Hardy's book Fabric of this World is an excellent overview of worldview, work and business. Michael Novak is a superb Catholic author and Business as Calling contains very wise reflections on the moral aspect of individual and corporate existence. Enron?s Lay, Skilling and Fastow likely never got around to reading any of these three fine authors. Pity!

Finally, I deliberately did not touch on the explosive battleground of discussing how one might conceptualize doing business from a Christian standpoint. It would be easy to toss out some worldview grenades like "profits are a Creational blessing," but that is a sizable topic for another day!

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