Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Musings on The Christian and Business

It occurs to me that for a Christ follower (with at least a slightly engaged conscience), you are sometimes restricted in what kind of business you purchase and what kind of products and services you offer. For instance, I love books but I don't think I could ever own a bookstore. Why not? Well, because a bookstore sells a lot of books and magazines that I wouldn't be comfortable as a Christian selling. Could I get away with just selling "decent" books? Probably not. And even if I could I'm not sure it would be profitable. And who would want to spend all of their time censoring which books are OK and which are questionable? And of course some books might be "grey" area ones where you aren't sure if they are OK or not. Some Christians might not have a problem with selling all books, but I don't think I could do it.

Another business I have considered is owning a resort. Owning and operating a resort in some beautiful locale seems like the perfect business. But if you own such a resort you can't really choose and pick who your guests are or control what they do on your premises. Would you be OK to have guests who you know will most likely be doing things that you ethically don't support? For instance, what if NAMBLA (the North American Man Boy Love Association) wanted to rent your facilities and you really don't support anything they say or do? Or what about a same sex couple on their honeymoon? Or even a young unmarried couple wanting to get away for a romantic retreat? I want to underline here that I don't condone any sort of cruelty or unkindness against people who's sexual behavior I disagree with. And some Christians might have no problem with these things as the law protects these people from being discriminated against (and hey, maybe it's a chance to minister and be a witness to these people, right) but I wonder how I would feel if I was the owner. Should one just obey the Golden Rule and offer lodging to all who ask? I feel conflicted on this one.

Another example of this: I talked with someone the other day who knew a person (a Christ follower) who as part of their job basically had to lie all the time. "Were they in sales?" I said. Turned out this person was. Sales is an area where deception seems to either be required or at least is a major temptation. Deception comes in many forms; outright lieing, witholding certain information, and sharing selective information (but not all of it). Now don't get me wrong, I have known a few excellent Christian salespeople over my lifetime - but very few. Sales can be a tricky area for Christians involved in business.

The ironic thing is that we as Christians sometimes have no problem supporting businesses that we ourselves might find morally impossible to operate! It might be something small: like buying your jeans in a store that sells shirts with immoral slogans on them. Or buying diamonds from a jeweler who gets their rough diamonds from a country where the goverment uses that money to oppress their own people. Or renting a movie from a place that also rents out soft or explicit porn. Or buying body spray from a company who uses illicit advertising/messages to sell their product. The question always comes back; where do you draw the line?

Anyway, this post is not about trying to come up with a solution (or a judgment) on anyone, but is an attempt to illustrate some of the ethical challenges involved for the Christian business person. I'm guessing some would say my conscience is way too sensitive (or completely off!) but these are honestly some of the things I think about. Have a good Wednesday!


Lindsey Dueck said...

I can see what you mean about the bookstore and selling books that you do not morally endorse. ( You could always have a Christian bookstore! :) ) But I think owning a resort is a bit different. You cannot control the type of people that would want to rent it, but you can control how you run it and how you treat the people who rent it from you! I think people will notice if you treat them with kindness, compassion and acceptance. After all, Jesus made a point of befriending those that others deemed as "sinners" and outcasts, and maybe we should to. Maybe it isn't such a bad idea to own a buisiness that attracts all different types of people. Opens the door to alot of seed planting! Just a thought!

Mark said...

Lindsey: I love your comments! Ah, Christian bookstores . . . I must admit that I'm not a big fan of them - I see them more as a pragmatic necessity that I would usually rather avoid.

I really like your thoughts on the resort thing: it is true that a resort owner can't control people. I guess I would wonder; how much of not being be able to control people would I want to have happening in my resort? Still unsure about that. But your thought did challenge me. There is a lot of good that someone in such a situation could do . . .

Jay Boaz said...

Let me ask you this Mark; if you went to a resort, would you want someone controlling your actions?

I think Lindsey really nailed this one. If we worried about what kind of people we were interacting with in every facet of our lives we would become a sheltered community that doesn't grow. Instead we can be witnesses and good examples to further grow the community.

I'm actually a little surprised by your resort comments Mark; if we operated like that Beaver Creek Bible Camp wouldn't exist. I realize camp isn't a business and we do have supervision in place, but we still welcome kids form all walks of life so we can witness to them. Why should business be different?

And as a counselor, would you turn someone away because you disagreed with a sexual decision they had made? (You don't have to answer that one, just want to make a point)

Mark said...

Hey Jay,

I'm glad I can still surprise you! OK, let me explain it differently. Think of Christian parents who love their daughter. The daughter though is choosing to live a lifestyle that is contrary to the parents beliefs. As an example they think she should be pure until marriage but she is sleeping with her boyfriend. So when the daughter brings her boyfriend over for Christmas the parents welcome them both but tell them that although they are free to pursue their own morality while living together they do not want them doing it in their house. Thus they won't allow them to sleep together while visiting in their home. Do the parents have a right to do this? Or should they ignore their conscience?

Does that help show where I'm coming from? I don't necessarily think that people should be trying to control others, but on the other hand we all have our boundaries about what we will let people do with the things we have ownership over or responsibility for. You may not agree in the above example with the parents but hopefully you can at least see where they are coming from - the tension between their desire for others to experience freedom and the desire to not have things they find morally unacceptable to be happening in their own house. I realize a resort is different but once one feels ownership of a resort, it's hard not to feel like its your house. And so yes, I personally think I might struggle with that. Its not to say I wouldn't get a resort or to say that if I did get one that I would discriminate against others. But I would have to honestly face those thoughts and feelings and I want to be real about that.

Regarding camp, it reminds me of Camp Arnes. They got into huge trouble because they wouldn't let a homosexuality promoting group (the Rainbow Choir) use their premises. The issue wasn't the fact that homosexual acts could occur on their premises but the fact that the group promoted something that was morally contrary to the camps vision and purpose.

Should they have just rented it to them? Perhaps. Maybe they should have ignored their conscience on it or reasoned that they had a great opportunity to witness to this group. I'm not sure. But their conscience wouldn't let that happen (a group promoting immorality in their eyes) under their roof. I have no problem with BCBC (or any camp) ministering to any kind of person, no matter what they have done. And as a counselor I don't know if there is anything that a person can tell me (and I've heard some crazy stuff!) that I would turn away. But then again maybe if someone wanted me to help them with something I thought was morally impossible I might have to tell them I can't. Sometimes though our conscience is not OK with something and I think we ignore it (our conscience) at our own peril.

Anyway, this is something that I'm thinking about openly, and haven't come to any firm conclusions. Of course I could be way off on this but it doesn't feel like it - yet. I do like you challenging me on it and enlarging the discussion. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Hey Mark, i just had a thought on supporting businesses that promote things we don't agree with. Although you didn't directly say that you are opposed to that, you did say that you would have trouble running a bookstore because of some of the books that you would sell. However, you still buy books from these bookstores, right?

It is a tough one, but i think some of those things are unavoidable and we need to shine a light where we get the chance, maybe by letting the manager know that you don't appreciate crude slogans or whatever.

I don't know,

Mark said...

Eric: Well done in pointing out my purchasing hypocrisy! It's interesting that my conscience doesn't bother me quite so much about that - what does that say I wonder? Is it only our conscience (and not our principles) that cause us to draw the line at times and not at others?
I like your thoughts Eric.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

Excellent thought provoking writing material. I feel making generalizations in any form can appear dangerous yet I think you hit the mark of the ethical responsibility of any christian but it now becomes a question that we all have to face "Do we lie" and the answer is a resounding "Yes" so whether we do it at work or elsewhere makes it a moot statement? It really comes down to the choices we make, to repent of our mistakes and be accountable in Christ-like manner!! So, endorsing immorality of any type is sin and we must take a stand but that does not mean we stand in judgement to those who have sinned but to turn them away from their sinfulness with Love, Grace, Prayer and coming alongside their pain and struggles to live within them with empathy! God will do the rest we are not responsible for other peoples choices but our own!