I had originally planned on a massive post for this subject, but I’m beginning to realize that the issues involved here are too complex to fit even into a large post. Plus, the post was – I was afraid – going to be excruciatingly boring, even for me. So I’m just going to try and identify a problem here, summarizing it and opening it up for your consideration/discussion.
Much is being said these days about whether a Christian should have national loyalties. By this, I mean, should a Christian be a good patriot? Is it proper for a Christian to endorse war, if he/she believes it is just? Should a Christian swear allegiance to his nation? That sort-of thing.
There is a corresponding problem that exists in a national, corporate economy that is equally troubling, but – to my knowledge – never really discussed. The problem involves our loyalty to economic institutions.
Everyone reading this paragraph (unless you are under eighteen) is in some type of relatinoship with an economic institution. Some of us are employees of such institutions, small and large. Some of us are actually responsible for the management or operation of those institutions as officers and directors. Some of us have invested in those institutions. And almost all of us have a relationship with them as a borrower (home note, car note) or an insured (car insurance, health insurance, home insurance).
If we set aside institutions that are specifically designated as being charitable – like World Vision or the Salvation Army – the express purpose of all of these institutions is to make money for their owners. The owners may be tens of thousands of stockholders the world over, or they may only be a man and his spouse.
By entering into an employment relationship with these institutions – or by being put in the position as a manager, officer, or director of such an institution – we assume a legal responsbility to be loyal to those institutions. That is, we are agreeing to do our best to help generate income for the owners of the institution. Hopefully, it is understood that we won’t be required to break the law to do that. However, there are a lot of things that could be done to make money that – while not technically illegal – are probably not things that follow the Way of Jesus. [And dont tell me, by the way, that “good Christian ethics” are always “good business” – I’ll rant on this rationalization some other time – but that statement is a big load of smelly, rotting bologna.]
This loyalty includes, by the way, the decisions that a person might make in deciding whether to prosecute litigation on behalf of the instutition and (if drawn into litigation) handling such litigation.
We also have other types of relationships with institutions: we enter into contracts with car lenders, home lenders, insurance companies, cell phone companies, etc. In those situations, we make certain promises to do certain things (mostly, pay them money) in exchange for services. This “ties up” our money legally. But what if we later decide that our money is better used for the Kingdom in another way? What then?
This problem can become particularly acute in a litigation context. If you carry any type of liablity insurance, you effectively give up control over the way your lawsuit is handled, should you be sued. You have made a promise to cooperate with the insurance company in the decisions it makes about handling your case. In exchange, it agrees to pay your legal fees and to pay any damages that are awarded against you (up to a certain limit). But by “giving away” your right to make decisions in your lawsuit, you may also be giving way to a set of decisions that are not consistent with your convictions about how other people ought to be treated.
What to do in these situations? We are all integrated into this massive, national web of economic relationships, but the loyalties that these relationships require (or, at least, assume) in the name of economic prosperity may come into direct conflict with the values of the Kingdom of God.
This seems like a huge issue to me – yet it is an issue that is not even on the radar screen of conversations among Christians. Worse yet, it is of immediate, pratical importance – moreso than the issue of national loyalty. As individuals, we exercise very little control over a national decision – such as a decision to wage war. Yet, many of us are in positions of tremendous importance and influence in economic institutions that are making daily decisions that affect poverty, the environment, the welfare of families and children, etc. Likewise, we may have contractual relationships with other institutions that may require us to do things that conflict with our values.
I want to come back to this issue later, but – hopefully at least – I am giving you a feel for a really troubling problem.