Sunday, September 27, 2009

Meshing Business and Religious Practices Effectively

All over the world, everyone wants to connect their religious faith with their daily lives and occupations. During a recorded conversation at Washington's National Cathedral today, David W. Miller of the Avodah Institute and Princeton University, at the Center for the Study of Religion,


David W. Miller

claims that ninety percent of Americans believe in a higher power. There is a danger in not discussing religion in the workplace, he claims, because religion covers the world. He says that companies are having a variety of responses to religion:

1) the ostrich approach - to bury it and ignore it.
2) to clamp down and stifle it.
3) take the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach, and the best is
4) "faith friendly" as an approach to spirituality that they can take into the conference room. This is not to condone faith-based privileges of one faith over another, which Miller says should not be any part of a publicly-traded company, but one where differences in religion are acknowledged.

How can employees and companies bring together faith and work? Miller says that in general, employees want to be respected and appreciated by their co-workers, while most would like to have more time for friends and family. They really want to work well and "finish well" with companies.

Companies and employers can constantly ask themselves how they can make the world a better place, how they can help their employees, how they can improve their practices, whether they are paying well enough, and giving enough benefits.

How can employees manage the complexity and ambiguity of religion in the workplace? Miller says that through prayer and righteous action, an idea from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, employees can be given permission to think through difficult questions and follow through. Persuasion is very difficult and yet very important. Accountability is being expected week-to-week, and workplace pressures are increasing. Having a set of values and faith can provide a moral compass in jobs, in the services of neighbors and in the worship of God.

Miller on legislation: Christians believe in the freedom of the human spirit to make choices, and that God will be there for us, always. He says that capitalism is a place of choice: good/bad, constructive/destructive. Miller looks at Wall Street not as an out of control system, but as a place of cycles. He admits there were a few irresponsible people, and the system rewards certain sets of measurements legally and makes huge rewards for exceeding expectations.

He says that the system is systematically competitive, but thinks that regulation and the echo effect of asking whether anything has been learned and should something be different next time, has produced caution. He says that different questions are being asked in boardrooms, and that the appetite for risk has diminished temporarily. As far as healthcare legislation is concerned, he says that "a Gordian knot will have to be cut".

On bonuses: While regulations may tighten up somewhat, he says that business leaders must figure out the reward system for themselves. He says that the self-examination of industries may change the way bonuses are given out, for example looking at a long-term structure of payouts. He also said that faith leaders should encourage massive generosity. Business leaders have opportunities to redirect large bonuses and money to charitable purposes.

On globalization: He alluded to the influences on American businesses of globalization (not negatively) because other parts of the world, outside of America and the English-speaking world are growing explosively. He says that economic trade moves faster than political decisions. Even as businesses leave America, other areas of the world are improving from those same businesses abroad. He sees the resurgence of manufacturing in America's knowledge economy.

His final advice on how to integrate the demands of the workplace and church? He says to swim with someone, find friends and don't do it all alone.


Samuel Lloyd, photo courtesy: Episcopal Church

The Very Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III of Washington's National Cathedral led the interview-style discussion with insightful questions. We thank him for his effort and his courage to confront these issues of business economics and religion in an open, recorded conversation. The prophetic nature of the discussion addresses today's societal challenges affecting us in our daily lives and in our futures.

Of course, we also love being able to watch the entire service of Eucharist online. The close-ups and camera work are phenomenal. The internet makes the worship service available to all of us.They take the Cathedral experience up to a whole new level. For that, we can only offer our heartfelt gratitude -- and our donations.

We also apologize for any inaccuracies.

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