What’s a Christian (Company) to Do?
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations can be considered persons, and in the Hobby Lobby case said that this corporate "person" can call itself "a Christian" in order to avoid providing government mandated benefits they deem objectionable, it seems reasonable to expect those corporations to conduct themselves in ways that reflect Christian values. After all, it's one thing to say "our company is a Christian" and quite another to actually behave like "a Christian." So here's my list of ten criteria by which a company can actually "be" a Christian:
- Do you pay your workers a living wage? In most places this means paying far above the legal minimum which is often, in reality, a poverty wage. And it usually means being willing to pay more than simply the going rate since in our depressed job market corporations can easily compete for workers at levels of pay that won't support a decent standard of living.
- Do you provide health care coverage to your employees? Just because you want to avoid providing access to contraception doesn't mean that you should skimp on benefits for the rest of their basic health care. After all, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. And how about paid sick time? You wouldn't put anyone in the position of having to jeopardize her health, or the health of her child, in order to keep her job. Would you?
- And since you're limiting contraception coverage, do you have a generous maternity or paternity leave policy? It would be a little disingenuous to make family planning more difficult without at the same time making caring for a family easier.
- "Suffer the little children to come to me." Jesus says children are important. "To them belongs the kingdom of heaven!" So what about good quality day care for the small children of your employees?" Seems like a pretty Christian thing to do.
- Is your company doing all it can to be green? Reducing your carbon footprint? Attending to the environmental impact of securing the raw materials you use, treating the waste you produce, and assessing the long term effects of the product you sell? Creation care has become an important value among Evangelicals. Your company, if it is a Christian, needs to get with the green program.
- What about the health, safety, and welfare of the people who make the products you sell? This is particularly critical when importing those products from countries like China, Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc. Just because these workers aren't your employees (and may not be Christian) doesn't mean that you don't have a Christian responsibility for the ethics of your supply chain and its workers. Are the factories safe? Are the wages fair? Are children abused?
- How about safety? No faulty ignition switches covered up by engineers for years even after fatalities are reported. No toys with little parts that can get in toddlers' throats. No automatic weapons and ammunition that can turn a classroom into a killing field. No e-cigarettes marketed to teens. You get the idea.
- Speaking of marketing, do you tell the truth about your products? And do those products actually match the claims you make about them? Honesty is a Christian virtue, right? So shouldn't your marketing avoid shaving the truth or hiding the liabilities?
- How about a robust diversity program? Discrimination surely can't be justified by the Bible. "Whosoever!" is right there in John 3.16. If they're good enough for heaven – male or female, black or white or yellow or brown or red, gay or straight, native born or foreign born – they should be good enough for your company.
- Finally, you do give your employees the freedom to organize a union, don't you? Human dignity and safety in the work place is surely consistent with our Christian notion of the divine image within each person. If your company can pretend to be a Christian person, surely the persons who are your employees can have the privilege of becoming an organized and cohesive bargaining unit without fear of reprisal. Just because you think you're a Christian company doesn't mean you're not subject to original sin! Employees shouldn't be asked merely to trust you to be good all the time, just because you say you're a Christian.
When a company decides to be "a Christian" it really is taking on a pretty costly discipleship. It's a lot more than an owner just saying, "I'm a Christian," or closing on Sunday, or branding itself "a Christian" in advertising. It's a whole set of corporate behaviors that actually expand what's offered to employees rather than just limiting. If you're not willing to bear these costs and assume these practices, then perhaps you're not such a Christian as a company after all. Which, of course, really begs the question of why you should be treated any differently than any other company or corporation under the law.
John H. Thomas
July 3, 2014