Micah 6:8 “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
I’m reading a lot of business material these days, since my new role in leading a non-profit has significant differences from the role of leading a parish. I read Business Week cover-to-cover every week and the Harvard Business Review every month. I have to say that most weeks I am struck by how much of an anachronism the Church is in most quarters. The mainline church, especially, has fallen so far behind the times that in some places it has actually become an interesting place to visit by the young. They attend on Christmas Eve and Easter for some of the same reasons that people want to spend Thanksgiving at Plimoth Plantation—to experience a holiday in a bygone era.
But every now and again I read something that reminds me that there are also areas where business is completely clueless and musing about “new” ideas that the Church has always taken for granted. I remember being struck by this years ago when I read a business article suggesting that “new” studies had shown that businesses were more profitable when they treated their employees well. Duh. The March 10 issue of Business Week gave me another such moment, when I read a review of a book by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner and banker Muhammad Yunus called Creating A World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.
Yunus is writing about a “new” concept that he calls “social business,” that is, one designed mainly to accomplish a social goal. He cites a business in which his bank is a partner called Grameen Donone that sells fortified yogurt for pennies a serving to malnourished children in Bangladesh. Quoting from BW, “The milk used to create the yogurt is produced on small farms owned by poor people, and the products are distributed by members of the Grameen Bank Collective—so the project helps people in a variety of ways.” The review states that the primary goal is “to establish a new form of capitalism and inspire others to set up social businesses all around the world.”
Now let me say that I have nothing but applause for Yunus and this initiative. If I had any money, he would get it. What struck me, however, was first that such a venture should be described as “new.” It seems to me that back in the proto-history of business ventures, people began to make and distribute products to further a social goal. You need horse shoes? Well, I can make some for you, and if you’ll trade me some of the produce from your fields, you’ve got a deal. Maybe I’m naēve, but it seems like the notion of business for the sake of pure profit and no social utility is relatively recent.
I was also struck in the review by some of the rhetorical questions and comments by the reviewer, Steve Hamm. “Skeptical readers might call this a pipe dream,” he muses. “Who would invest without the prospect of a return? And where will the social-business entrepreneurs come from?” “It’s hard to imagine the concept really taking off,” he says, although he does want to remain hopeful that Yunus can pull it off.
Where will the social-business entrepreneurs come from? I don’t know, but I know that if they’re not coming out of the Church, then we deserve our sometimes status as bygone-era museum. It astounds me to read the skepticism and “new idea” thoughts in such an article because it is so patently obvious to me that the Bible demands that God’s people work for justice. But I have to ask why it isn’t patently obvious to Steve Hamm? Why would he not mention the Church as a place from which those social-business entrepreneurs might come? Could it be that the Church has lost, or at least muffled, its prophetic witness? Are we associated with something else these days? It’s something to ponder.
Give me your heart for justice, God of the poor, and show me how to change the world. Amen.
New social network! In my work as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Bible Society, I’ve created a new social network for those who relate to a broader view of biblical texts than fundamentalism represents. The design of the page will change when the new MBS website goes live, but it’s open now for profiles to be posted and the site can be fully used. If you want to join us, sign up and post a profile at http://massbible.ning.com. For those of you already on the network, I’ve started a new discussion on hell. Join in!
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