I was recently at a small event where (Lord) Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, reflected on ethics and enterprise. These are my edited notes of his short talk.
How do we as Christians approach the whole business of economic development?
First thing to say is that one of the things the New Testament does is put before us not a series of rules, but a picture of a working society. The working society is called the body of Christ. That's to say, the community in which everybody's welfare and everybody else's welfare are inseparable. This really is the rising tide that lifts all things, but it's more than that. It's a community in which you have to understand that there are all sorts of things that are only good when you do them together.
We have to think of those activities that we're all involved in, which are only good when you do them together. So if you're playing in a band or in a sports team, then what's good for you is good for everybody when it's working well. In other words, if you're singing in a choir or playing in a band, the one thing you don't want is somebody in the audience to say, "I could really hear that one." It doesn't make you very popular with your colleagues either. The point is, you do it together. It's good when it's done together, and you are made to perform well by the excellent performance of your neighbour.
Now, think about that as a model for human society because it seems to me that that is what is put before us in the basic documents of the Christian faith. "God has put the body together such that extra honour and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honoured, all the parts are glad." says Paul.
So, that's one of our stopping points. We have a picture of society working well, which entails that sense of things that are good that can only be done together. And while we accept that that works with bands, football teams, choirs, or whatever, we don't all that easily accept that all that works for national or international economies, but it's time we did because our vastly expanding world is also a rapidly shrinking world. So the challenges and the problems of every locality and every person become everybody's business.
Secondly, when we recognise that we're in a community where, at least potentially, the wellbeing of each and the wellbeing of all can coincide, we realise something about the dignity of the neighbour. The neighbour is the person that has something to give, as I am someone who can give to the neighbour. Mutuality and dignity follow from that idea of everybody supporting everybody else in the community. Mutuality and dignity imply that you don't go in with ready-made solutions to other people's situations. You are willing to learn, to walk at the pace of your neighbour and your collaborator, understand the way they understand, to see from their perspective, and that's something to do with their dignity.
This is also linked to sustainability. How do you build something that goes on with its own momentum, its own energy, not dependence? When you do it by building up dignity in practical ways, and bound in with all that, is Christian love. Love is certainly not just a sentimental word or feeling from me toward somebody else; love is also an awed astonishment at what's going on in my neighbour, a recognition and respect and patience and generosity for what this gift-giving other might just be for me. Love is to do with all that as well. To love someone without respecting them, or think we love someone without respecting them, is a very bad idea indeed. We can't really do it, and one of the things I think we as Christians have to bear in mind is that, strange as it may seem, God respects the world He's made, and that God's love for us is a love which accepts offering our perspective, however ridiculously distorted, selfish, and muddled it is. So, respect, love, recognition of dignity is all bound up in this task.
Thirdly I want to draw out a concept is to do with hurt - humility. And humility, I think, is about realism, recognising what I can and can't do, recognising that I can't do everything and need the other, recognising that I can do what I can do, and that it's extremely important for me to learn what that is. So, as has often been said, if you can't make all the difference, then what's the difference you can make? None of us can make all the difference. We better not try, but the task is discerning the difference we can make and working from there out of it. That does imply, again, mutuality and dignity, the listening, the respect for all those who are around us. "I can't change everything" can be an allegory that allows us to say, "then I better not bother," or it can be, "I can't change everything, so I'd better find the people who can change the things that I can't change," and work with the grain for all that.
We've perhaps been suspicious of the world of business as selfish and worldly. I think we've grown up a little bit and one of the things we tried to do is to recognise that it is extremely important for long-term development that we build capacity. That requires empowering and releasing. Release what's blocked - motivation, circumstances, resources, etc. We look for helping people step forward into taking responsibility. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the Christian's responsibility is to be responsible for other people becoming responsible. I like that.
That raises the question, not only of what business does and what it can achieve, but how business does it. How a business works, how it regards human beings, how it works within itself. Not just what it does, but how it does it. Not just what it's doing for external people, but what it's doing for the people within it. Is a business enterprise itself a nurturing, humane, just enterprise?
Getting back to community, there is a still a memory of church as a integral part. Not supposed to be there for its own profit, but for everybody's wellbeing. There for the longterm and isn't going to be put off or exiled, as it were, by disappointing short-term returns. Having grassroots reach. It can be the most wonderful place. When it works, my goodness, it works. It lights a fuse and there's an explosion of energy - transforming energy.
Communities taking a step forward towards a vision of the good things we can only do when we're doing them together, whether we're talking about enterprise, business, education or about the rehabilitation of people who have been outcasts and victims, etc. That's what we have to keep in mind as an unchanging framework, moving towards that kind of community where the good of each and the good of all coincide, where we're all singing in the same choir or playing in the same band.
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