On Aug. 2, The New York Times' website published a thought-provoking article about the practices of well-known companies that explicitly or tacitly present themselves as Christian businesses.
Among those that Times writer Mark Oppenheimer mentioned in this category were Hobby Lobby, In-N-Out Burger, Chick-fil-A, Covenant Transport, Forever 21 and Tyson Foods. Generally speaking, they were created by founders with strong, often vocal religious convictions.
I have little experience with these specific companies, other than buying the occasional sandwich or frozen chicken. I don't know much about their policies.
Still, the article led me to consider what a genuinely Christian, for-profit company might look like if it were based on, and faithful to, a thoughtful reading of the Bible generally, the New Testament particularly, and on historic, mainstream church teachings.
I'm assuming the hypothetical business I'm about to describe would be showing a profit, not operating in the red. You can't, for instance, increase spending on employees if you're already hemorrhaging cash; you'll only end up bankrupt.
Assuming we've got a fairly successful company, here are a few things its leaders would — in my humble opinion — need to do before calling it a "Christian" business.
As you'll probably see, I'm also less concerned with how a CEO feels about some hot-button social issue, such as abortion or gay marriage, than with how he or she treats the company's primary, daily constituencies.
■ Demand complete financial integrity. As the scriptures remind us over and again, God expects absolute honesty in all transactions. That includes scrupulously paying your taxes, by the way. It means not deceiving your investors, vendors, customers or employees. It means paying your bills promptly. No shortcuts allowed. None.
■ Focus on the end line, not the bottom line. As noted, to stay afloat a company must earn profits. But it doesn't need to earn exorbitant profits. The New Testament warns that the desire to amass wealth is a soul-killing pursuit for any Christian. Your goal as a Christian business leader, then, ought to be to serve God and your fellow humans — not to make a billion bucks. You're here to be a witness of the Lord's love, not to become an oligarch. If, in serving, you also happen to reap a fortune, more power to you. But the goal is servanthood, not cash.
■ Offer quality goods or services at a reasonable price. You should never sell shoddy merchandise or provide rude, crummy service. Don't gouge people, even when you could. Inevitably mistakes will occur, of course. A length of pipe your company sells will turn out to be defective. An employee will fail to honor a promise to a vendor. When that happens, make it right. Period. No waffling. No excuses.
■ Treat everyone the same. Every person who walks through your door to buy your products or wash your trucks is God's child: rich, poor, Christian, non-Christian, man, woman, smart, stupid, black, white, straight, gay, citizen, immigrant. Treat them all as if they're Christ in disguise. Because they are. As Jesus said, "Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you were doing it to me."
■ Provide employees with meaningful work. The people on your payroll aren't ciphers. The men and women toiling on the assembly line or in the kitchen are as precious to God as you are. Try to make their jobs joyful. Teach them new skills. Heck, tell them you like them. Thank them for their labors on the company's behalf.
■ Provide a company-wide Sabbath. It doesn't have to be on Sunday, but shut the business down one day a week; trust God to provide the lost revenue. Let the cosmos see there are loftier goals than merely making money, that you believe everyone needs a special day set aside for worshiping, sleeping in or taking the kids on a picnic.
■ Help employees provide for their families. I'm paraphrasing only slightly: The biblical writer James says there's a special fire in hell kindled for those who don't pay their employees livable wages. Forget the minimum wage; instead, figure out how to maximize the wages you pay, even if you have to cut back on your own six- or seven-figure bonus. Offer flextime and generous vacations, so workers can drive their kids to school or to Disneyland. Show them that their families are more important than the hamburgers or blue jeans you sell. Underwrite day care.
■ Help employees maintain their health. Promoting physical and mental health has been a key Christian value ever since Jesus went around raising up the lame, opening blind eyes, making lepers whole and exorcising demons. Furnish employees more-than-adequate, affordable health insurance. Equip a free, on-site gym.
■ Be a good steward of God's creation. You don't need to be a radical environmentalist to recognize that the earth belongs to God, who created it, and that we are only borrowing resources he owns. Minimize the damage your company does. Don't dump carcinogens into rivers. If you tear up a patch of ground, fix it. Quit destroying the world; instead, improve it.