The Reckoning · Season 1

The Reckoning: Lesson Seven

In this lesson, you’ll learn:

  • Thomas Aquinas’ definition of charity and how it relates to business
  • The dangers of the deadly sins in leadership and business
  • Re-thinking philanthropy to foster relational giving

Read the Transcript

Welcome to Session VII in our eight-session series, The Reckoning: The ultimate battle for freedom between socialism and virtue in business.  We reached answers in Session VI to significant questions raised in earlier sessions of this series.  It is incumbent, necessary, and even heroic for business leaders to practice virtue in and through their businesses to protect and advance free markets for the benefit of all and for the preservation of freedom.


This critical choice also has implications on how we as business leaders think about charity and philanthropy.  When all we have is the dominant ideology governing business; that of maximizing shareholder wealth or profit; we are left with a very hollow and transactional version of the charity or “love of neighbor” to which God wishes us to ascend.  This kind of charity is what experts in this field call secular humanitarianism.  We give, yes for good, but this kind of charity pales in comparison to the essence of love; “willing the good of the other,” of which St. Thomas Aquinas speaks.


While generosity is one-of-nine fruits of the Holy Spirit explicitly identified in some Biblical translations of Galatians 5, we are limited in our impact as business leaders and subject to pride, a self-imposed sin, and the more insidious, others-imposed sin of envy.


Let’s unpack this assertion a bit.  It is easy for those of us with resources to give generously of what we have for the benefit of others.  We often do so with joy and gratitude.  In doing so we are the recipient of the greater blessing of giving versus receiving.  It’s awfully easy, though, given our fallen nature and human tendency to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, and give in ways that draw attention to ourselves.  Pride is another word for this; a self-imposed sin.  But there is something far worse and more insidious.


When we as business leaders carry ourselves in ways that indicate our successes in disproportionate ways as outward manifestations of our success, we generate envy in others.  Envy, like pride, is one of seven deadly sins.  But unlike pride, a self-imposed sin, envy is an others-imposed sin.  Pride has the insidious effect of triggering the sin of envy in others.  Through our display, others envy what we have, and therefore are drawn into sin by our pride.  The virtues of prudence, temperance, and courage will counteract these tendencies for the sake of achieving justice.


With all that being said and understood, let’s return to the idea that transactional giving limits our impact as business leaders.  This is where a fundamental change in the way the think is enabled through a redefinition of the purpose of business, the practice of virtue therein, and the acknowledgment of our calling to the vocation of business leadership.


What might happen to our charity or philanthropy if, instead of running our business consistent with the dominant ideology, generating profits from which we generously give as individuals or families to those in need, we used our business skills and acumen to love or “will the good of the other” directly?


Why do we set-aside our calling as business leaders when we think of charity and philanthropy, or abandon the thinking and practices that allow us to create value and wealth itself that is the means to our charitable giving?  What if we could make an exponentially larger impact in and through our businesses by creating jobs, starting divisions, employing the hard-to-hire, and in doing so, dignify human beings and pursue the common good?  To illustrate this concept, I’d like to compare transactional charitable giving done outside of business, with relational and “willing the good of another” in and through business.


Transactional charitable giving or secular humanitarianism does some good in areas of relief and betterment.  People in need benefit from the fulfillment of acute needs for health, safety, and food.  Meeting these acute needs is essential.  But in doing so, the giving often creates an unhealthy dependency in those being helped, and perhaps less visibly, between the donor and the benefitting not-for-profit or ministry. This phenomenon has been confirmed by those leading not-for-profits or ministries who see the same people and growing populations, week-over-week, month-over-month, and year-over year.  This donor dependency manifests in calls, letters, or other solicitations the next year for the same or greater contributions to fulfill the same needs for more people who might hear of the fulfilled needs and seek the same benefit.  The effect of the tiered unhealthy dependency is donor fatigue and, ultimately, disengagement, coupled with an unsustainable model for charity.


In addition, root cause problems that result in limited health options, exposure to criminal or unsafe elements in society, or a lack of food, shelter, or transportation are not addressed, yielding perpetual and large societal problems.  With no change, we are doomed to perpetually address the symptoms of problems and never get to the core and solve them.


To visualize this type of giving, envision giving $100,000 a year to a ministry in year one, and conservatively, being expected to and acquiescing to giving the same $100,000 each year for 10 years.  You’d have funded $1,000,000 in ministry or acute services over 10 years with some benefit to those receiving the help.  Would you have improved society?  Would you have dignified those being helped (think placing them in the more blessed position to give rather than receive)?  Did we collectively do for others what they could legitimately do for themselves had they been given the opportunity to do so, protecting and valuing their dignity?  Was one unintended consequence the furtherance of unhealthy dependencies that fuel the non-profit complex?  These are rhetorical questions, now, but ones that deserve further attention.


Now, what if we as people gifted and called to the vocation of business leadership, viewed our charity and philanthropy through the lens of capital investment?  Mind you, we’ll have to adjust our fundamental ideology of normal financial returns, but who and what might benefit from such a perspective change?  What if we took the same $100,000 annual investment and used it, as we are gifted to do in business to create value, as capital for a business, division, or simply jobs created for those who would not normally be hired?  In doing so, we start turning the flywheel of economic development benefiting the people therein while serving the good of their community.


An investment like this is very likely to not generate positive returns in the foreseeable future, if at all.  But, when compared to a “sunk” gift through transactional charity, requiring little if any relational element of love, where all the investment is consumed without addressing any core problem and creating unhealthy dependencies, even a diminishing negative return; a return that is not positive but improves over time while dignifying people and assisting communities in need; has significantly greater impact AND fosters relational giving as in “loving your neighbor” and “willing the good of the other.”


Over the same 10 years, a $100,000 charitable gift or “gift of love,” can create jobs, build businesses, and begin to address some of the core problems in our under-resourced communities.  Imagine rallying your company around a cause like this to truly solve some of our world’s and our community’s biggest problems!


This type of charity or philanthropy also gives us Christians the chance to answer the question that is sure to come: why would you do this for me or for us?  And there is the door through which you can share your story and the story of Jesus Christ.  Business becomes the force envisioned by the Church for good and the name of Jesus Christ is spoken on bended knee, all while glorifying God.


What say you is the purpose of business now?  I trust you see it clearer.  You as a Christian business leader are cast as the hero in this battle, if only you’ll choose it.  I usually close a discussion like this with the thought that the Holy Spirit does not condemn, but it does convict.  Rest friends and know God seeks only what is best for all his people. You are not lost.  You are found.


We have one more session in this series.  Next time we meet, we’ll reduce all this thinking into some principles we can use as business leaders to transform our business enterprises into the force necessary to win the battle for freedom.  Until next time . . .