economic malaise – on teaching ‘business as stewardship’

One of the things I enjoy about summer is the opportunity to move theological discussions into the realm of other disciplines.  For the last two years I have taught in both the MBA program in the School of Business and the MA program in the School of Education.  Both of these groups represent populations that don’t typically get framed as ‘theological disciplines’ in the purest sense of the word, yet consistantly offer some of the most insightful glimpses into the ways people ‘hear’ what a theological life looks and feels like.

Last night in my MBA class we discussed the Jubliee mandate of Leviticus 25 and the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5 -7 as well as the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6.  These represent some of the most compelling ethical mandates in all of scripture.  As we walked through the scripture and discussed some of the implications, it was interesting to get a resounding “yeah…so…?” from the class.  Our discussion article for the night was Jonathan Rowe’s testimony delivered March 12 before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce.  The article of the transcript is published in Harper’s Magazine June 2008 entitled “Our Phony Economy”.  In the article, Rowe challenges the presuposition that the GDP is a metric worth maintaining as a measure of a healthy economy.  What is telling is that this comes prior to the Presidential election and just months before the economy started its downhill slide.  In the article, Rowe notes that if our metric for a healthy economy is based on consumer spending, then having a home garden rather than shopping at Whole Foods, staying home with our children rather than hiring a nanny, and going running with neighbors rather than getting a fitness membership at a local club is simply a bad thing.  In a pure GDP model, getting divorced, buying rather than making, using up rather than recycling and renewing are more ‘responsible’.

Most, if not all, felt that while the teachings of Jesus to care for the poor and marginalized is interesting, the pragmatism of our current state of economics, in particular the current ‘whatever it takes to get out of the recession’ mentality, leaves little to no room for strategic let alone imaginative visions for business let alone society.  “Jubilee is purely utopian” was one comment.  “Jesus is arguing for only those called to serve in ministry – not those called to make a profit to fund these ministries” was another.  “How could a city like New York ever survive under a Jubliee mandate?” was yet another.  Over and over the repose was a blank stare, checking the balckberry for texts, and the glint of solitare backlit in the glasses from the laptop upon which ‘notes’ were being taken.

I am still licking my wounds from the class session and trying to figure out a better way to approach this…

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