Ethical behavior is essential to conduct in business. In that business executives employ ethical behavior, relationships are predicated on trust and the maintenance of standards. However, the standards that are agreed to by a business are not established in a vacuum; they must be grounded in commonly held social principles in order to be valid in the context of a business environment. Many communities in the United States are predicated on a Christian value system. Even when community residents do not profess faith in the teachings of Christ, the residual effect of centuries of Christianity creates an intuitively Christian world-view in America and many other countries.
However, common perceptions about Christianity and the perceived adverse effects of 'fundamentalism' within Christian communities has resulted in a re-questioning of Christianity in the workplace; active measures have already been taken to eradicate it from many schools. However, the manager is still able to act at his own discretion, and a Christian manager must always face moral dilemmas that accompany conduct just as individuals have always faced moral dilemmas. We are left to wonder, what underscores Christianity, and how does this apply in the context of a business environment, which is considered by many to be secular?
In 1998, Larry Burkett published Business by the Book. The book in question is the Bible, which the author looks to for guidance in order to solve the problem of Christian ethical standards as they are represented in the workplace. Burkett states that "prior to the twentieth century, business courses, and indeed business schools themselves, were based on biblical principles." (Burkett 1998: pg. 2) He then goes on to excoriate the practices of businesses that became powerful following the civil war, as characterized by the railroads and steel interests. Burkett claims that these companies were driven by a profit motive and actively suppress the organized labor movement.
In this, Burkett reminds us of a late-19th century era progressive, as such people most commonly contested the 'public be damned' business ethics of Cornelius Vanderbilt and others. However, he fails to illustrate examples of pre-Civil War business schools. The first example of what we might consider a business school was the Tufts School at Dartmouth University, which was established in the last decade of the 19th century. Prior to this, most opted for a liberal arts education, which was thought to prepare them for business alongside a comprehensive program of apprenticeship.
Burkett's Christian principles are best suited to smaller businesses, and we can assume that this was Burkett's target audience when he wrote this book. Burkett is a 'born again' Christian and exhibits evangelical attitudes. These are well suited to the business environment that characterizes small towns and communities, where Christian businessmen will use a 'fish' symbol on their business cards in order to illustrate that they uphold a Christian value system.
Perhaps Christian values are best employed in a business environment in that they condition responsible behavior. Christians tend to reflect more upon their actions and look to scripture for guidance. The gospel uses allegories in order to demonstrate Christian behavior, and Burkett emulates this style when he presents his own ideas. Such values include honesty, fairness and the divination of God's will in the presence of diversity. Prayer can achieve introspection; Burkett most often speaks of a culture in which regular prayer is ubiquitous. Through prayer and a careful, thoughtful read of the Bible, Burkett believes that one can more carefully chose one's actions as they reflect the will of God as well as the interests of the company. Burkett believes that one has to first develop a relationship with Christ with reference to his or her personal goals and then from them engage in devotional work, asking God for ways of developing Christian business practices.
Burketts' insights also pertain to critical policy decisions in the organization. These can arise when employees are hired and fired, when vendors are selected, or when promotions become an issue. Burkett realizes that a professed Christian may provide spiritual guidance through example and win the dedication of his or her employees. However, he notes that moral dilemmas are often a test of faith where immediate gain must often be sacrificed to the greater good of principle. In doing so, Christian business leaders may not experience immediate profits but will win the respect of their peers and God will reveal to them their purpose in…