[13]   Work: Work & Business Ethics

STORY: In 2001, there were 379 work strikes in Canada, involving over 220,000 people, losing 2.2 million workdays. In comparison, Mexico had 35 work strikes in 2001, involving 23,000 people, losing 400,000 workdays. The population of Mexico is 102 million, more than 3 times of Canada’s 31 million and the number of workdays lost was only one-fifth of Canada’s.

Data are not available for all work strikes in the US. There were 29 major work strikes (of over 1000 workers) in the US in 2001, involving 99,000 people, losing 1.2 million workdays. Major work strikes decreased to 16 in 2002, involving 46,000 people, losing 660,000 workdays.

Background:

Recent economic recession occurs in cycles of 8 to 11 years, in 1973, 1981, 1991, and 2002. In 2003, the unemployment rate in Canada was 7.7%, with a total of 1.2 million unemployed people.

56.  Is work a blessing or a curse? What are the proper attitudes of Christians towards work?

a.   Types of common but mistaken attitudes towards work:

(1)  Work is something to be avoided. Work is a necessary nuisance, a way of earning a living, and a punishment for man’s sins.

(2)  Work is either meaningless in itself or at best a necessary means to some quite different end, e.g. facilitating leisure pursuits, or as Christians say, a useful sphere of witness.

(3)  Work is part of our human nature. Man is a compulsive worker, as a hen is a compulsive layer of eggs.

b.   BUT God is a worker and had perfect job satisfaction (creation was pronounced good).

·         God gave some of His own dominion over the earth to man (Gen 1:28). We are privileged stewards of God, commissioned to guard and develop the environment on His behalf. Work was part of life before the Fall (Gen 2:15).

·         The curse is not work but the deterioration of the environment (Gen 3:17-18).

c.   Work is a blessing (this is understood especially by those without work):

(1)  Work is self-fulfilment:

o        Our potential for creative work is an essential part of our God-likeness.

o        If we are idle (instead of active) or destructive (instead of creative), we are denying a basic aspect of our humanity, contradicting God’s purpose for man.

(2)  Work is service to mankind:

o        Work brings benefits to the community (Eph 4:28) and contributes to the fulfilment of human dignity.

o        For example: A successful business serves the public, provides jobs and prospects for workers, pays taxes to the government, thus equivalent to sharing with those in need.

(3)  Work is service to God (worship):

o        God should be glorified through our work (1Co 10:31; Col 3:23) because it contributes in God’s purpose for mankind. We are accountable to God.

o        God has deliberately arranged life in such a way as to need the cooperation of human beings for the fulfilment of His purpose. He did not create the planet earth to be productive on its own; human beings had to subdue and develop it.

o        Diligence at work can serve as a witness to the world.

d.   Proper work attitude (often called “Protestant Work Ethic”): diligent, honest, striving for excellence, with a sense of purpose; not losing sight on the ultimate purpose of work (that is, self-fulfilment, service, worship).

57.  Should Christians’ career aspirations and ambition affect the behaviour at work?

a.   Christian employees are responsible first to God and then to their employer and the organization (Mt 7:12; Col 3:17).

b.   Ambition and competition are good because they encourage purposefulness and stimulate imagination and energy. But ambition must not be governed by greed (Heb 13:5), self-interest, pride, and deception which can lead to disaster (Pr 16:18).

c.   Christians must lead a life worthy of the calling (Eph 4:1; 1Pe 2:9), with honesty and trustworthiness. At the same time, Christians need to be tactful (Mt 10:16).

d.   In business, Christians are commanded to be fair (Dt 25:15; Pr 11:1) although it certainly require considerable effort and the determination to sustain it.

58.  Can Christians participate in work strikes?

a.   The underlying reason and conditions of work strikes vary widely from case to case. Each work strike must be evaluated separately.

b.   Criteria for evaluation:

(1)  Objective of the strike (what are the issues involved?):

o        For example, strikes to improve general safety and working conditions are of much more value than those for individual interests, such as increase in pay or benefits.

(2)  Possible consequences (will the strike do harm to people?):

o        People providing essential services should avoid striking.

(3)  Fairness of the process:

o        Christians should not support employee unions which promote confrontation with the employer.

c.   Response:

·         If the strike is just, Christians may participate.

·         If the strike is unjust, Christians need to risk bearing consequences and oppose the strike and report to work. But this can be difficulty today because of the labour unions. Crossing the picket line may adversely affect relations with others at work. This should be one of the considerations in a decision.

d.   Attitudes in contract negotiations:

·         Christians do not view management and labour as necessarily hostile to each other. They need not bring distrust and hostility to their place of work or the negotiating table. Christian managers do not exploit people or see them merely as economic units. They discourage rigid confrontation and favour a problem-solving approach to disagreements.

59.  Can a Christian jointly own a business with non-Christians?

a.   Christians and non-Christians are commanded not to bear the same yoke (2Co 6:14-15).

·         Yoke refers to a fixed relationship that cannot be easily broken, such as marriage or a long-term business relationship.

b.   Christians are well-advised to avoid sharing a business with non-believers because of potential conflict because of different ethical standards. Otherwise, be prepared to risk financial loss from unethical behaviour of non-Christians.

60.  What is the proper attitudes toward unemployment?

a.   Unemployment is the unavoidable reality of life resulted from cyclical economic recession, changing technology, and international competition. It is a humiliating and depressing experience, often out of the fault of no one.

b.   Christians need to have proper attitudes toward the unemployed. Many tend to despise those who are unemployed. However, the majority of unemployed people want to work. They need sympathy and care. Those who look down on the unemployed should repent.

c.   The church should provide help to the desperate church members (1Ti 5:8): such as financial assistance from a benevolent fund; perhaps even more active involvement such as creation of volunteer work, low-pay jobs, or allowing the church building to be used during weekdays for jobs (such as nurseries).

61.  Should Christians borrow money? Is charging interest for loans morally justified?

a.   Borrowing:

·         Borrowing should never be a way of life. Borrower and guarantor are both discouraged (Pr 22:7,26-27).

·         Loans should only be sought for necessities or urgencies.

·         Business loans and mortgages are necessities but over indebtedness must be avoided (Ne 5:1-5).

b.   Interests for loans:

·         Interest is justified because:

(1)  lender temporarily forfeit the use of loan money
(2)  risk involved in lending, such as non-payment or default
(3)  loss of value of money through inflation

·         But excessive rates of interest are not justified.

·         OT allows charging foreigners interest but prohibits charging interest on loans between Israelites (Ex 22:25; Dt 23:19-20; Ne 5:10). Between Christians, interest on loans for production and commerce is justified. Interest should not be charged if the loan is for necessary or urgent basic needs.

·         In all cases, we have to deal charitably with others, especially with financially distressed people. Almsgiving (helping the poor) is virtuous (Isa 58:6-7), and will reap divine favour (Eze 18:7-9).