Why Institutions Matter – Pt. 6

Michael Metzger

Believers are called to love their neighbors. Shalom is how faith communities love their neighbors. Shalom is the result of culture-shaping institutions taking the Bible’s definition of reality seriously and acting on it. Shalom says our faith flourishes to the degree that the institutions in the wider world flourish. This is radical, which means “from the root” – which is why faith communities must return to their historic roots.

Step Four – Do a Gap Analysis
Doing a gap analysis is not that difficult. At T. Rowe Price, a congregant in the company can ask a series of questions: to what degree is the company taking a biblical definition of reality seriously and acting on it? We have a template that institutions can adopt: ought-is-can-will. It’s a definition of reality helping businesses prosper. Findings from a comprehensive gap analysis would reveal any variance in T. Rowe Price between the way it is and the way that the institution ought to be. This analysis will yield ideas as to what can be done and what kind of institution T. Rowe Price will, or might, become.

Did you catch ought-is-can-will?

Of course, any idea about what can be done at a financial company requires believers to know what shalom looks like in a business. This requires an understanding of a biblical definition of reality for the workplace. In fact, congregants in every institution need a template of what is right and real, regardless of whether they have dominion in periphery institutions such as neighborhoods and local schools or those more in the center. The point for faith communities is to help congregants find their places of dominion and complete a gap analysis. Then teach shalom and a definition of reality.

Step Five – Shalom and a Definition of Reality
Ought-is-can-will was a template that helped Babylonian institutions flourish. This template still applies today. It is the means to shalom. But what might shalom look like in T. Rowe Price? It might mean higher worker satisfaction, lower voluntary turnover rates, and – get this – an end to our recurring economic crises. Does this sound like good news?

For faith communities to play a part in producing these kinds of results, they would have to teach shalom and a knowledge of reality that T. Rowe Price would take seriously. At one time, faith communities did teach a definition of reality. For “most of Western history, the basic claims of the Christian tradition have in fact been regarded by its proponents as knowledge of reality,” Dallas Willard writes. The Western church taught what was considered real and right as a “public resource for living.” This knowledge “was made available to people in general through institutions of one kind or another.” What then happened? Why do so few of today’s faith communities teach shalom that shapes center institutions? They have forgotten the legacy of the sons of Issachar.

Step Six: Teach History and Human Nature
The sons of Issachar “understood the times… with knowledge of what Israel should do (I Chr. 12:32). Locating ourselves in history is critical for faith communities to promote shalom and love their neighbors. At this point in modern Western societies, we’re on the periphery.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, knowledge of reality became centered more in mathematics and the “natural” sciences, as well as the “social” and “human” sciences. The church and religious knowledge was pushed out and became a peripheral institution promoting “personal” faith and private belief. In early 2007, for example, a Barna research survey found that 96 percent of the broader public was unfamiliar with Bill Hybels – someone who is widely regarded by faith communities as one of their two or three top leaders. Faith communities are longer perceived as providing a definition of reality in the public world. The consequences are catastrophic.

When Harvard University recently reviewed its general education program, professor Steven Pinker criticized the report for inadequately stressing the “ennobling nature of knowledge” of “the way the world works” while objecting to the report’s reference to “faith.” “Faith – believing something without good reasons to do so – has no place in anything but a religious institution,” Pinker complained, “and our society has no shortage of these.” He’s right. Most faith communities promote beliefs and commitment to those beliefs. Yet, as Dallas Willard notes, “Adherence to beliefs has no necessary relationship to what’s right and real.” Faith has become for many either a harmless delusion or a harmful evil. Gore Vidal went so far as to say at Harvard in 1992 that religion was “the great unmentionable evil” at the heart of our culture.

“Pastors now are mistakenly seen, and perhaps even see themselves, as teaching what Christians are supposed to believe (perhaps what we had better believe), not what is known and what can be known through fair inquiry,” Willard writes. In the wider world, being a follower of Christ is thought to be a matter of what one believes, is passionate about, or professes – “not something essentially involving knowledge of truth and of a reality that everyone must come to terms with.” Lacking the knowledge of what’s right and real, faith communities are perceived as merely talking about religion – not about reality.

Imagine how the year 2008 might have turned out, had a biblical definition of reality been taken seriously by today’s center financial institutions. Imagine if most of the culture-shaping financial institutions had stayed out of the sub-prime market, as T. Rowe Price did. Would the church be renewed if T. Rowe Price publicly gave credit to faith communities as the source of a definition of realty and human nature that made their business flourish in the proper way? Yes. This, however, is not present-day reality.

As a direct result of our economic crisis, 25 percent of the graduating class of 2009 is currently unemployed. We can pray as much as we like, but God is not mocked. Nature abhors a vacuum. When faith communities pull out of making culture, other ideas, images, items, and institutions pour in. When greed then defines the culture of center institutions such as Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, shalom shrivels. If however faith community were serious about shalom, what might institutions in the wider world look like? That’s Part Seven of The Clapham Institute Manifesto, “Why Institutions Matter” – published next Monday.

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