We had a total of 12 participants for our first dialogue on Friday, April 22, 2005, the commencement of Passover. Not a bad number when you think about the significance of the number 12 in Scripture (12 disciples, 12 tribes of Israel). Here is an overview for the discussion (Some of the responses from the participants are recorded in bold along with subsequent commentary and biblical references, which are in italics):
Opening Prayer (Rod):
Father God, We thank you for this opportunity to gather in your presence for the purpose of understanding what it means to be a Christian in this community. We ask that your spirit would guide this dialogue, in such a way that you would be glorified and all parties here would be blessed. May this be only the beginning of a fellowship of believers who seek to be more faithful to your will. We thank you for the food that we are about to receive and ask that your grace & peace be upon everyone in this establishment. As we eat, let us be mindful of those who go hungry this evening and remember that we serve a Lord who fed multitudes. In Jesus Christ name we pray. Amen.
1. What was it about tonight's topic that prompted you to come to the dialogue tonight?"We're all sheep." That caught my attention and I wanted to see what that's really all about.
I've known Rod for awhile now, and Anthony as well. We all got to know each other in a church that we were members of. I want to support these brothers in whatever they try to do, especially if it's for God.
Being someone who works in the school system, trying to make sure that all children get a quality education, I see the inequities, and I'm having a hard time being a Christian in that situation. I relate to the topic on that broader level.
When I heard that the title of the dialogue was, "Being a Christian in a Bank Town," I thought, what does one have to do with the other. I'm here to find out.
2. Before we delve into what it means to be a Christian in a Bank Town, we should first talk about what a Christian is. What is a Christian based on your understanding?A Christian is someone who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and has died for the sins of the world.
A Christian is someone who does good works, has a clear conscience, and does what they can to help others.
The term Christian was originally a derogatory term used by Gentiles. It essentially means to be Christ-like.
To be a Christian is to follow this person named Jesus Christ. For the Christian, Jesus is the model for how one lives. We strive to do what he says and live by his example.
When we follow Christ, we express our love for Him, for it is written, "If you love Me, you will keep my commandments," (John 14:15 ).
The greatest of these commandments are: "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is first and the great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself," (Matthew 22:37-39).
3. We agree that being a Christian revolves around this notion of following this person named Jesus Christ, who is our lord, savior, and shepherd. One can not be a lord or king, without a kingdom. Jesus came preaching to all the people of Israel, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15)." What is the kingdom of God?
There is a Kingdom of God in heaven and the coming Kingdom of God, here on earth (Which is why we pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...").
We [Christians] are the Kingdom of God ("For indeed, the Kingdom is within you," (Luke 17:21).
The Kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet, a king gave for his son. When he invited all the special guests to come to the banquet they refused, so the king invited anyone who was willing, the good and bad alike, the poor and those considered unimportant (Matthew 22:1-11).
When you read the various parables and teachings about the Kingdom of God in the Bible, you come away with the understanding that the Kingdom represents God's love, mercy, peace, and justice.
4. What distinguishes the Kingdom of God from Corporate America? What values did Christ embody that seem to contradict some of the values of corporations?
Corporate America can be a very competitive, even cut-throat place. The Kingdom of God is not like that.
The Kingdom of God is founded on the love of God, and Christians should be motivated by that same love for God and for each other. The primary motivation for Corporate America is profit and oftentimes profit is more important than people.
The god of corporations is mammon, which is the biblical term for money. Jesus teaches us that we can not serve God and mammon (Luke 6:13).
To serve mammon over God is idolatry.
As an educator, I don't work in an environment that's supposed to be profit driven, but I still see a lot of the same behaviors that take place in corporate America. The children are supposed to come first, but the bureaucracy gets in the way, as well as people's own personal agendas.
I work for a company that has a lot of kingdom values I believe. We invest in poor communities and employ people that other businesses won't. We're not perfect, but I have the sense that I'm not just working to make money. I feel like I'm making a difference.
5. So, with this basic understanding of following Christ in the context of the Kingdom of God, we can begin to understand what Christ means by "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (NKJV John 10:27). In the Bank Town article, an employee said "We're all sheep", not just bank employees, but everyone who works for Corporate America, perhaps even the government and other organizations as well. We all have to eat and live, so we all have to work. Even if we own our businesses there is a much larger economic framework that we have to submit to, if we want to be successful in this capitalist society. Thinking about those differences between God's Kingdom and Corporate America, how can we show that our true shepherd is Christ and not those who sign our paychecks, even as we do our best to be good employees, for God is not glorified by a bad work ethic?
It's hard because you're surrounded by so many people who could care less about serving Christ or anybody other than themselves or the bottom-line.
As a C.E.O. can you really operate in a Christ-like manner? So, much shady activity is done to maintain profitability. Maybe if you're willing to settle for something less than #1 or even #2, because your values are more important than your profits, you might be able to do it.
I'm the only African-American in management [above a supervisory level] in my company. I had the opportunity to help address some racial tensions in one of our locations not too long ago. Recently, one of our HR managers made a racially insensitive comment that offended, not just me, but a lot of other people. I'm trying to use these situations to convince our C.E.O. and other executives to make some structural changes to improve diversity and cultural awareness in our company. This could be a professional mistake, but I feel it's the right thing to do. I believe I'm doing what God wants me do.
When we choose to do God's will regardless of the cost we may have to pay, in terms of our career, we are showing who our Lord and our shepherd is. We must use prayer, wisdom, and all of the resources that are available to us to ensure that we are doing not only the right thing, but acting within the right time frame. We are called to be salt (preservers of the good) and the light in the darkness, wherever we find ourselves (Matthew 5:13-14).
6. Consider the following verse of Scripture: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places," (Ephes. 6:12). In this statement written by the Apostle Paul, he is making a distinction between Rome and the dark forces which influenced and even controlled its actions. Rome was the most powerful empire the world had ever seen at that time because of its bloody wars and oppression of millions of people. It's the same government that crucified Christ at the request of Jewish leaders. Most Jews believed that Rome was an evil empire, but no empire or state completely embodies evil, anymore than any state completely embodies good. Obviously, Corporate America has a positive side, but how to we wrestle with those aspects of it, that go against our faith and God's kingdom?
This was a challenging question for the group to address. We oftentimes do not think about the greed, selfishness, prejudice, and disrespect that we experience and sometimes perpetuate as being spiritual forces to be resisted. Corporate America does indeed have it's virtues. It allows millions to pay their bills, take care of their children, and affords many a decent or even comfortable standard of living. Corporations make many charitable contributions to society in areas such as education, medical research, and the arts.
However, there is a growing trend in which people are becoming more and more dehumanized. People are being treated as just another expense to be cut, so that profits can be raised. On one hand, people are the lifeblood of any organization, but for corporations they are also liabilities. Employees are downsized while those who are left behind must work twice as hard for the same pay. Jobs are outsourced, a natural phenomenon in a globalized world, but the wages often fail to lift international workers above the poverty level in their countries. Of course the bank jobs that have been exported to India, pay the employees there at a much cheaper rate, yet relatively well given their cost of living. As Christians in America, it's not that we don't want to see other people prosper, but we should stand opposed to the sense of helplessness and powerlessness that too many workers feel, because they are at the complete mercy of executive decisions and market forces.
Christians are those who must go against the grain of conventional wisdom, and insist that people are more important than profits. Rank and file employees should be consulted before outsourcing begins and mergers and acquisitions take place, because they are the ones who are potentially most affected from a negative standpoint, and those who remain will receive the least in financial rewards for doing more work. Unlike most C.E.O.'s, after downsizing or displacement, most workers will not receive a large salary increase or bonus. People must be valued more than the products they sell, if we are to be governed by love and not by greed.
7. We know that we are to love both God and our neighbor. How can we better love and support our neighbors who have lost their jobs due to circumstances beyond their control?
People need to get organized. We don't fight for ourselves.
True, we do need to get organized, but North Carolina, being a "right to work state", i.e. "right to get fired for any arbitrary reason state" is one of the most hostile to labor unions. Unions have been the primary way that workers have been able to gain greater bargaining power in our country. And when people know they could be let go on any given day, they're afraid to speak up, especially with little to no support. Ideally, Christians should be that support network and even that voice, for those who are vulnerable and afraid.
We talked a lot about how Christians should influence the workplace, but now you have churches that act like corporations. That's what we should have been talking about!... Too many churches are just as obsessed with money as Corporate America.
Sounds like we have our topic for our next dialogue.
This was a very fruitful conversation. We need more of this kind of dialogue, where we can come together and talk about what's really important. I encourage you to keep it going.
We are simply here to bear witness to the Gospel that we have been reading for these past several years and have grown to love. The Jesus that we encounter in Scripture does not seem to be presented in many sermons and teachings today. When you read the Bible, you see Jesus turning over money tables, challenging the leaders of the day, standing up for poor people, hanging out with those considered to be unrighteous. You don't see Jesus spending a lot of time appealing to people's self-interest by promising them a personal blessing. When we experience the Kingdom of God, everybody's blessed.
Closing Quote on "A Revolution of Values":
Excerpted from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s: "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence" Speech (April 4, 1967 - He was assassinated one year later on April 4, 1968)
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers around the world wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? That the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours.
Closing Prayer (Anthony)