Five ways companies practice their faith

Five ways companies practice their faith August 6, 2014

A really interesting article showed up the other day on FaithStreet’s blog OnFaith.  Author Chris Horst, spurred by the recent Hobby Lobby decision, wondered about the different way faith is expressed in the corporate marketplace:

Since the Hobby Lobby case, there’s been lots of talk about what makes a corporation “religious,” if anything. Of course, corporations can’t really be religious, but their founders can and are, and they often express their religion in and through their corporations. Religion plays a big role in our country’s enterprises — in ways that may encourage you, discourage you, or both.

Here’s what Chris found out as he looked at companies of all different faith traditions (did you know the founder of Whole Foods was a Buddhist? I did not):

1) These companies give generously from their company’s profits.

Hindu founder of 5 Hour Energy Manoj Bhargava

has committed 90 percentof his company’s profits to charity, primarily to Hindu charities in India.  Bhargava predicts that over the next 10 years the company will give away over $1 billion to charity. Similarly, Christian brothers and business owners in Memphis recently gave their entire $250 million company away to their charitable foundation.

2) They are guided by their sacred texts.

Founder of e-commerce company Eved, Talia Mashiach is an Orthodox Jew:

We are so fortunate to have Torah as our guide,” said Mashiach at a gathering of Jewish female entrepreneurs. “My exposure to the outside world has made me understand and appreciate that so much more.”

This is true across the religious spectrum. Burger chain In-N-Out prints Bible verses on their cups and burger wrappers for the benefit of employees and customers. Islamic bank owners follow a wholly unique set of regulations because of prohibitions in the Koran against charging interest.

3) They close up shop to rest.

David Green’s closure of Hobby Lobby on Sundays is probably well-known to readers of this blog.  Chick-fil-A does the same. And this is also true of many Jewish companies:

Many Jewish business owners close on Saturdays, in accordance to the Jewish observation of Sabbath. They close despite some customer frustration and despite Saturday being the biggest commercial day of the week.

4) They share their religious views with their customers.

Says Chris,

The magazine rack at Whole Foods does not resemble many other grocers. Alongside magazines like Modern Farmer, Yoga, and VegNews, Whole Food stocks Shambhala Sun, “today’s best-selling and most widely-read Buddhist magazine.” Notably, other prominent religious magazines — like Christianity Today, Tablet, and Islamique — do not line Whole Foods’ bamboo shelves.

Likewise, the Marriott hotel chain — founded and owned by a Mormon family —stocks their holy book, The Book of Mormon, in each of their hotel rooms worldwide.

5) They infuse their companies with partying.

This didn’t seem obvious to me at first, but if your religion centers on hedonism, it will come out in your company ethos, says Chris:

Dov Charney is the consummate party animal. For years, Charney’s let-loose hedonism infused his company, American Apparel. He has since been fired, though he is not going out quietly…. “What’s important to me is that everybody is experiencing pleasure. That’s what I’m into,” Charney wrote, channeling his inner Aristippus, the Greek philosopher attributed to pioneering hedonism.

American Apparel is not alone in infusing hedonism — a religious persuasion that elevates pleasure as the chief and sole goal for humanity — into their companies. Hooters, Axe, and Vegas’ “what happens here, stays here” casino industry all thrive on hedonistic impulses.

6) They help their brethren.

Chris has found examples here ranging from planes to chickens:

David Neeleman created JetBlue to disrupt the airline industry, and this father of nine did not hide his Mormon convictions as he did so. He regularly charters flights to fly Mormons and potential Mormons to church conferences. And he employs many Mormon stay-at-home moms out of their corporate office in Utah, allowing these mothers to have flexible work hours and to work from home…. At Tyson Foods, the company employs over one hundred chaplains to provide counseling and compassionate care to their employees “regardless of their religious or spiritual affiliation.”

All in all, a fascinating list. Chris concludes,

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of religious liberty earlier this month, the Court acknowledged the impossibility of business leaders checking their values at the door.  “Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law,” reads the syllabus

How business leaders practice their religion will increasingly become a public discussion, particularly when these religious practices collide with hot-button cultural issues (like birth control and abortion). Meanwhile, business leaders like David Green and Manoj Bhargava and Talia Mashiach will continue to bring their faith to their work, seeking to effectively navigate the tensions of being religious in our diverse public square.

What do you think? How do you navigate those tensions? Would you add other items to this list?

Image: 1914, 179th St. by Cornerstones of NY.

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