I recently served on A discussion panel where Catholic business leaders explored the degree of compatibility between faith and business practices, including corporate charitable giving. A distinct mix of opinions was expressed. In an era when it cannot be agreed that 2 + 2 = 4, can business people be as divided as the rest of the country? Or perceive that faith presents different dictates to different people? Is there no common denominator?
Probably not, but let’s try two ideas on for size.
My dad, a businessman and one of the most charitable people I’ve known, always spoke of “helping the least of our brethren.” Judging from our mailbox at home while growing up, it seemed that every mission around the world depended on his good will.
Try one more. “Children are a gift from God,” said Mother Teresa, whom my wife and I met many years ago while volunteering at Caligat, her “Home for the Destitute Dying” in Calcutta. She was remarkable in her approachability, energy, and good humor.
Perhaps not all readers would agree with my dad and Mother Teresa, though it’s hard to argue with the Gospels and a saint. Thus, in exploring the alignment between business and faith, it might be instructive to ask business people to assess their actions, processes, and charitable commitments through the lens of how well they are serving the least of our brethren, including children.
Looking through this lens, I would submit that in the sea of all the good things that businesses and their people do, there are two opportunities that are overlooked: improving education and addressing fatherlessness.
Improving education has many definitions. Many businesses donate books, provide reading tutors, and teach STEM classes. All good. But to me, real improvement will rely on market forces – yes, good ol’ competition – when poor kids and their parents are given the freedom to select from a menu of public, private, religious, cyber, and home educational options that fit their circumstances and preferences. But the forces of the public school monopoly are strong, vocal, and well funded. Some school choice advocates have declared this the civil rights issue of our day. But where are voices of business leaders, whose instincts I have to believe, despite divisions, lean toward free markets? I don’t hear them.
Nor do I hear business leaders weighing in on fatherlessness despite nearly 20 million kids in the U.S. living without their dads. Most are being raised by single mothers, nearly 50 percent of whom live in poverty. Too many families, the key building blocks of society, are shattered. Too many kids live desperate lives marked by loneliness, neglect, gangs, drugs, crime, pregnancy, hopelessness, failure in school, and lack of love. In the mid-1960s, the vast majority of children lived with both parents. To be sure, some were poor and faced enormous challenges.
But with two parents in their corner, they at least had the fighting chance that too many kids today lack. What happened? We could debate the causes forever. But sadly, and with tragic consequences, our culture seems to have concluded that dads are obsolete and unnecessary, to be tossed onto some 21st-century trash heap with other anachronisms. And so too many of our kids suffer without the love, hard work, protection, discipline, and guidance of their fathers – while we delude ourselves that mothers can do it all.
What can businesses do? Plenty. There are numerous agencies, non-profits, private groups, and individuals doing heroic work both to offer kids a better education and rebuild fatherhood. In supporting any of these initiatives with their drive, creativity, and intelligence, business leaders can help many of the least of our brethren while witnessing to what our faith prescribes.