In my previous article I addressed the issue of ethics in relation to how we should be spending our hard-earned dollars. The other issue of what companies we should or shouldn’t be supporting was left unanswered as it was deserving of a separate article. Regarding this dilemma, I initially wanted to challenge my intellect with writing from various authors discussing money and ethics. As this was mostly my Gonzaga English degree skills at work, I was pleasantly surprised, comforted, and reminded upon further reflection that the dual companion to intellectualizing money is a theology-based ethics. Faith has long guided my own morals, with 1 Timothy 1:5 being of particular import in that “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” I had the very odd privilege recently of putting this ethic through the ringer at my most recent job. Back in March, I garnered the opportunity to work as a caregiver at an adult family home on the South Hill. When I met with the owners, they told me how they had moved up from California to look for assisted living facilities for their respective mothers. Finding none suitable, they decided to purchase a home and start the kind of business so desperately needed. Essentially, they wanted to enact the vision that they found lacking in the elderly field. Hearing this, I jumped at the chance to work for them. That sort of thinking and intentionality are what I strive for in my own life.
The problems started to arise four or five months into it when I began to suspect a differing fundamental perspective. Whereas I took the owners’ initial desires wholeheartedly and all-encompassing, a business-minded view was making its presence known. I started noticing discrepancies between the paid hourly staff and my own pay as a salaried employee working 45 hour, 3 day shifts to their 40 hours a week. Ethically, I was willing to overlook this for awhile as the business was just starting up and my theological views have always told me that one should be generous to their neighbor. We’ve all heard it is better to give than to receive. Sure, I was starting to break down physically and emotionally and had practically dropped off the grid in regards to family and community, but I believed in the mission of this place. Timothy exhorted me once again that “certain persons, by swerving from [love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith], have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions”. I was not a business-minded individual, so what right did I have trying to maneuver the technicalities of running one?
My struggles lasted a couple more months before a combination of God movements and my own frustration ended my employment. Having contacted the Department of Labor & Industries, I had a clear understanding of the law in that I had not been rightfully paid for overtime or for the days that my salaried pay did not meet minimum wage standards for the hours I worked. I continued to wrestle morally. Aside from learning that it was better to give than to receive, mainstream religion had also imparted upon me that I was to rely on God’s provision alone. I rarely have a problem with this, having experienced God’s provision for exactly what I need. On one occasion I went unemployed for an entire summer between semesters at Gonzaga, incapable of landing a job even at Walmart. At the end of a summer filled with stress over a lack of steady income, I realized through odd jobs here and there that God had not provided me with what I wanted ‒ a full time job ‒ but had provided me what I needed, which was just enough income to subsist. Based on this reality of faith and provision, who was I to ask for money from my previous employers when God wanted me to move on and would, having always done so, more than provide the landing for the leap I had taken?
My employers were good people, but I considered them to be more sales-oriented with no rational understanding of the caregiving business. This is an extremely problematic reality when one has to decree hours, staffing structure and pay for caregivers. I eventually filed the claim and Timothy ironically or appropriately cheered me on:
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully…[and] understand[s] this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient…and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.”
As much as I rely on God’s provision I am also a constructivist. I believe much of the proselytized Gospel these days to be a socially-constructed, retributive Gospel created by humanity because it is easier to swallow than adhering to what God wants. When it comes to money then, one can see the way in which people use the law to demand money without distributive justice in mind, but to satisfy petty grievances. I do not believe that my previous employers were lawless and disobedient in the way some might believe demands a retributive justice. I filed the claim because I was rightfully owed money, but moreover, people need to be reminded of the laws that are set in place to guide us along our endeavors. When it comes to business and money ethics, a self-serving business approach to a start-up will face the same struggle my previous employers face. Eventually a choice has to come between using funds in a way that provides for all equally and satisfactorily, or one will be lawless and disobedient, making choices that lift you up at the expense of others.
Join us at 10 a.m., Oct. 5 for our next Coffee Talk for a conversation on Money and Ethics. The discussion will take place at Chairs Coffee. Stembridge is a panelist.
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