Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Servant Leadership Practice--Be Just and Watch Your Step

Oh, fudge cake, someone has reported that Wal-Mart claims their servant leadership principles and Christianity is behind some of the mess they're in. Whether they're guilty of poor wage and promotion practices or not, I can't judge. From the outside, it doesn't look good. Nor does it help us that this perceived corrupt organization is associated with servant leadership or Christianity. With role models like them, who needs enemies?

That they provide employment for hordes of people is very admirable. Someone posted that Wal-Mart is newly hiring 10,000 people in Chicago soon (now?). That they can't find a way to promote women, who make up the strong majority of their workforce, seems suspicious.

One of my favorite writings is an ancient, 1st-century letter written by James. It's small, just a few pages, but packed with a lot of wisdom. One thesis statement in the early portion of the letter is that pure religion is 1) taking care of widows and orphans--and any others in dire need (my addition); 2) being free of the corrupting influence of the world's way of thinking. Seems like a pretty simple yardstick to measure the integrity of living out our creed. James goes on to warn the wealthy (that's us):
  • Don't hoard your wealth
  • Don't fail to pay your employees their due
Combining those two, it seems the author has made a blanket condemnation that all of us have gotten rich by cheating our employees out of their wages. By keeping wages down, and profits up, we benefit and they suffer. We are guilty of murder (that's what he says, look it up). For years, there's been a lot of discussion about living wages. We know we have lots of employees working multiple jobs to make ends meet. We have both parents working to keep up with the cultural norms. Now we can argue that if they didn't need to keep up with the Joneses, they wouldn't have to have so many jobs. However, these days, it takes quite a bit to maintain a mortgage, buy groceries, gasoline, utilities, and medical care. With a high divorce rate, there are significant wages being shifted towards alimony and child support.  I know a lot of people who don't have a lot of discretionary income. That's why credit card debt is so high. Pay increases haven't kept up with inflation. Real wages are losing traction. Employees are paid less than they used to be.

Corporate profits have never been higher.

Today, talk to a few people. Find out how well their doing. Ask how many jobs are held by members of their households in order to make ends meet. Review your pay scales and promotion practices. If you uncover any injustices, strongly consider some action to correct the issue.

For C12 and Truth@Work members, it's amazing how many portions of scripture deal with money. Decades ago, I spent 3 months in Kenya as a lay preacher. Giving many homilies during home visits each week, I would flip through the scripture looking for passages to discuss. I was amazed how often I ran across passages dealing with wealth. It felt hypocritical to be the rich American (though poor by American standards) talking to poor Kenyans in a rural area about the fallacy of desiring more riches. Buy a cheap bible or just a New Testament and start highlighting passages that talk about money. You'll be surprised--even in the gospels. A rich man once asked Jesus how he could gain Life (capitalization intentional). At the end of the discourse, Jesus asked him to put into practice the last of the 10 commandments and repent by giving away all that he had coveted. The rich man couldn't. Can we?

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