My friend Martha wanted my opinion. She sent me articles from The New York Times and the Minneapolis Star Tribune that described the way Riverview Community Bank in Otsego, Minn., markets itself as a “faith-based” bank, complete with a bank “pastor” named Chuck Ripka. The articles portray a Christian bank staff that prays with customers and Ripka performs healings and conversions. Ripka told the Star Tribune “more than 76 customers have accepted Christ while doing business in the bank.”
I have written before that people should do business with companies that reflect their values. Often, I refuse to do business with companies whose advertisements or business methods repel me. I am convinced businesses would behave more responsibly if their customers held them to a higher-values standard. So I do not react in a knee-jerk negative way to a bank or any other business that uses values and faith to market to a niche of like-minded people. Women market to women, gays market to gays, and ethnic groups market to ethnic groups. It’s done all the time.
The Star Tribune quotes Ripka as saying, “If you are a business owner, use your authority, invite Christ into your business.” On its face that seems reasonable. It is admirable if it means that all business will follow the loving, charitable example of the biblical Jesus. For example, a bank that lives The Sermon on the Mount in its daily practices would be laudable.
I will assume that is what Riverview Bank stands for, and what it wants to become.
I would be profoundly concerned, however, if Riverview used God to exclude and to establish its own unique power position. Claiming God is on your side seriously tilts the power dynamic with competitors and customers. Many of the quotes I read from the bankers seemed intent on leaving the impression with customers that this bank and its clients are special in the eyes of God. It is not a very big leap to the belief transactions with the bank are “blessed” in ways transactions with others won’t be. In that case, God becomes a manipulative tool rather than a symbol of love.
The implication that God resides uniquely with any particular bank or business is incredible, and strikes me as unfair. God and religion quickly morph into a bludgeon rather than serving as a moral guide. That idea lacks humility. I reject the notion that any particular group or religion has an exclusive hold on God, but more than that, I find it wrong to make God a part of the businessman’s power over the consumer. It becomes hard to debate or question “God’s bank.”
The Star Tribune quotes Ripka as saying, “My wife says ‘God plays favorites, and you are one of those.”’ That quote goes to the heart of why this business approach can become dangerous. The inference that God blesses Ripka, his bank and his customers more than he blesses other banks is wrong. As my wife says so eloquently, “God is not a micro-manager.” God does not necessarily do earthly favors for believers over nonbelievers. There are many wealthy sinners who prove that point. The people who try to argue that God showers blessing on believers always seem to ignore the flip side of that thesis – there are millions of faithful, God-fearing people in all religions who are not blessed by health, wealth or even good mortgages.
God in the workplace should not mean the idea of God is being manipulated as a tool of financial power, implied threats or exclusion.
God in the workplace should mean that we work to become “co-creators” with God to make better products, more loving workplaces and to be better stewards of our resources.
Tip for your search: Consider whether any of your beliefs, about faith, work or family are held so strongly they become damaging to others. Do you possess admirable passion or dangerous zealotry?
Resource for your search: “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith,” by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books, 1999)