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In a recent article published on LinkedIn, Nikhil Deogun, SVP/Editor-in-Chief at CNBC, reflected on the changing role of modern corporations. Institutional religions, including the Catholic Church, might learn from insights he shared.
Prompting Deogun’s reflection is that he is leaving CNBC to assume a leadership role with the Brunswick Group, a business advisory organization that advertises to help “clients navigate the interconnected financial, political and social worlds to build trusted relationships with all their stakeholders.”
Business? Clients? Stakeholders? What has this to do with institutional religion?
To begin, Deogun flips the idea of “business” as strictly commercial or mercantile activity intent on making money, to “value-creating organizations” that think seriously about “how to be successful in society.”
“The employees and customers of corporations are pushing organizations to look at how they do business, where they do business and what value they create,” writes Deogun.
One of the factors driving people, and particularly young adults, to reject organized religion is that they reject what they perceive as unethical, often hypocritical behavior of those religions and their members, including their leadership. Also, many who disaffiliate from institutional churches perceive them as more focused on self-preservation and self-aggrandizement than on creating value in the world.
Deogun is not down on business. To the contrary, he writes, “business plays a central role in our society and can be a force for good. Indeed, in many ways, corporations play a greater role in society than ever before, taking a position, willingly or unwillingly, on the important social issues of the day.” (Witness the recent Nike ad featuring activist Colin Kapernick.)
Churches are a force for good as well. One need look no further than issues such as human trafficking, immigration, refugees, hunger, poverty, and other forms of discrimination to find churches and their affiliates in the trenches.
Institutional religion has a large story to tell. And like most human stories, it involves tension, light and dark, good and evil.
Absolutely, institutional religion must not hide—or hide from—its sinfulness, past and present, and justice must be served. Yet it also is incumbent that religions communicate the good they are called to do and are doing in the world. Not as apologists, but as advocates for the mission that defines them.
Kevin O’Brien, SJ, a Jesuit priest and dean of the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in California, in a recent opinion article for CNN, describes his struggle in the midst of “recent revelations of sexual abuse and abuse of power in the church” to find “words to welcome” new students to the school. Ultimately, he finds solace in recognizing, “I do not need to have all the answers nor perfect words.” After all, “before all else, the church is a people on a journey to make God’s dream for the world a reality. We make that journey together, in good times and in bad.”
Anne Hulzing, Director of Quality Management at Cornerstone Health Group, posted a response to Deogun’s article that applies equally well to institutional religion: “Corporate Social Responsibility is about creating value for all stakeholders, shareholders is just a subset of a much broader group.”
The shareholders of institutional religion are its leaders and committed followers.
The stakeholders, however, are everyone.
Jerry Ruff, Senior Writer and Editor
Saint Mary’s Press Research