Monday, March 13

A different (better?) path

Tony Campolo tells a story of a sociology class he was teaching at Eastern University. (The story is realted here, or you can read it in Adventures in Missing the Point, p. 118-121). One of the assignments was to develop a plan to change a country for the sake of Christ. The students were also studying the Dominican Republic. Gulf & Western dominated the economy of the Dominican Republic. They owned resorts, hotels, large amounts of real estate, and were the leading sugar producer. They had led the country to become single-crop economy. They paid extremely low wages, and did nothing to provide education or medical services to the people of the region of the Dominican Republic that it dominated.

Eleven students put their plan into action. They each spent $9 to buy one share of stock. This share of stock gave them the right to participate in the stockholders' meeting. They took turns reading the Bible at the meeting, and calling on the company to make changes. They expected to be laughed out of the meeting.

Instead, Gulf & Western listened. They called Tony Campolo, and entered into discussions with him and with other organizations interested in improving economic and social conditions in the Dominican Republic. Gulf & Western decided to put $100 million per year for five years to address these concerns. The result was radical change in lives of the people of that region.

I've always believed that a change of mind comes after a change of heart. It seems like Christians too often try to change peoples minds first. It's almost like they think that if they can get people to clean up, and act more "Christian" then they will be more responsive to the message of Christ. That's not what Jesus is looking for. He wants to change people's hearts first. Once that is done, lots of the other issues will come naturally.

There's been a bunch of discussion here about how (or if) the Church should get involved in social policies. And issues like the use of sweat shops in third world countries and boycotts have come up several times. I wonder if maybe we shouldn't try Tony Campolo's method more often. Maybe we can be more successful at changing the hearts of these companies from the inside, rather than just demanding a change of action from the outside.


ash_loren said...

i think i need to read "the ugly american" again. it's by no means a "christian" book, but it's kicked my butt hardcore in the past, and needs to again. i think every person even considering doing missions work needs to read it. and though i wasn't recognizing it, it goes along with your post just as well.

lpangelrob said...

Hmm. Never heard of The Ugly American. You might have to summarize it for me, and then I might have to post about the cultural implications. :-)

That's an interesting story you're not going to find in many business magazines. I'm not particularly sure what to respond with.

Jennie and I did get talking during the day again (like we usually do) and the question came up -- what should we do with our resources? Like, when Ashley said that there are some companies that are better with social issues than others, as Christians are we better stewards for spending our resources at those companies? The one that came to mind was Starbucks (they claim to pay Colombian coffee growers fair market rates, have better health care, etc.)

Do I choose Target over Wal-Mart? Starbucks over Maxwell House? I do think spending with our dollars is better than boycotting by holding them back (among other things, as Jennie says, boycotts just don't work 95% of the time). But to what extent? If we just donate directly to aid organizations, is that any better? Worse?

Scott Wilder said...

You know. Jesus didn't hang out with the spiritually upstanding and righteous. He spent time with those that were looked down upon as unworthy. While I certainly understand to need to take an unswerving stand on any issue that furthers the work of the cross. The way we take a stand matters just as much as the stand we take. As I read all of the posts flying around; I wonder how much of this is about God's glory and how much is about our own sense of right and wrong.

Jesus would most certainly tell these companies that their lust for money and power keeps them from fully enjoying the fullness of God's blessing. But to this day, it has not stopped Him from standing at the door knocking.

We could take a lesson from that.