Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


A Christian In Industry
James F. Allcock 
Purchasing Manager, 
British Gas Corporation 
Sandy Lodge Way, 
Northwood, Middlesex, V.K.

From: JASA 29 (September 1977):

Most of my working life has been spent in the energy sector of the economy and I have direct experience of all the fuels except nuclear fuel and oil. Against this background I would like to share something of my experience of the problems and the opportunities which arise for a Christian working in this environment. But first I would like to make one or two preliminary points.

I'm not sure that I see very much point in talking about being a Christian in industry to those who are not. I do not think there is much essential difference between being a Christian in industry and being a Christian in anything else. In that sense I often think there is a touch of vanity in the urgent question - what shall I do with my life? It is surely well for us in the West to remember that most people throughout history have had very little choice. They have grown up and tilled the ground that their fathers had tilled before them. To the question - what shall I do with my life, there is only one answer - give it to Christ; and then I think the particular circumstances of it assume much less importance. Wherever our lot is cast the race we run is essentially the same and the obstacles are essentially the same though they will present themselves to us in different shapes and sizes. But further, I'm not sure that it helps you if I tell you the clothes the Devil wears when he comes to see me at work. You'd laugh if he came to you dressed like that. He'll dress appropriately for you as he does for me.

As Christians we justify our participation in the industrial process in terms of the mandate given to Adam in Genesis 1:28-30. It is a legitimate occupation. We have the right to "subdue" and to "use" what God has given us. The business of the industrialist is to find, recover, grow, shape, distribute and exchange the good things which God has given us all. I am convinced that a large part of the problem of Christians in industry arises from the complexity and the specialization inherent in the modern economy. It is fairly easy to understand what we are doing if we are ploughing or fishing or mining. It's muc h harder to see clearly the point if you are an insurance clerk or a rental car firm operator or even a university lecturer! It is not entirely by chance that I have persevered in, what economists call, the primary sector of the economy. At the emotional level I find a satisfaction and a I 'validity" in the mining of coal and the distribution of oil and gas but I accept that the distinctions of this kind are only emotional. There is no distinction in principle between work in the primary, secondary or tertiary sectors of the economy. There are valid and worthwhile occupations for Christians in all these areas.

It is currently fashionable to see in the Old Testament, and particularly in the Minor Prophets, a prospectus of the kind of society which we, as Christians should want to see and a kind of manifesto for Christian political action. I am not convinced that this is the right thing to do, but in any case I think that is is more instructive to study the behavior of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel and his friends in Babylon if we are looking for guidelines for our deportment as Christians in a secular society. In both cases we see two important things. First, we see that neither of them shrank from the opportunity of high and influential positions although the societies were pagan. But secondly, neither of them were under any illusions about their position or the fact that the seed of confrontation with the authorities was inherent in the situation.

In my experience there are three great difficulties in the position of a Christian in industry. Because they come from my own personal experience, I should say that they are difficulties which arise particularly in large organizations such as my own. I would call the first the difficulty of being influential.

In industry there is very little opportunity for the exercise of private judgment. All decisions are made jointly and, certainly when you are in a janitor capacity, you will have very little influence over them. Now I know that this is in the end a matter of degree. None of us can, or should, get our own way in any area of our lives. And yet the problem has been acute enough to drive many Christians from the public service and from industry to the profession of law or accountancy or to medicine where the scope for the exercise of personal judgment is significantly greater. In this situation I would urge two things on you. First, learn to be persuasive. I believe that a Christian can be persuasive quite beyond his station in life. He should be diligent above the rest and I believe that he should be clear headed above the rest because he dare face the truth and tell the truth and face with courage the conflicts of opinion which are the stuff of business life. But I do not think that either prayer or flair will see you through. There is no substitute for a profound competence at your job and this will be the source of your persuasiveness. But secondly, I would implore you to relax. I have learned only slowly and with great difficulty that God does not hold me responsible for decisions and actions which I did not have the power to control. Learn to urge your view vigorously, relax when the decision goes against you and implement the decision with energy. This I believe is the beginning of a good testimony.

But then there is a second and more subtle difficulty. It is the difficulty of contentment. Large businesses (and Government departments) are organized in hierarchies and it is from this structure that the managements derive their ability to govern them. They persuade the staff to co-operate by inducing the fear of dismissal or stagnation and hinting at the possibility of promotion. In this society the only way to justify your view and your advice is to succeed and the measure of success is promotion. It is a mistake to think of the rat race as a race for the good things of life and an ever expanding standard of living. The rat race within a corporation is the struggle for influence over its affairs. This is not difficult to prove. It is little consolation to a man to be told that he will keep, or even improve, his income if he is being edged out of the powerful seat in the company. Obviously therefore the temptation to join in the jockeying and the elbowing and the backstabbing is acute. After all, the nearer the top of the company, the more influence we shall have as Christians. So what is the Christian response? The response is not outward but is an attitude of heart and mind. The Christian in this situation must look to God for the justification of his contribution and the advice he gives his boss. He must be ready to let his case rest there and not need the endorsement of reward or promotion. I am not speaking here of the separate ethical problem of ambition. I am speaking of the more profound need to be able to rest in God without the need of further endorsement. Without this attitude of mind I think that life is both restless and wearing. But further, we must trust. In particular we must trust God to decide how far up the tree we climb and how great our influence ought to be. And I believe that to display this attitude of mind and to allow it to pervade our conduct of affairs in the office is to do something very startling indeed.

But thirdly, there is inevitably always for the Christian the risk of confrontation. As it was for Joseph and Daniel so it will also be for us. We shall from time to time meet both personal malice and genuine conflict of principle. Potiphar's wife is still very much alive and so is the pressure to eat the King's rich food! But in my experience, situations of this kind are very rare. Those outside of industry sometimes seem to think that it is uniquely a place where people falsify and cheat. I can say only that I have not found it so - I find, for example that the integrity of argument in the public service and in commerce compares well with what I find among theologians; I cannot say that as a general rule I find the personal lifestyles of the "bosses" in industry either more or less admirable than doctors or teachers or anyone else. Obviously no Christian will work for a firm whose basic objective is unsatisfactory or where the pervading ethos is thoroughly substandard. If you find yourself in this situation you have to leave. But I want to suggest to you that conflicts of principle will be very rare. in business there are from time to time quite sharp differences of view about policy and these different judgments can give rise to passionate arguments and confrontations between personalities. But these seldom have a moral content. If you think a conflict is arising I would plead with you to ask yourself earnestly and prayerfully whether you are being principled or stubborn, whether this is a difference of judgment or of principle. I would advise you always to discuss the matter with a Christian friend who is far removed from the battle before making it a serious issue. Yet, on the other hand I want to stress that there may be times when we have to stick to our guns and bear the consequences. Some Christians (particulary those who have made a lot of money from industry) talk as if we go into battle armed with the philosopher's stone that turns everything to gold. But God promises us no such thing. He promises to honor those who honor him but he does not promise us seats on the Board. Joseph was not saved from the consequences of malice. He went to prison. Nor did Daniel avoid his fall from power or the ordeal of the lion's den. We may have to be prepared to go too. But we should know that we go out with God as we went in with him.

The great opportunities for a Christian in industry all arise from his response to the difficulties themselves. His testimony is founded in these responses. It is not peripheral to his main activity; it is integral to it. And only with this foundation laid can we earn the right to speak of Christ to those with whom we work. We have the opportunity within the "politics" of the organization to eschew the "dog eat dog" ethic and in this way to say plainly that our goals are different and that our trust is not in the lobbying and the maneuvering which is so central to the struggle for power. Then in the economic questions we can search for and insist on justice or fairness in wage negotiations, in contract negotiations, in advertising material and so on. These things most surely make their mark.

Finally I want to mention the strange love-hate relationship which, in my experience, develops often with your non-Christian colleagues. "The Lord blessed the Egyptians for Joseph's sake" and there is almosta superstitious sense in which they win like to have you around. They'll wheel you in when the going gets rough or when they want you to "bless" what they propose to do. But then on the other hand you are an embarrassment to them as well. I don't suppose that Daniel was the magicians' favorite man or that the satraps and astrologers were part of his intimate social circle! You will be cold-shouldered as well as courted and must be quietly and confidently prepared for both. In conclusion I would ask those of you who are in industry to support us in your prayers and those of you who are pastors to try in your ministry to learn to nourish and refresh those of your congregations who daily face the temptations and the challenges of which I have spoken. And for those who are embroiled in the day to day turmoil of industrial life I wish an influential humility in your advancements and a quiet confidence in times of disappointment so that we all join with Daniel in his prayer. "To thee 0 God of my Fathers I give thanks and praise for thou hast given me wisdom and strength and hast made known to me what we asked of thee for thou hast made known to us the King's matter."

(Based on a Chapel Talk given at Regent College, July 1976.)