ABSTRACT: The cause of ethical failure in organizations can often be traced to their organizational culture and the failure on the part of leadership to promote ethical standards and morally acceptable practices. This article addresses the issue whether religious beliefs should be an acceptable and appropriate foundation for business ethics. Is it plausible for ethical standards, established as the foundation of the evangelical church, to carry over into the secular community as a way of conducting business and facilitating the treatment of employees? Are there parallels between ethics, trust, and faith? Is trust within a secular or organizational context much like the concept within a religious framework? This article will explore the foundation of trust displayed within the religious community and transferring these same attributes into a secular organization.
It is my contention the relationship between ethics and trust are synonymous. Because of their relationship trust is ambiguous as ethics can promote trust, while trust can simultaneously be abused resulting in unethical and unacceptable behavior (Bews). The focus of this article is specifically on the role that trust is the foundation and trust can contribute to transferring religious ethics to the secular organization by establishing the trust factor.
Aligning Ethics and Trust
By definition ethics is defined as morals, morality, rules of conduct. If you look up the words, you will discover ethics is defined as morals and morals as ethics. In ancient times the Romans translated the Greek word ethikos into the Latin word moral. Thus ethics and morals are closely aligned and recognized synonymously. Ethics is one of those subjects many people feel as if they already know and understand its application and definition.
Trust, when used as a noun Propoithesis, as defined in the Greek, is rendered “trust” in II Corinthians 3:4. It is also referred to as a position of confidence. If used as a verb Peitho, it means “to have confidence, to entrust (passive), to commit one’s trust or to put one’s confidence with hope.” In this respect when trust refers to the act of trusting or not trusting, trustworthiness entails an evaluation of those criteria that constitutes trust and consequently, influences both the direction and intensity of any decision to act in a trusting manner (Bews). Therefore, trustworthiness, are those characteristics that one perceives in another or group that elicits a belief that trust can, or cannot, be placed in that other or group while taking into account both the personal risk and organizational vulnerability. Brenkert (1998) regards ‘trustworthiness as “…the evaluative appraisal that an individual is worthy of trust.” In this regard, trustworthiness is a virtue (Flores).
As Dibben (2003) points out, there are certain inherent difficulties with defining the concept of “trust”. In lay terms the phenomenon of trust carriers with it certain emotional baggage that tends to cloud attempts at arriving at any concise definition of trust. Secondly, academic attempts at defining trust often occur from diverse disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, business management, and sociology. which adds to the confusion. Thirdly, the nature of trust is such that, for the most part, it is taken for granted as we act out our daily lives, and trustworthiness is only being considered when trust is low. An operational definition of trustworthiness as well as how to transfer the factor of trust from the religious sector to the business sector is necessary. It would be appropriate to consider an operational definition of trustworthiness as well as identify those factors that would facilitate trustworthiness.
Aligning Christian Faith and Trust
Christian ethics is acceptable actions and principles, derived from the Christian faith, on how to act. It is the tipping point on the discipline scale of making decisions about what to do and what not to do. It is biblical discernment on how to do right and how to avoid doing what a Christian ought not to do. There is no textbook with blueprint instructions, no video training webinar, nor web-site to provide specific directions on how to conduct oneself, outside of the gospel.
The term “Christian ethics”, means a systematic study of the way of life exemplified and taught by Jesus, applied to the multitude of problems and decisions we must make in the church. It is my contention Christian ethics which are manifested in the church, and found in Matthew 5:3-12, is the foundation of Christian behavior i.e.: being humble, mournful, being disciplined, having a right relationship with others, merciful, integrity, being a peacemaker, and displaying commitment. This ethical behavior of trustworthiness is missing in the majority of secular organizations because there is no transition from the church house to the house of business. Somewhere the reflection of trustworthiness has been challenged in society and a lack of trust has developed.
This notion of trustworthiness, while having an acknowledged relationship to trust within management is a reflection of an individual relationship with God. Why do we act one way in church on Sunday and when Monday arrives we act differently on the job? With faith our imposing upon God our expectations of about how the world ought to be from the perspective of our limited understanding, could be a dangerous path. Theologian Matthew Fox maintains that we lead schizophrenic lives because we either choose or are forced to abandon our personal beliefs and convictions “at the door” when we enter the workplace (Ciulla).
Defining Christian Faith and Moral Obligation
Faith are the collective behaviors and actions of an individual to relinquish one’s personal choices and power to God in the expectant hope that those actions will demonstrate that individual’s willingness to comply with God’s will for that individual ( Caldwell). This faith is based upon that person’s individualized knowledge and interpretation of God’s laws and teachings which gives that person a vision of life’s meaning and that provides clarity about what one believes that God expects from him or her (Caldwell).
Based on a review of recent trustworthiness literature Bews (2002) hypothesized that (i) openness, (ii) integrity. (iii) benevolence, (iv) competency, (v) personality and (vi) history of interactions are the key elements that are expected by those working in a secular environment to establish a culture of trustworthiness. Ultimately trust and faith are integral aspects in the life of each of us individually and within any successful organization brings congruence, alignment, and clarity (Briskin). Any violation of these conditions of the relationships we establish are rarely fully communicated to the other party and are often inconsistent with external parties, but their violation nonetheless makes us feel betrayed (Elangovan) thus a lack of trust is created.
The ethics of the church, and the individuals worshiping in the church, stands midway between the ethics of the gospel as it has been delivered to us by Jesus Christ and the world outside the walls of the church commonly recognized as the mission field. Those followers of Jesus Christ, insofar as it is faithful to its mission as the carrier of the gospel, is a followership of persons sincerely trying to follow Jesus, clearly sees what is right than does the surrounding society and organizations that fail to recognize Christian morality.
If the church exists to be the carrier of the gospel in a unified followership of Christians, the church also exists as a human institution, a socially intertwined social group with a common purpose of loyalty to Christ. Thus, the Christian community has an ethical and moral obligation to live its faith throughout the secular world as a testimony of care and concern to a lost and dying world. There is an inherent danger of themselves becoming secularized and conforming to the standards of the world instead of being a force of Christian moral and ethical trust in the workplace. For the Christian placed in the secular workplace they need to always keep in mind this piercing ethical directive, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect “ (Romans 12:2). At all times the matters of business ethics, morality and trust should begin in the house of God through the word of God and transferred to the marketplace.
It Takes More than Ethics, To Build Trust
In the center of this debate comes forth the need to develop the kind of trust essential for the ethics as prescribed for the religious community to be transformed into a secular organization. From our perspective of faith, being able to recognize and accept the trials and hardships of life in a secular organization, provides the believer an opportunity to develop profound character that demonstrates an acknowledgement that God has more to teach us in the process of building trust within an organization (Fowler) than we recognize.
Stephen Covey (2006) stated, “Don’t let the labor pains of personal growth cause you to abort the rebirth process.” Covey is suggesting that this advice applies to those seeking to enhance their personal character and faith, as much as it applies to leading others in an organization. The ideal working relationship is when you can trust someone beyond the confidence that they can and will do what they have promised. It means you can trust that someone wants others to succeed.
Bews (2002) conducted a research study aimed at testing the identity and the relationship between the factors that are likely to affect perceptions of trustworthiness and the perception of interpersonal trust. During this study it became evident that a lack of openness would negatively impact perceptions of trustworthiness. It was also clear that integrity, particularly in respect to promises kept, is a strong facilitator of trustworthiness. Benevolence also played an important role in the facilitation of trustworthiness, particularly in respect of a concern for employees’ well-being.
But here imposes a major question, “Is it bad apples or bad barrels” that are responsible for corrupt organizations? Craig Johnson (2007) believes that both bad apples (individuals) and bad barrels (organizations) each play a part in ethical failure. Both need transformation and “the direction of organizational change is from the inside out, starting with the individual and spreading outward.” Johnson believes that one ethical person within an organization can bring about system-wide change. Listening is more important than speaking, service to others is more important than serving ourselves, leaders should use their power and position to empower others, and use personal power with caution.
A bigger problem has surfaced over the past few years in that people of faith are not taught to apply their faith in the world of business. There is a deep chasm between the business world and the religious community. Both groups tend to dismiss the other where the clergy claims that business is too corrupt and profit-driven; business people claim that clergy are ignorant of economics, overly critical of wealth and inefficient with church funds (Nash). According to Nash a promising future for business and the church requires greater interface between the two. There exists a need to bridge that gap and it starts with trust. And trust develops from something much deeper than perceived modern business practices.
Applying Christian Ethics to Business
How can management within an organization create a culture where team members trust one another, so they will openly share doubts about a project, that data and information can be trusted, and the team wants to help one another and see the company succeed? Building a culture of trust calls for leaders with a high level of strategic intelligence to create learning cultures where people are not afraid to make mistakes and understand that change is inevitable (Maccoby). Mistakes are the pattern of growth. But trust sets the tone.
The solution to implementing Christian ethics in the workplace rests in application of the Scriptures. There are those in the business world who will argue that Scripture has nothing relevant to say about business today. They will state the Bible was written between eighteen and three thousand years ago, largely for an agrarian economy. What significant insights can Scripture give to the modern day marketplace? Christian ethics is the application of Christian values to the decision making process. By application Scripture is a book of rules espousing values applicable to a given situation. And by appropriating the applicable rule and applying it to a current problem we find a perfect match.
We must recognize Christian ethics in the marketplace are not rules to impede progress or creativity but a display of the perfect character of God. Scripture, applied to business situations, amplifies the true character of God, perfect and forgiving, holding people accountable, and a God of provision. Therefore “Christianity operates on the notion that ethics (human character) logically follows theology (the study of Gods character). And when we behave in a manner consistent with God’s character, we act ethically. When we fail we act unethically” (Nash).
It is my contention trust is the result of applying Scripture to the business decision and management process and trust can contribute to transferring religious ethics to the secular community by using Scripture as the emulation of Gods character.
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About The Author: Michael B. Russell, MA, MBA, DSL, MLIS is a licensed Consultant working strategically with religious and non-profit organizations. He holds an earned Doctorate from Regent University School of Business and Leadership. He can be reached at email@example.com or 479-268-4471.
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