The greater the spiritual importance of human institutions, the greater their potential for corruption and misuse. (See here.) The theological analysis of the corporation gives us a clue as to what has gone wrong – the reason why the corporation is in crisis today. The corporation has always presented an enormous temptation. Its legal form should always correspond to the essential relationship that determines its distinctive meaning. Once stripped of this reality, however, the corporation becomes an uncontrollable beast, a sociological mutant capable only of destruction. As it was with the Israel addressed by Isaiah and Jeremiah, and with the obstinate Corinthians who proved so problematic to Paul and Clement, and with the empty legalisms of the medieval kings and lawyers who used the institution of the Church for personal aggrandizement, so it is with the “robber barons” of the 19th century and the hedge fund managers of the 21st, who used the corporation as a smoke-screen to hide fraudulent financial dealings.
Corporate sin, however, is not corrigible by human action. It is a sin of wrong relationship. The only solution to wrong relationship is to be in right relationship; but no individual, nor even any group, can achieve this unilaterally. In the terms of the modern philosophy of the self (and the corporate self), a solution is impossible. This philosophy opposes the
individual to the social context, erroneously forcing us to choose between personal and social welfare. (As we have begun to see, this opposition is simply false and unnecessary.) That leads inevitably to a rejection of the very possibility of the corporate relation. What remains is a fatal attraction to the distorted legal corporate shell, a sort of institutional necrophilia which consumes us as we attempt to escape from its horrible charms.
We need a new approach – a completely new spirit in management – and the Christian in business is well placed to bring about that transformation. The Christian has been set free from what we have come to call since the Enlightenment, the separation of the subject and the object, or more critically, the separation among human subjects, their inability to naturally get along with one another because of basic misunderstanding about intentions and motives Just as the Image of God the Father in Jesus Christ is not merely a copy or an imitation or a representation, so the image of ourselves in the other is neither inferior nor defective nor misleading. “It is the very mirror in which reality knows itself and communicates itself in power.”
We do encounter God through others in the corporation when we maintain the corporate relation of submission. When we express our view to them on what is important now as the criterion of action, we submit and make ourselves vulnerable; the more articulate that expression the more vulnerable we become. When we encourage, recognize and listen to the expression of another and attempt to synthesize (not compromise) a new ‘greater’ criterion, we submit and make ourselves vulnerable. When as a manager, we cut off further discussion about the criterion as a matter of appropriately exercising authority, we submit and make ourselves vulnerable. I believe no one has the ability to entire into this condition unassisted. These are real spiritual exercises, not pious rituals, not managerial technique. They demand more than we have to offer. And in them we are vulnerable to God, who will protect us most of all in this vulnerability. What we discover through this vulnerability is in fact new truth, not new truth about the fixed, undynamic, mechanistic aspects of the world, but truth about the reality of human existence, which is far more elusive and unstable.
Dorothy L. Sayers provides the precise criterion for this truth: “It is new, startling and perhaps shattering – and yet it comes to us with a sense of familiarity. We did not know it before, but the moment [it is] shown to us, we know that somehow or other we had always really known it.” This applies as much to statements we make as statements we hear. Both are attempts to account for the whole. Neither sort can be rejected on the basis of logic or fact. Each is potentially a step in uncovering the Good, which is the will of God in daily life. This then is an inherent part of corporate existence: searching for God.