Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Goldman Sachs Employee Reflects on Op-Ed

Greg Smith, executive director of Goldman Sachs, resigned yesterday and posted this blistering op-ed in the NY Times- it was the most frequented article at the NY Times website yesterday: Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.

One of my Doctor of Ministry cohort members, John Gage, actually works for Goldman Sachs and John had some incredibly thoughtful reflections on Smith's op-ed. John's reflections are not yet published but our doctoral mentor Steven Garber is helping to see that it does. Here were John's reflections that he wrote to our D.Min. cohort last night:

[from John Gage, Goldman Sachs employee and brother in Christ]

I have been thinking about my vocation and specifically my role at GS a lot lately, so the Op-ed by Greg Smith this morning on his leaving GS was very timely.  I have to say - most of the things in the article were true.  There is a culture at most Wall Street firms that is very dangerous (I knew this going in).  It is one were "making money for the firm" is most important, even though the narrative from management is that we are seeking the best for our clients.  There is also a culture of short term profits over long term success that is very concerning as well (I am convinced this is the case in most industries in the new global economy). On the flip side, there are also many of us that do first and foremost care about our clients and doing good in the world.  But don't get me wrong, it is a dark place on many levels, and that is one of the primary reasons that I am there.

So this begs the question - what should we do as Christians working in this type of environment?  Or, should we even be working at a company like GS if what Smith said was true?  I have actually been writing a short article on this very question to get my own thoughts on paper.  I wrestle with this question every day.  I thought I would share it with you below.  I strongly welcome any feedback or comments.  As Steve loves to say - further up and further in. - JG

Christian Work in the “Messy Middle”
By: John Gage

As a Christian working in the investment banking industry, it has become very difficult to discern God’s will for our industry during this extended period of financial turmoil. Banks and bankers continue to receive a great deal of criticism, and rightfully so.  As has been evidenced by the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is much easier to point out the things that are wrong with our industry than it is to find aspects that are a blessing to society and contribute to the common good. This reality begs the question - how do we live out the Gospel in an industry like investment banking that is so affected by sin and the fall?  Should Christians abandon these industries that appear to be so prone to corruption, or should we seek to transform these industries by being faithfully present in them?

In his influential book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World <> , James Davidson Hunter calls Christians to live out a theology of faithful presence in the world. Hunter explains that a “theology of faithful presence begins with the acknowledgment of God’s faithful presence to us and that his call upon us is that we be faithfully present to him in return.”  This means that we are to be faithfully present to our neighbors, to our tasks, and within our different spheres of influence.  With work being the primary area in which most of us engage with society, it seems that if we are going to seek to be faithfully present to God, we must do so in our daily work.

Being faithfully present in an industry like investment banking can be very difficult, and I would argue that most Christians end up compromising their convictions and the Gospel because the tide is too strong.  I know because I have been there.  Without a plan to thoughtfully do our work in a creative way that honors God, Christians will continue to be more influenced by the negative aspects of their work than they will be able to introduce positive elements.

Jeff Van Duzer, Business School Dean at Seattle Pacific University does a great job of explaining this predicament in his book Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) <> .  Van Duzer uses many stories and illustrations to look at business through the creation, fall, redemption, and consummation paradigm.  As he discusses how Christians should engage in the business world, Van Duzer acknowledges the reality of sin that plagues our work, and how we as Christians are forced to exist within what he calls the messy middle”.  The messy middle is Van Duzer’s description of the already and the not yet, or living and working in a world where the Kingdom of God has been introduced, but has not reached final consummation.  In our current state, sin is still very real. Van Duzer explains:

Christians need to realize that they are operating “between the finish lines”. Their businesses function in a messy world.  In some sense Christ’s victory is assured but not yet fully evident. Specifically, this means that Christians in business need to remain attentive to possible dissonance as they ply their craft…Simply recognizing potential dissonance, however, is not enough.  Christians in business should become experts in looking for the creative “third way”- the way that is not one of the options initially considered, but a way that emerges as the business leader persists in living both as a faithful disciple and as a successful business person.

In following this “third way” framework, it appears that if Christians are going to be faithfully present in our vocations, we must be creative.  This does not mean that we all need to be business owners or executives so we have the power to make important decisions, but we have to consistently find ways of doing business that glorify God and benefit society as much as possible, realizing that things are not going to be perfect until the final consummation.  Work is going to continue to be messy, and if Christians are going to have a positive impact on society through our work, we must get our hands dirty.

As we do this hard work, Van Duzer also acknowledges that Christians are going to often be forced to make decisions that we do not totally agree with in order to just “stay in the game”.  This is a very harsh reality, and it was refreshing to hear someone actually admit this. These are things we need to talk about if we are going to be realistic about being faithfully present in our work. I am sure I will get push back from some who would say that if they ever had to do something that they did not totally agree with, they would quit their job - that would be the only right thing to do.  This is definitely a very noble idea and sounds great, but I would imagine that person has not held a corporate job for long in the modern world.  Social structures, businesses included, are sinful and cannot be changed over night.  Living a faithful presence is a process.

Let me clarify that I am not advocating that we sin in order to keep our jobs, but what I am advocating is that we look for alternative ways of doing business instead of giving up in the face of adversity. As we make day to day decisions that are often very difficult, I pray that we would be creative and search for solutions that not only glorify God, but also benefit all parties involved. Yes, there will be times that Christians must walk away from a job because of ethical reasons, and we must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide those decisions, but I pray that this would be the exception and not the rule.

As we practice a theology of faithful presence in our work, we must not get discouraged when we realize we are not going to transform our workplace or industry overnight.  If Hunter is right, and I believe he is, our job is not to transform our workplace, or to “change the world”, but it is to be faithfully present where God has put us.  If we do that, God will do the transforming, and that should be comforting to us all.

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