Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chocolate and the Gospel

It seems like every few years Americans are hit with a new epidemic of corporate scandal when greedy CEOs are exposed for white collar crime. Enron, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Waste Management, Lehman Brothers, Bernie Madeoff—need I say more? In the wake of these startling revelations thousands of innocent and unknowing workers are left without jobs, benefits, severance or retirement. It’s a crying shame.

Then we also hear about the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Fortune magazine reported that in 2013 that the average CEO earns 331 times more than the average worker in their company, with the CEO netting on average $11.7 million while workers take home on average $35,000. That same article went on to explain that most workers in these corporations cannot afford most of the services their company provides, “America’s CEOs—as exemplified by the individuals of these companies—are cannibalizing their own consumer base.”[1]

These thoughts came to my mind as I was studying Paul’s council to salves and masters in Ephesians 6:5-9, “5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”

In Paul’s day, slave owning was commonplace. The closest estimates by historians put the number of slaves in the Roman Empire in the range of sixty million—or about half the population. Salves were the largest demographic within the early church and slaves are addressed in seven of the New Testament epistles.[2] Of course, these institutions no longer exist today, but the relationship between bosses and employees do.

As I read these verses, it dawned on me that although this passage may be short, it has far reaching implications. I would submit to you that if these principles of workplace ethics were in practice then much of horrible labor conditions of the Industrial Revolution, the vast wage inequities between big business and its workers, union labor strikes and the atrocities of communism could have been avoided.  

Then I came across the fascinating biography of John Cadbury who actually put these ideals into practice. In 1824 Cadbury opened his first coffee and tea shop in Birmingham, England. He also began experimenting with a new sideline - cocoa and drinking chocolate, which he prepared using a mortar and pestle.

The popularity and growing sales of John Cadbury's cocoa and drinking chocolate of 'superior quality' determined the future direction of the business. So he decided to open a full-blown chocolate factory. While working conditions at that time in England during the height of the Industrial Revolution were terrible and inhumane, Cadbury was driven by a different set of principles that put people ahead of profits.

Cadbury was a committed Quaker with a strong sense of social responsibility motivated by his Christian convictions. His family was anti-slavery and campaigned for abolition years earlier. He was also for the temperance movement as he saw how alcoholism ravaged families into poverty and squalor. When John Cadbury handed the family chocolate business over to his sons they decided to use their wealth to reform working conditions for their employees.    

At a time when factories were dismal and dangerous places to work, the Cadburys made sure theirs were safe and humane. 1893, the Cadbury’s bought up land around their factory to build a community for their workers, named Bournville Village. They wanted to provide a safe, pleasant place to live as an alternative for grimy cities. Each home was comfortable and had a plot of land to grow vegetables. They built a community for families to enjoy activities. They provided their employees with good wages, medical treatment, educational opportunities, and pension plans, which was very unusual for the time. They introduced the 5-1/2 day work week and closing for bank holidays. The factory had sports facilities for the employees. In 1918, the Cadburys organized elected work councils, made up of equal numbers of workers and management. The councils, one for men and one for women, oversaw the welfare of workers and their families. They eventually built a hospital for the Bournville community.[3]

The Cadburys did this not because the government made them, or because they were pressured by tightening regulations, they did it because they took Jesus into the workplace. I bet the next time you bite into a Cadbury cream egg you’ll think about it differently. While the Cadbury’s were the forerunners, thankfully other business owners have followed suit, like Truett Cathy of Chick-fil-a, which is still closed for business on Sundays and Norm Miller of Interstate Battery, who posts his personal testimony on the company website. (click here)  

What this passage implicitly teaches is that there is no division between sacred and secular. So many Christians compartmentalize their life so that who they are on Sunday has nothing to with their work on Monday through Saturday. However, the basic premise of this passage is that all of life relates to God and is sacred, whether we're making a business presentation, fixing someone’s leaky faucet, changing diapers or singing a hymn. If you are a Christian, then you do not work primarily for your employer, because behind your boss stands the Lord Jesus. Knowing that all of our work is a reflection our relationship with Christ should raise the bar in every area of our workplace experience.

Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist. A monk, perhaps. Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”
“I’m a shoe maker.” Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”

In becoming a Christian, we don’t need to retreat from the vocational calling we already have—nor do we need to justify that calling, whatever it is, in terms of its “spiritual” value or evangelistic usefulness. We simply exercise whatever our calling is with new God-glorifying motives, goals, and standards—and with a renewed commitment to performing our calling with greater excellence and higher objectives.

[1] Kathryn Dill, “Report: CEOs Earn 331 Times As Much As Average Workers, 774 Times As Much As Minimum Wage Earners” Fortune, 15 April 2014, <http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathryndill/2014/04/15/report-ceos-earn-331-times-as-much-as-average-workers-774-times-as-much-as-minimum-wage-earners/>
[2] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary—New Testament (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2007), 621.
[3] Melinda Penner, “Cadbury Chocolate and Christianity,” Stand to Reason, 10 July 2014 <http://www.str.org/blog

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