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November 29th, 2011

The Prophet Richard?

Sir Richard Branson’s new book makes very interesting reading. In “Screw Business as Usual” he outlines his vision for nothing less than global transformation. He asks; “Can we bring more meaning to our lives and help change the world at the same time”. He wants to see “…a whole new way of doing things, solving major problems and turning our work into something we both love and are proud of.” His proposed solution is a new way of doing business. “It is time to……shift our values, to switch from a profit focus to caring for people, communities and the planet.” A prophetic voice, you might think.

And while we’re talking about prophetic voices from outside the Church, did you see the TV programme When Bankers were Good? It might still be on BBC iPlayer if you’re lucky. Is this really the “anti-Christian” BBC extolling the virtues of Quaker bankers? It seems so. The programme’s blurb affirms “Samuel Gurney was a Quaker whose honest prudence shone through the financial storms of the 1820s and whose wealth helped the work of his sister, prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, who is immortalised on today’s five pound note.” And the programme asks why can’t contemporary bankers go back to those principles of thrift and philanthropy. As John Wesley affirmed a century earlier “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

The world, it seems, wants business to change. The voices, powerful voices, are being heard out there. The Church, who you might think would be driving this new found hunger for ethics and transformative business, is in danger of being left behind. Business can change the world for good, but it can also change the world for God. Richard Branson writes “I have a great belief that we-ordinary people everywhere- not only want to do the right thing, but we will do the right thing. We will fix things, not just because we have no choice, but because this life and this world are all we have.” Whereas I might agree with the main thrust of his argument about doing good through business, I cannot agree with him here. I think we have to help to alleviate poverty and bring justice precisely because this life and this world are NOT all we have! I want to see the Kingdom coming. I want to see its fruits now….and for eternity. I want to see businesses with social and environmental impact, but also bringing transformation through a spiritual bottom line.

I thank God that there are Kingdom building business people in this country who are helping to drive that change forward. It is part of the Church’s mission; and it could be a powerful strategy for the 21st century. To find out more about Business as Mission, Spiritual Bottom Lines and our predecessors the Victorian Quakers, check out the free resource centre in our shop.

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