Jason Stansbury is an Associate Professor of Business and the James and Judith Chambery Chair for the Study of Business Ethics at Calvin College.
Wong, Baker, and Franz have argued convincingly for a Christian pedagogy of business that seeks to form students’ hearts as well as to inform their minds. “Shap[ing] the social imaginaries of students toward a kingdom-oriented vision for business” seems to be a good and beautiful goal that transcends the overextended promise of perspectival professional training. Instead, Wong et al. hold out the possibility of a business education that engages students’ affects and actions along with their cognitions, to prepare for careers of discipleship rather than simply competence with conscientiousness.
Wong et al.’s argument resonates with much of the contemporary literature in business ethics. Moral psychologists have established that most moral reasoning is pre-cognitive; a person will generally react intuitively and instantaneously to some issue, based upon the positive or negative valence that issue carries, either innately or through learning.1 In fact, it is possible that the rational evaluation that faculty so strive to teach is typically marshaled only in response to a dilemma or other problem in which an individual’s intuitions are conflicted or muddled, or in response to a demand for justification of a position that has already been intuitively determined.2 Clearly, if Christian business education addresses questions of ethics and meaning only at the level of detached and rational deliberation, then even students with well-defined and nuanced worldviews may be frustrated by the incongruence between their beliefs and their behaviors.3
Moreover, the business ethics community and the mainstream management education community have been attending to the fact that business students construct narrative accounts of the meaning and trajectory of their work, whether or not business pedagogy addresses the competing values and identities that inform those narratives. When business is taught as an amoral technical discipline oriented toward the putatively unitary goal of profit maximization, then students tend to see themselves as instrumental servants of shareholders, resulting in exploitative business practices.4 Conversely, teaching business through narrative approaches to literature, history, and even film enables students to experience empathetically the competing goods and harms, problematized identities, and urgent complexities characteristic of responsible decision-making.5 All pedagogy shapes the heart as well as the mind, but the narrative pedagogy that Wong et al. advocates can do so reflectively and with circumspection.
That said, in the emphasis on the formation of students’ hearts and minds for Christian life, there is a risk of indoctrination, or “the inculcation of a learned unwillingness to consider the relative limitations of a system of thought, based on the authority of the teacher of that system.”6 Notwithstanding Wong et al.’s emphasis on intellectual rigor alongside emotional fervor, it seems that the enterprise of formation is thoroughgoingly perspectival, which raises the problem of the limitations of whatever perspective animates the educational enterprise. Ethics is sublime;7 no human model, framework, or metanarrative is or can be sufficient to describe it completely, let alone reduce it to a single set of commensurable concerns.8 Bonhoeffer9 noted the same problem when he insisted that humankind was made not to know right and wrong; attempting to do so was humanity’s first mistake, because we were created instead to know God. While critical detachment can never excuse Christians or anyone else from the responsibility to take ethical decisions, neither can Christian intentions and even theological expertise ensure that one’s deeds are blameless. Even earnest attempts at Christian ethics can never flawlessly discern the mind of God and the whole of His purposes. That does not mean that Christian faculty should eschew formation as a goal of their pedagogy; it just means that formative pedagogy without the development of students’ reflectively critical capabilities risks leaving students unresponsive to potentially important problems for which their formation has not prepared them.
Therefore, we faculty must ourselves remain circumspect about the limitations of whatever values or frameworks we hope to inculcate, and about the degree to which they express our values rather than some universal “Christian” value. We must also teach our students to do the same. Otherwise, we may produce graduates whose sense of moral business has been honed to a narrow, sharp point, bearing neither understanding of nor sympathy for other businesspeople who hold other priorities or face binding constraints.10 The exercise of cultural exegesis in particular seems to risk becoming something like the tourist method of cultural anthropology: viewing a complex social system situated in its own local and historical context through the preferred values and practices of a casual observer, relabeling its features with reference to the observer’s viewpoint, and making observations about the denizens of that system. While true “participant observation” can lead to much richer (and more valid) critiques of a social system, doing so requires the patience and courage to observe as a participant. If we hope for our students to exercise a renewing influence in the many subcultures of the business world, we will need to train them to be participant observers rather than tourists.
In a related problem, reactance11 emerges when students or anyone else feels like they are being pressured to adopt ideas, goals, or feelings that are not yet plausibly theirs, when they are competent to form their own. More than I worry about students becoming overbearing zealots for sustainability, or inclusiveness, or business-as-mission, or fiduciary duty, or whatever the implication du jour of faithful business may be, I worry about students becoming blasé about the need and possibility for faithful business practice. Students who have felt “preached at” too many times may well reject the content of the preaching, more out of annoyance than out of some reasoned objection. Others, determined to earn a good grade in our classes, may learn the syntax and vocabulary of our ethics, without adopting it for themselves in any meaningful way. This produces acquiescence without motivation, and comprehension without understanding, which are therefore nearly useless as guides to action. Stansbury & Barry12 examined a similar problem in the context of corporate ethics programs.
What, then, can be done if Christian business faculty aspire to formative pedagogy but worry about the problems of both indoctrination and reactance? I would suggest that challenging students to discern and embrace their own general and particular callings13 is the solution, because doing so encourages development of moral identity14 within a constellation of individual differences and personal choices. All Christians are called to live as Christians, and thereby to develop the fruit of the Spirit and serve their neighbors.15 Therefore, virtue ought to be an increasingly central and salient aspect of our self-concepts; that is, it ought to be both a primary aspect of how we think of ourselves, and it ought to be readily called to mind across a variety of circumstances.16 That increasing virtuousness furthermore ought to result not from grim determination to be good in our own right, but instead from joy and thankfulness for the good that God has already done in us.17 So, living into one’s general calling to bear the fruit of the Spirit would seem to result from an increasing realization of the scope of the gifts one has already been given. As instructors, we can help students to realize the grandeur of that gift, and of the calling that accompanies it, and leave the acceptance of that gift to them and to the Spirit.
The particular calling that a given Christian has is some station in life to which not every Christian is called, including but not exclusively one’s paid occupation.18 Realizing that particularity, exploring it, and embracing it all entail choice. Moreover, they require considerable maturity, because they require circumspection about one’s own abilities, interests, and convictions.19 The nexus of abilities, interests, and convictions is especially important for the formation of business students, because that nexus informs, motivates, and empowers courageous ethical action within organizations.20 Within the broad scope of moral concerns defined by the general calling, individuals must determine what they know enough about, care enough about, and have the ability to fight for. Not everyone will care as much about the same things, nor will one necessarily have the resources to join every good fight. As instructors, we should include in our narrative accounts of moral deliberation and action some portion of the formation of the protagonists’ convictions, so that our students may learn how to discern and attend to their own convictions.
Overall, the awareness of the limitations of oneself and others, set against the scope of God’s justice and sovereignty in the general calling, captures a generative tension. All Christians choose how to respond to God’s general and particular callings, in the context of their own limitations and constraints. Recognizing that enables students to experience the authenticity of their own choices, while respecting the situated choices that others make, even as they discipline both sets of choices with their growing knowledge of God’s will for His people.21
Cite this article
- Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, & Brian A. Nosek, “Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96.5 (2009): 1029-1046; Jonathan Haidt & Jesse Graham, “Planet of the Durkheimians, Where Community, Authority, and Sacredness are Foundations of Morality,” in Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification, eds. John T. Jost, Aaron C. Kay, & Hulda Thorisdottir (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 371-401; Scott Sonenshein, “The Role of Construction, Intuition, and Justification in Responding to Ethical Issues at Work: The Sensemaking-Intuition Model,” Academy of Management Review 32.4 (2007): 1022-1040; Gary R. Weaver & Michael E. Brown, “Moral Foundations at Work: New Factors to Consider in Understanding the Nature and Role of Ethics in Organizations,” in Behavioral Business Ethics: Shaping an Emerging Field, eds. Ann Tenbrunsel & David DeCremer (New York: Routledge / Taylor & Francis, 2012), 143-172.
- Sonenshein, “The Role of Construction, Intuition, and Justification.”
- Mark Chaves, “SSSR Presidential Address: Rain Dances in the Dry Season: Overcoming the Religious Congruence Fallacy,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 49.1 (2010): 1-14.
- Sumantra Ghoshal, “Bad Management Theories are Destroying Good Management Practices,” Academy of Management Learning and Education 4.1 (2005): 75-91.
- Laura L. Nash, “Intensive Care for Everyone’s Least Favorite Oxymoron: Narrative in Business Ethics,” Business Ethics Quarterly 10.1 (2000): 277-290; Oliver F. Williams, The Moral Imagination: How Literature and Films can Stimulate Ethical Reflection in the Business World (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998).
- Jason Stansbury & Bruce Barry, “Ethics Programs and the Paradox of Control,” Business Ethics Quarterly 17.2 (2007): 248.
- Charles E. Scott, On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Ethics and Politics (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996).
- Charles Taylor, “The Diversity of Goods,” in Anti Theory in Ethics and Moral Conservatism, eds. Stanley G. Clarke & Evan Simpson (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989) 223–240.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995).
- Nash, “Intensive Care for Everyone’s Least Favorite Oxymoron.”
- Jack W. Brehm, A Theory of Psychological Reactance (New York: Academic Press, 1966); Sharon S. Brehm & Jack W. Brehm, Psychological Reactance: A Theory of Freedom and Control (New York: Academic Press, 1981).
- Stansbury & Barry, “Ethics Programs and the Paradox of Control.”
- Lee Hardy, The Fabric of this World (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1990).
- Karl Aquino & Americus Reed II, “The Self-importance of Moral Identity,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83.6 (2002): 1423-1440; Ruodan Shao, Karl Aquino, & Dan Freeman, “Beyond Moral Reasoning: A Review of Moral Identity Research and its Implications for Business Ethics,” Business Ethics Quarterly 18.4 (2008): 513-540.
- Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998); Scott Waalkes, “Rethinking Work as Vocation: From Protestant Advice to Gospel Corrective,” Christian Scholar’s Review 46.2 (2015): 135-154; N. T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (New York: HarperCollins, 2010).
- Aquino & Reed, “The Self-importance of Moral Identity.”
- 2 Peter 1:3-11.
- Hardy, The Fabric of this World.
- Mary C. Gentile, Giving Voice to Values (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010); Debra E. Meyerson, Rocking the Boat (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2008).
- The author would like to thank James and Judith Chambery for their invaluable support of his research agenda, which has made his contribution to the Christian Scholar’s Review possible.