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This past week I received a phone call from an old friend seeking my advice. He and I are from two different worlds: He’s a businessman, and I’m a pastor. He deals with questions of profit and loss, bids, equipment purchases, and hiring practices. I am someone who deals with matters of the heart and questions of the soul. Our bond, however, is more than the sum total of our lifelong friendship. Ultimately, it is our Christian faith that unites us in a significant way.

The question he brought to me was a serious one. It had to do with a young man who is a great worker for his company, but who has a serious substance abuse problem. My friend had given the employee several opportunities to correct his behavior and – like many dealing with addiction – the young man would succeed for short periods of time and then relapse. Despite many promises and an abbreviated attempt at a rehabilitation program, he continued to fall back into the grip of his addiction. What’s a decent boss to do?

Upon first examination, the question is easily answered. One caricature of business would simply dictate that the employee should be fired and someone else should be hired in his stead. Business is business, right? The personal lives of the employees are of no concern or interest to employers, as long as they don’t interfere with work. Once this interference was documented and a pattern of misconduct established, a dismissal was in order and that would neatly and efficiently conclude this troublesome matter.

My friend’s interest in his employee, however, goes far deeper than the above and oft-quoted caricature offers. This employer sees people as more than production. The young employee in question has a wife and children. He has responsibilities and obligations. As he described the situation, my friend spoke of his employee as a person at the crossroads of his life. Before him lay a choice of two paths, one leading to life and the other to personal destruction and, possibly even death.

After talking things over, we, the businessman and the pastor, came up with a plan. My friend would make treatment available to the young man, the support of his family would be guaranteed, and the employee would be held to account for his decisions actions. My friend would even take time away from his own family to accompany his employee to a substance abuse program as a way of demonstrating his commitment to this young man and his family.

At the end of our conversation, I asked my friend why he would be willing to go to such great lengths for this struggling employee. Certainly, this would not increase his profits. It would be a real distraction to his work of running the business and it would take him away from his own busy and growing family.

The answer he gave was worthy of any theologian. He said, in essence, that his employee was worth it, not because of what he could do for the business but because of who he is. In a theological analysis of this answer, we would say that this businessman and employer recognized in his employee the dignity intrinsic to a person made in the image and likeness of God. This troubled and struggling young man was not someone who could or should be easily dismissed in the name of “efficient management” without considering all the implications for his life and the life of his family. Having read so much in the papers recently about corruption in the business world, this incident reminded me that these types of personal commitments of employers to the greater good of employees are made by countless business leaders every single day. This should not be forgotten.

The business scandals of recent days are a reminder that evil, deception, and corruption are part of the business world. No one can or should deny this sad reality. What must also be remembered is that such things are not representative of the whole or even a large part of those working in the business world. Business people like my friend are a welcome reminder of the great good that business leaders who are committed to decency, goodness, and honesty can accomplish, even when the pursuit of that good comes at a substantial personal sacrifice.


Rev. Gerald Zandstra, an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, is a senior fellow at the Acton Institute.