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Editorial Reflections

We have options to bailing out on justice, and adopting unhealthy business mores

In the bailout buzz, many people are talking about how Wall St. greed undermines Main St.  We sadly know it sometimes pulls on the soul of some humanitarian and faith corporations, who cave in to hard-nose corporate practices.

We hear cries:  Where’s the bailout for those strapped by the rising costs of living on Main Street?  When will we have relief from uncontrolled speculation?  When will we have universal health care?

The “business” model that worships the bottom-line—the god of money—may rear its head among agency staff, nonprofit boards and church councils.  Many are perhaps more formed by secular mores than religious values.  Expediency can chip away at a congregation’s or nonprofit’s funding and doing its mission, just as it also affects corporate and government budget processes. 

We need to ask “Where’s the beef?” in the sense of “beef” being the core mission for churches, faiths and nonprofits.  When we place other gods before God, we operate with blinders and lose sight.

In face of the bail-out proposed in a rush to save the super rich, let’s pause to see how “corporate,” non-humanitarian mindsets take hold of our lives.

For example, today’s escalating health insurance costs are one force that can lead to heartless decisions in faith, as well as secular, realms.

Wall St. greed for 30 to 40 percent on investments tightens the financial squeeze on faith and nonprofit groups, leading them to hand out pink slips, for example, when employees use health insurance.

Once the adage was “use it or lose it.”  Now it’s “use it and lose it”—use health insurance and you may lose your job, health care, house and ability to provide for your family.

Some corporations think they save money by firing, laying off or forcing the resignation or retirement of employees—a cancer patient, an older person or a pregnant woman—because their use of health insurance may drive up costs for the employer and other employees. 

Is it a “wise” corporate decision to push folks out one-by-one, putting more people into overburdened unemployment and welfare systems?  Is it good business to push more families to live on the edge of losing housing, food, health, relationships and hope?  It creates fewer consumers for a business and fewer donors for the nonprofits.  People know something is suspicious and pass the word along.

It’s a dilemma and temptation for faith and nonprofit corporations to consider this month when many churches focus on budgets and stewardship.

For us to adopt business models as if they are the “only option” and as if they are based on the only “hard facts and figures” is to lose the humanitarian soul of serving those who suffer.  As such decisions create more suffering, they undermine a ministry’s raison d’etre, its mission, its heart and even its well-being.

Some corporations are self-deregulating by ignoring Equal Employment Opportunity laws against discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age or disability, especially related to health insurance.  For example, so far this year, 4,900 have filed EEO “pregnancy discrimination” complaints, up 1,000 from 2007.

There are more options than to wear greed-based business blinders.  It’s time for creative thinking and new approaches:

• Some corporations know if they treat employees well, they reduce costs of training new employees and gain from the cumulative expertise of long-term employees.  Many know that open conversation among colleagues and overall transparency improve productivity and creativity.

• Some organizations like the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility watchdog corporations as shareholders and influence board decisions.  Who calls churches and nonprofits to accountability?

• Some individuals voluntarily live simply, accepting professional responsibilities at salaries below expectations, because they are committed to work for justice.  What if more executives did that for the general welfare from which they would benefit, too.

To seek solutions on health care, how might we separate it from jobs so people do not lose jobs because they use insurance?

• If “we the people” bail out AIG, a health insurance provider, might it be a springboard for universal health care that is portable from employer to employer? 

• What about trying “trickle-up” economics, infusing funds into Main St. to subsidize health-care premiums and costs?  Wherever we inject funds into the economy, it spurs growth.  Doing that still reaches the wealthy, but assures flow through low- and middle-income folk enroute.

• We might set aside fears about a government bureaucrat coming between a patient and a doctor, when we realize we already have investors, employers, insurance companies and poverty between patients and doctors.

• What if churches and faiths form a health-care pool across competing institutions to cover clergy, members and communities they serve.  That might draw new members and funds for our mission.

• Another option is to remember that hospitals, physicians and nurses once operated—and many still do—as faith-based, altruistic servants to spread God’s caring and healing.  When we lose sight of our roots, we lose our way. 

Will we silently let health insurance costs break the heart of churches and humanitarian agencies?  Let’s take off the blinders that limit our vision, speak up and be accountable to one another to act justly. 

Mary Stamp - Editor