All posts by Bill English

Bill English is an Executive Consultant with the Platinum Group and the Founder of Bible and Business.

Most Popular Content at Bible and Business

Did you know there are over 400 posts and close to 100 pages of content on this site?  Wow.

Anyways, here are the top five pages/posts on this site, since it was first stood up in August of 2011k as of October, 2017:

Most popular: What the Bible has to say about Opportunity. I don’t understand why this post is more popular, but it is.  I need to research this a bit more, I guess and figure out what people are really seeking when they click on this link.

2nd: Chapter 5, Engaging in Spiritual Warfare. This page is Chapter 5 in my online book about What the Bible has to say about Running a Business.

3rd: Leadership Lessons for Christian Business Owners

4th: Managing Office Politics in a God-Honoring Way

5th:  Assuming Risk as a Business Owner

Managing Difficult Business Conversations Seminar

Bill English, Founder of Bible and Business, is bringing a new seminar to business and health care professions – Managing Difficult Business Conversations. In this seminar, you’ll learn six speaking and five listening skills which will help you manage your most difficult conversations in a more mature and professional manner.

You can hear Bill discuss this two-day seminar with Vince Miller,  founding President of Resolute.

Bill had three different discussions with Vince, which you can listen to:

Be sure to check out the Resolute ministry with Vince has started.  We think you’ll be interested to learn from him and partner with him moving forward.

Foundations of Christian Stewardship Part II: It’s about God’s Agenda

The second element in understanding Biblical stewardship for Christian business owners is a natural follow-on to the first element, which was God owns everything and it is this:

All events are orchestrated by God to serve God’s agenda

This can be a bit disconcerting to us Type A people who like to control everything. We like to roll up our sleeves and get stuff done. But Proverbs 16.4 is clear: “The Lord works out everything for His own ends – even the wicked for a day of disaster.” (There are other passages that could be cited beyond this one)

As Christian business owners, we need to understand that trusting in God and replacing our agenda with His is the essence of trusting in God. Garrett writes:

“Biblical righteousness is fundamentally an attitude of trust in God, an attitude implicitly and explicitly demanded in 16:1, 3. Wickedness, too, is more than simple disobedience to the commandments; it is above all manifest in an attitude of pride” (Garrett, D. A. (1993). Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of songs (Vol. 14, pp. 152–153). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers).

It is natural for us business owners to think about our agenda for our business. But have you ever taken time to learn from God what His agenda is for His business that He has entrusted to you? This directly goes to the core purposes for business: Passions, Products, Profits and Philanthropy. The four core purposes for business, collectively, need to be the organizing principle to which our businesses – our entrustment from the Lord – are tethered.

What is the Lord asking you to do with His business? How is He asking you to manage it, grow it, use it to further His kingdom? Are you developing the passions and talents in the people God has brought to you? Are you developing new products and services that will enable your community to flourish? Are you using your profits as directed by God – perhaps giving away more than is normal because God wants to bless you as a giver and wants to bless others engaged in other ministries? Does God’s agenda for your business drive your strategy and tactics?

Take time today to do an inventory of your person and work. Remember that God owns everything – including your business – and He will orchestrate the events of your life and your business so that you are working in concert with Him to accomplish His agenda.

Bill English

Power and Narcissism: Can Hollywood Be Honest with Themselves and Us?

I wonder how long it will take for a movie to be made that uses Harvey Weinstein‘s persona as the basis for the movie. I wonder if Hollywood can be honest with themselves in this movie about how they have contributed to a culture where sometimes, a woman is put in a position of having to serve a man sexually in order to get what she needs or wants. An example is in Forrest Gump, where Forrest’s mom trades sex with the school superintendent to get Forrest into the local school. After sex, the superintendent says to Forrest, “You mommy sure does care about your schoolin’ son.” The movie never explicitly portrays this as sexual abuse, but it is nevertheless. It’s a man with power taking advantage of a woman who lacks power.

When any given man (or woman – Martha Stewart is a good example) amasses too much power, his chances of becoming narcissistic is quite high. Men with power abusing women who lack power is well known and not uncommon: JFK, Jim Bakker, Bill Clinton and King Henry VIII come to mind. The proverbial “casting couch” also comes to mind – and that was Mr. Weinstein’s modus operandi (here and here). The fact that a casting couch was both well known and accepted in Tinseltown is an implicit admission that the entire industry has accommodated men like Mr. Weinstein for decades.

Countless movies portray women as sexual objects whose value is found primarily in the man’s selfish enjoyment of their body parts. Their core role is portrayed as serving the man’s narcissistic needs even while it injures the woman – the Huffington Post reports on the phrase “making women ‘rape-ready'”. Nearly all pornography promotes this narrative and it is estimated that roughly 10% of all internet traffic is pornographic (an opposing view puts it at 35%), so it’s no wonder that Mr. Weinstein’s behavior was minimized for so many years. I suspect most of the men in Hollywood are regular consumers pornography, so it probably seemed more natural to them that a casting couch existed in the first place.

But if those with power don’t abuse women sexually, they certainly abuse in other ways. Men like Martin Shkreli, Bernie Madoff, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers, Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and others abused thousands (perhaps millions collectively) through their financial schemes and they didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. This is one of the core points of the book “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work” – these people (usually men, but not always) have significant talent and charisma that causes others around them to look the other way when their peccadillos and abusive behavior is known, but isn’t damaging the organization as a whole. So, those around them have a choice: Either confront this highly talented man about his abusive behavior or look the other way. I think those around them conclude that either A) he is too powerful to confront or B) he is bringing so much good to the table (in one sense) that his abusive behaviors are are seen as minimal by comparison.

Power and narcissism is especially harmful in churches and ministries, where, I don’t like saying, my experience is that a plurality of Pastors and ministry leaders can be both abusive and power-hungry guys. They start out well-intentioned, but as their ministries grow, they change. They are usually very gifted communicators with significant leadership abilities. Their theology and exegesis are impeccable. But their public lives can be highly choreographed which hides their narcissism. Privately – don’t cross them or you *will be* on the receiving end of a rather unpleasant experience. I’ve been there several times. It’s not sexual harassment, but it is abuse nevertheless. Experience it enough times and you conclude its’ easier just to sit in the pew and be blissfully ignorant of all the dirt that’s going on behind closed doors. Power and narcissism don’t stop at the front door of a church or ministry.

Politics is filled with elected officials who are both powerful and narcissistic. Our election system is geared to elevate Snakes in Suits. Both parties, mind you, elect these people. Even though the Snakes in Suits book doesn’t allude to this, I was struck by how much what they describe in the book is actually applauded and pursued in our political system. Power and narcissism is apolitical. The fact that a sitting President of the United States could engage in sexual acts (I think harassment solely due to the power imbalance) with an intern working in the White House, lie to the nation about it and then have an entire political party defend his actions is an example of the Snakes in Suits principles on full display.

Sexual harassment is about power and narcissism, not sex. Mr. Weinstein is not a sex addict as much as he is a power addict with lots of narcissism baked in. He expresses his power and narcissism through sexual acts, but he would be no less destructive had he expressed himself in other ways. Hollywood may very well make a movie based on his life, but I doubt they will really deal with the larger issue of people in power who develop significant narcissism and the damage it does to others as well as themselves. You and I see it and experience it every so often in our grassroots lives, but I wonder if Hollywood will be able to get to our grassroots level and become real with us and with themselves.

I’m not holding my breath.

Best Practices Conference

The 2017 Best Practices Conference is for business owners who need to interact with experts who can help them solve their most pressing problems.

The conference is happening on October 26 at the Edinburgh Golf Course in Brooklyn Park, MN.

If you are a business owner with $5M or more in sales, then this conference is for you.

www.bestpracticesconference.com

Foundations of Christian Stewardship Part I: God Owns Everything

I’m starting a series I’m titling the Foundations of Christian Stewardship. This series will codify what I believe to be the foundational passages and principles for Christian Business Owners to adopt and follow if they are going to be faithful stewards of the business that God has given to them.

The first foundational principle is this:

God owns everything.

Corollary: We own nothing.

The Scripture that teaches us that we own nothing and God owns everything are numerous:

Psalm 50.10-12: for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

Deuteronomy 10.14: To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.

Exodus 19.5-6: Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

1 Corinthians 10.23: …for the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…

Psalm 24.1: The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters

Job 41.11: Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.

Psalm 89.11: The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it

There are over a dozen more passages like this in the Bible. God owns everything and we own nothing. Regardless of our current legal systems which bestows on us ownership of material goods, in God’s economy, we’re merely stewards of that which he has entrusted to us.

Application

I think there are several applications:

  1. Any wealth that we create through business is not ours to spend as we see fit. Instead, we should be asking God how He wants this wealth utilized.
  2. Our business is to be managed as well as possible. Our overriding goal should be to fulfill the four purposes that God has established for business: Passions, Products, Profits and Philanthropy
  3. Our identity, self-worth and security should be found in our relationship to God as His steward, not in our temporal positions as a business owner
  4. We should hold our businesses with an open hand, being willing to give up ownership should God call us to other entrustments

Stress and Conflict Reveals what one Sibling Really Values

I know of a family owned business whose three owners – all siblings – are in their late sixties. They present themselves to the outside world and to themselves as a tight-knight, loving family.

Their business is in crisis. For years, they have lacked a true leader to guide their business. Their father was more of an angry, my-way-or-the-highway drill sergeant, but he wasn’t a leader, so they didn’t learn any leadership skills from him. Plus, they have lacked any serious accounting talent. Their bookkeeper has done her best, but it’s clear that their lack of adequate leadership and accounting has resulted in their business being on the brink of bankruptcy.

I’m part of a team that was brought in to help them turn-around their business. When they started implementing our recommendations, significant stress and hidden conflict surfaced first on how they managed finances and then on what roles each sibling was fulfilling in the business.

It didn’t help that one of the extended family members had loaned the business a significant sum of money to keep it going and now was facing the prospect that he might not be paid in the time frame he was requesting. He and his wife (one of the owners) were nice as long as they thought they would be paid back within an artificial time-frame that he had arbitrarily set. But when it became apparent that his timeframe wasn’t going to be met, he threw a temper tantrum, stormed out of the office and never returned.

His wife, one of the owners, suddenly cut off all family communication. She even dis-invited her two siblings to a significant family celebration for her. When stress was low – before the recommendations were implemented – she would say that she’d like to be paid back, but that she knew it would take time. She was accommodating and nice. But when the stress became high, she became a different person. She and her husband were so angry that they moved out-of-state – permanently.

And there we had it: the truth. The truth was that they were willing to sacrifice family relationships – permanently – over money. Money was more important than family.

In my experience, when families tell me how loving and tight-knit they are, I usually wonder who’s not being honest with themselves. It’s not that tight-knit families don’t exist – they do. But those that are tight-knit rarely have a need to tell others how tight-knit they are. They just do it without thinking and you can see it in their interactions. It never occurs to them to tell others they are tight-knit because they don’t know of another way of living.

We usually find out who is not being honest with themselves when the really tough parts of a business turn-around are placed squarely on the shoulders of the family/business owners. Under stress, I’m able to see and hear the real truth of how solid and stable the relationships are within the ownership group. Moreover, I hear the real truth of what individual owners are really thinking.

On a global scale, here is what you can look for when stress increases in a family business.

Money is often more important to people than family or business relationships. I’ve seen this born out in a number of situations, both when I owned my own therapy practice and now as an advisor to family owned businesses. It’s sad, but true. Most people value money more than most other things and people in life. So they do things like cutting off and threatening to move to another state. Money becomes more important than family.

Our values are forced to the surface when stress hits our lives. I’ve seen people live out their stated values under stress. For example, I’ve seen people who are financially stressed still give to others because they really do value giving and philanthropy. The stress didn’t surface hidden values. But I’ve also seen people who valued their relationships jettison them at the first hint that their wealth was being injured through those relationships. Unfortunately for this ownership group, one of the owners values money more than her family relationships. This will be a truth the other two owners will need to keep in mind as they move forward.

Many justify otherwise unacceptable behavior because money is involved and “you just don’t mess with my money”. The sister who dis-invited her siblings to her celebration would have never thought to have done this under normal circumstances. But when she faced the (perceived) prospect of not being paid within the arbitrary time-table set by her husband, she chose to show her anger by cutting off from her family – hence the other owners in her business. This is clearly unacceptable behavior, but because money is involved, her behavior is somehow justified – at least in her and her husband’s mind.

Unfortunately, we often don’t see what people really value until they are under significant stress. This can be highly enlightening (and perhaps disheartening) when it is a family member. But if you agree with one of my undeniable truths of business ownership: “the truth is never the problem”, then you’ll come to see that learning the truth can only help you in your relationships and business ownership as you move forward, even if you learn that the truth is ugly and you had to learn it under stressful circumstances.

Bill English, MA, LP, MDiv is a family business advisor with the Platinum Group in Minnetonka, Minnesota. He assists families with conflict resolution and positive successions of their business as well as performing interim CEO work for family businesses in transition. You can contact Bill at bill. english @ theplatinumgrp.com or call 952-259-3217.

US Faces Another Debt Crisis

Congress and our President is planning to raise the debt ceiling again (here and many other stories). Debt continues to be a huge bondage to our country that we ourselves don’t appreciate or recognize. This is a huge issue, in our opinion here at Bible and Business.

As of September 1, the national debt is 19,844,621,643,528.62. $5.4T is intergovernmental debt, so the Federal Government’s debt to outside parties is ~$14.4T. Using the lower figure, our national debt translates into ~$45K/person in America. Our total economy (GDP – Gross Domestic Product, which is the sum total of our national output of goods and services) is $18.6T for 2016 (in 2009 chained dollars, the GDP is $16.7T – “Chained dollars” is adjusted for inflation in 2009 dollars.)

Our total debt that is owed outside the Federal Government is approaching equality with our annual GDP. If we include the total Federal Debt and compare it to the “nominal” (think “not chained) GDP, our debt exceeds our entire economy’s output for a single year.

We are drowning in debt – literally the frog in the frying pan. Consider this:

  • The 50 states combined have a total debt of $5.1T or ~ $16K/person
  • The unfunded estimated future liabilities for Medicare parts A, B and D plus Federal Employee and Veterans benefits totals ~ $87T (here too).
  • USdebtclock.org estimates current and future Federal debt liabilities will equal $890K/taxpayer in the US.

This entire structure is unsustainable. We have no one to blame but ourselves. This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue, it is an American issue that affects everyone equally. If we don’t start living within our means, our entire economy will collapse under the weight of this debt. This is both undeniable and unavoidable.

At some point in the future, the US will not be able to meet its’ obligations to pay debt when it comes due. Americans will miss their government checks. Direct deposits will not happen. Tax refunds will be missing. The Federal Government sends out over 80 million checks each month. We have created a government that knows how to license, regulate and redistribute wealth, but it doesn’t know how to say “no” to it’s citizens when it should.

The social unrest that will ensue when these checks stop coming will be directed, we believe, at the rich – really anyone perceived as having something someone else needs. Black markets will quickly develop and violence will erupt, IMHO. We hope we’re wrong.

When (not if) we go down, the entire world’s economy will go down with us. This just might trigger a series of intense wars as leaders try to protect their own countries and lash out at the US for being so greedy and reckless.

It will be a time for the church to be effective like never before – but only if we’re prepared and ready to give it all away to help people find Christ.

What can you do?

  1. Stop electing people to Congress who vote for budgets that increase our debt regardless of party affiliation
  2. Stop blaming others – each of us are responsible as voters for this situation
  3. Inform yourself – Concord Coalition is a good place to start
  4. Start saving hard goods that can be bartered – not precious metals – but things people will need in the areas of safety and basic needs
  5. Pray that God will bring revival to this country – unless we turn back to Him, we *will* continue down this unsustainable path
  6. Get out of debt as much as possible

Bill English

The Challenges of Succession Planning

Succession Planning. That seems to be the #1 issue people talk about when it comes to family businesses. And just about every consulting, accounting, legal and financial group claims to do it and do it well.

Talk to family business owners over 55 and they’ll tell you that “succession” is probably their highest concern and, at the same time, their most confusing concern.

Those who are on the succeeding end – their adult children – have a variety of concerns, depending on how their parents are handling their discussions around succession.

Consider some of the issues they raise:

  • Son: “I don’t think Dad is ever going to retire. What kind of a future does this leave for me?”
  • Dad: “It’s impossible for me to just let go of the company I’ve spent a lifetime building. And besides that, the next generation is not ready.”
  • Daughter: “I don’t think I’m ever going to own any stock in the family business. Why should I continue to participate in it?”
  • Siblings: “We have a succession plan; it was decided by my dad and his brother years ago. My brother and sister and our cousins don’t like it, but we don’t make the rules.”
  • Sibling: “I don’t know how I’m ever going to get along with my brothers and sisters in the business.”

Think about these five quotes for just a moment. The first quote goes to Timing on when the trigger should be pulled for the senior generation to exit the business. Just because they can continue to work in the business doesn’t mean they should continue to work in the business.

The second quote deals with Identity and Training. Thu owner’s identity is too connected to what he does. He doesn’t have a transcendent purpose in life outside of work. Moreover, he hasn’t spent time (usually years) preparing his children to take over his business. Leadership and management are two different things. Just because they know how to work in the business doesn’t mean they know how to lead a company.

What we hear in the third quote is Hopelessness. More than likely, a succession plan isn’t in place, or if it is, it’s not been communicated well and it probably isn’t being followed.

The four quote deals with feelings of not being Respected when stakeholders are not included in the development of the succession plan. When stakeholders are not included in the development of the succession plan, the plan itself is bound to be wrong. But that’s the minor point – the frustration and negativity that grows in the soil of being diminished is the major concern.

The last quote illustrates the complexity that the 2nd generation siblings must navigate. Power, control, identity, roles, purpose, employment, retirement and a host of other issues that have strong potential to create conflict and divisions if they are not managed properly. Resolving these issues doesn’t come naturally. Complexity is the issue to resolve in the second generation and they rarely can do this without outside assistance.

Timing, identity, training, hope, respect, complexity and a host of other issues are wrapped up in a succession plan. Add to that estate plans, retirement objects and plans, answering “What’s Next?” for the senior generation and the different shareholder, Board of Director, contingency and other planning efforts in which the family must engage leads one to swiftly discern why most consultants say it takes at least five years and intentional effort to successfully achieve a succession of a business from the first generation to the second.

The quotes were taken from the book Family Business Succession: The Final Test of Greatness. Aronoff, McClure, Ward; Palgrave MacMillian

What I Learned from Haiti

I’m finishing up my second trip to Haiti. I’m sitting at (what most Haitians would consider to be) a rather posh hotel near the airport. By American standards, this is, at best a 3-star hotel.

The economic poverty here is breathtaking. When you come here, you’ll quickly learn that for most Haitians food is a luxury, employment is scarce, education is too expensive, health care is a dream, public services are acquired through favors and hope for a better life is non-existent. I’m not exaggerating.

The unemployment rate for adult males in Haiti is a staggering 85% and most have no more than a 3rd – 5th grade education (here) and the literacy rate among Haitian adults is a low 61% (there is no public education in Haiti, so if you want to be educated, you must pay for it). Even if they can find work other than manual labor, it is questionable as to whether or not they can fill out the employment application.

On Sunday, I talked with the step-father of a child we’re supporting through Reach Global’s Fingerprints program. (The program offers spiritual support, education, food supplements, life kills and medical support to children from (roughly) age 6 through age 18. Kathy and I are sponsors in this program.) He works as a mason and carpenter. He complained that while he wants to work, there simply isn’t enough work for him to remain steadily employed. His reading and writing skills are limited, so his employment opportunities are limited. He has been known to go a year or longer between jobs. He has four children. In any culture, it is tough to support a family when employment is intermittent and scarce.

Add to this the lack of a good transportation infrastructure that limits the geographic area in which workers can realistically travel to/from work and employment opportunities become more limited. Most Haitians do not own their own car or motorcycle. The “Tap-Tap” buses (private drivers driving smaller Toyota or Chevrolet quarter-ton pickups) can be used to get a person around, but they are not always reliable and they always cost money. And traffic moves slowly. It’s not unusual for a 10 mile drive to consume 45 minutes of time. In short, the farther the job, the more impractical it is to try to work it.

Haiti is a humbling and refining place to be. You might be surprised to learn that you can find happy, content people there in spite of their economic poverty. It is a nation of contrasts – some would say contradictions – but lessons can be learned from anyone and here’s what I learned in Haiti:

  • We need the rich
  • Running a small business is hard work
  • Education and business are the vehicles for personal and professional growth
  • Americans and Haitians are not that different because real poverty exists in every nation and people group

Like it or not, we need the rich

Here in America, when we want to start a new business, we raise start-up money from investors to capitalize the business. In Haiti, such an investor class doesn’t exist. Those who do have the wealth are politically connected and it is those connections that keep the money flowing into their pockets. As a consequence, entrepreneurs in Haiti have few, if any, who can invest in new businesses without having to worry about money flowing back to the political class.

Back here in American, we bash the rich. We complain that too much wealth is coalesced in too few people. t takes capital to start businesses and that start-up capital doesn’t come from banks, it comes from investors – the rich.

Today, we’re behind in creating new businesses and the new jobs that they create. The number of jobs created by businesses less than one year old has decreased from 4.1 million in 1994 to 3 million in 2015 (here). The number of startups has not fully rebounded since it hit bottom in 2010. We need to be encouraging entrepreneurism in the younger generations. And we need to stop bashing the rich as if their wealth is inherently evil. Without their wealth, we’ll have a much more difficult time starting new businesses.

By the way, who is the “rich”? Personally, I use this term to talk about the top 20% – many of whom are reading this post now (here and here). If your annual household income is at $120K or higher, then you fall within the top 20% of wage earners. And if you’re in this class, please don’t post back and say how you’re not “rich”. Being in the top 20% of wage earners in the most affluent generation within the most affluent country this world has ever seen certainly qualifies you as “rich”.

Running a Small Business is Hard Work

Haiti is teeming with entrepreneurs. I love this part about Haiti. Drive the main national highway and all you’ll see is small business after small business on both sides of the road. Haitians are a hard-working and surprisingly resilient bunch. At times, they can be an optimistic bunch as well. The entrepreneurs I met are smart and really don’t want a hand-out. Like the rest of us, they want encouragement and, at times, some wisdom from someone who has “been there, done that”. But they don’t want to be pitied. They simply want opportunity to be all they can be. And they are willing to work hard – very hard – in difficult circumstances to take the opportunities they have – however imperfect those opportunities are – and turn them into sustainable revenue. They demonstrate their hard work every day by showing up and running their micro businesses.

I seriously admire the Haitian entrepreneurs.  My fear – and what does happen sometimes – is that the most talented of them see better opportunities in America and move here to fulfill their dreams.  It’s not that they are unfaithful to their homeland, it’s just that they can have a better life here in America (to their way of thinking, anyways) and so they leave Haiti.

Any country needs to try to keep its’ top talent.  Haiti is no exception.

Education and Business are the Vehicles through which Human Potential is Realized

Before doing our medical checks for the teen-agers in ReachGlobal’s program, we had a time of singing and music. One day, before the program officially started, the musicians started “jamming” together – drums, guitars, bongos, keyboards and so forth. The teens (at least they seemed young enough to me to be teens – perhaps they were early 20’s) playing the guitar was impressive. He has serious talent. The singers were – no kidding here – studio quality voices. Back in the day, I once considered going professional with my trumpet. I was that good. I’ve hung around professional musicians. I know the quality required to reach that level. These kids were given the talent for professional work – talent that will likely never be fully developed. I was later told that they all play and sing “by ear” – meaning that they don’t know how to read music.

While listening to these talented young people, my mind wandered to the human potential sitting in the room. As I noted earlier, most adults don’t have much more than a 3rd – 5th grade education. I was near kids who have the intellect and talent to excel at math, science, engineering, technology, business, leadership and so forth. Yet – would any of that raw talent be developed? Would they have the chance to be educated? Or would their lives be lived in survival mode? You see, Haiti doesn’t have a public education system. If you want education, you must pay for it. Starting with elementary and going through college – you must pay for all of it. If you can’t pay, you don’t get educated.

The truth is that our talents and passions don’t develop by themselves. We need education (not just knowledge, but coaching and direction) and work opportunities (think “chances to succeed and fail”) to develop those talents and passions. Schools and businesses – working together – will develop a communities’ human potential. Haiti is wasting much of their human potential, frankly. It’s sad to see.

Americans and Haitians are really not that Different

The World Bank commissioned a study of the poor and interviewed over 60,000 people in economic poverty in 23 countries. In its’ series Consultations with the Poor (here) and the outcomes of that research, such as Voices of the Poor, we learn that poverty isn’t simply an economic issue. Poverty affects every aspect of a person’s life. It damages their dignity, places them in a power imbalance, robs them of their joy and hope in life and they feel invisible to those who have more than they. They live with real pain and often find it damages their most important relationships. Quoting from the book When Helping Hurts:

“While poor people mention having a lack of material things, they tend to describe their condition in far more psychological and social terms than our North American audiences. Poor people typically talk in terms of shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness. North American audiences tend to emphasize a lack of material things such as food, money, clean water, medicine, housing, etc.”

Hence, real poverty is about much more than a lack of material things, it is about significant damage and separation in the four core relationships that God cursed when Adam and Eve sinned. Those relationships are:

  • Relationship with God
  • Relationship with Self
  • Relationship with Others
  • Relationship with Creation

Many see the economic poverty in Haiti and think that the solution to their plight is to give them money. We look in from the outside and define their problem in economic terms because we’re using outside appearances as the totality of our definition of poverty. What we need to come to grips with is that poverty is something that affects the entire person and separates us from ourselves, our family, community and God. I think this is one of the core reasons that America’s “War on Poverty” has failed so miserably – it simply threw money and programs at the problem and didn’t address the entire personhood of those living in economic poverty.

Therefore, how we define poverty is important. If we define it in more encompassing and not just in economic terms, then how we alleviate it will require more encompassing solutions. If we define it narrowly, then we’ll have narrow solutions. For example, if we believe the primary cause of poverty is a lack of knowledge, then we’ll try to educate the poor. If we believe it is oppression by powerful people, then we’ll work for social justice. If we believe it is the personal sins of the poor, then we’ll try to evangelize and disciple the poor. If we believe it is a lack of material resources, then we’ll give material resources to the poor. If we believe the primary cause of poverty is concentration of too much wealth in the hands of too few people, then we’ll try to redistribute wealth.

In his book The Dignity of Difference, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues a good case for distributing wealth to the poor:

“The two words tzedakah and mishpat signify different forms of justice. Mishpat means retributive justice or the rule of law. A free society must be governed by law, impartially administered through which the guilty are punished, the innocent are acquitted and human rights secured. Tzedakah, by contrast, refers to distributive justice, a less procedural and more substantive idea.

It is difficult to translate tzedakah because it combines in a single word two notions normally opposed to one another, namely charity and justice…it arises from the theology of Judaism, which insists on the difference between possession and ownership. Ultimately, all things are owned by God, the creator of the world. What we possess, we do not own – we merely hold it in trust for God…[hence] we are bound by the conditions of trusteeship, one of which is that we share part of what we own with others in need. What would be regarded as charity in other legal systems is, in Judaism, a strict requirement of the law and can be enforce by the courts, if necessary.

What tzedakah signifies therefore, [is] that no one should be without the basic requirements of existence, that those who have more than they need must share…with those who less.
This is absolutely fundamental to the kind of the society the Israelites were charged with creating, one in which everyone has a basic right to a dignified life and to be equal citizen in the covenantal community under the sovereignty of God.

Hence, the Bible’s insistence that a free society cannot be built on mishpat, the rule of law alone. It requires also tzedakah, a just distribution of resources.”

I like his concepts of combining justice and charity. But a proper distribution of wealth in and of itself doesn’t solve the core relationship problems that constitute a fuller definition of “poverty” (and to be fair to Rabbi Sacks, that wasn’t his main point). Those who have wealth still have problems with self-esteem (separation from self) issues, family problems, difficulties in community and problems connecting with God. This is a common experience across all economic strata. And if you live without what you really need, are you not in poverty?

Think about it:

Money can buy a house, but it cannot buy a home
Money can buy medicine, but it cannot buy health
Money can buy sex, but it cannot buy intimacy
Money can buy choices, but it cannot freedom
Money can buy entertainment, but it cannot buy happiness
Money can buy education, but it cannot buy wisdom
Money can buy satisfaction, but it cannot buy contentment
Money can buy membership, but it cannot buy friendship
Money can buy safety, but it cannot buy peace
Money can buy a Judge, but it cannot buy justice
Money can buy status, but it cannot buy maturity
Money can buy an image, but it cannot buy a reputation
Money can buy religion, but it cannot buy a Savior

You see, the things we really value in life – things we want and need, such as health, intimacy, freedom, happiness, wisdom, friendship, contentment, peace, forgiveness, a good reputation and so forth – none of these things can be purchased with money. But if you have these things, then I would submit that you are not living in poverty.

Reconciliation is at the core of my Christian faith. Christianity is about reconciling all things to God because sin has infected all things:

19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus Christ), 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1.19-20)

Hence, what I have learned is that if we are going to lift people out of economic poverty, we need to address the more comprehensive reconciliation needs in the four core relationships: God, self, others and creation. This is why Christ came – to reconcile to God all things infected with sin. This is why the most effective poverty alleviation programs address all four relationships. Assistance with medical care, education, life skills, work habits, relationship skills, professional development, spiritual formation, clean water, farming techniques, entrepreneurism and so forth combine to address the comprehensive needs of those in economic poverty.

But here’s the catch – those of us in America have experienced similar damage in our four core relationships, just like the Haitians. Our relationships are just as damaged – it’s just that we enjoy the conveniences and comforts that wealth brings so we look different on the outside. Our wealth allows us to manage our appearances better. But I will suggest that we live in as much poverty as any other people group. I would submit that a “rich” person living on the North shore of Chicago or in Beverly Hills or on Long Island may be living in as much poverty as the Haitians I have worked with, because real poverty is about living with damage and separation in the four core relationships all of us need in life and not having what we really want and need in life – those things that money cannot buy. We settle for what money can buy and we live without what money cannot buy.  We live in poverty.

In this, Americans and Haitians are not that different.

When God reconciles us to Himself, He doesn’t always give us vast amounts of wealth. But He does reconcile these four core relationships and we find that when these four relationships are reconciled, we are lifted out of poverty.

This is what Haiti has taught me.

Bill English

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