Wednesday, November 10, 2004

religion at work

interesting nytmag article on the union of religion and business, via fast company.

the article left me with mixed emotions. at times, i felt that this was a positive thing, at other times, i was creeped out.

The bank opened 18 months ago as a ''Christian financial institution,'' with a Bible buried in the foundation and the words ''In God We Trust'' engraved in the cornerstone. In that time, deposits have jumped from $5 million to more than $75 million. The phone rings; it's a woman from Minneapolis who has $1.5 million in savings and wants to transfer it here. ''I heard about the Christian bank,'' she tells Ripka, ''and I said, 'That's where I want my money.''' Because of people like her, Riverview is one of the fastest growing start-up banks in the state, and if you ask Ripka, who is a vice president, or his boss, the bank president, Duane Kropuenske, whose office wall features a large color print of two businessmen with Christ, or Gloria Oshima, a teller who prays with customers at the drive-up window, all will explain the bank's success in the same way. Jesus Christ has blessed them because they are obedient to his will. Jesus told them to take his word out of the church and bring it to where people interact: the marketplace.
Some friction may come from the insistence of marketplace Christians on seeing offices and factories as arenas for evangelism. Converting others, after all, is what being an evangelical Christian is all about. One tenet listed in the Riverview Community Bank's first annual report is to ''use the bank's Christian principles to expand Christianity.'' If that wasn't clear enough, Ripka put it in even starker terms for me: ''We use the bank as a front to do full-time ministry.''
Praying with customers is one thing Riverview has become known for. Gloria Oshima, a teller, was hired because of her previous experience at the nearby First National Bank of Elk River, but her faith, which she describes as ''bold,'' was also apparent in the job interview. ''When Gloria came applying for a job, I had a vision of her praying with customers,'' Ripka says. Referring to the bank's drive-up window, Oshima says: ''The Holy Spirit speaks to me when certain people drive up. A young lady pulled up one day. I looked at her, and she had tears in her eyes. I said: 'Are you O.K.? Would you mind if I prayed for you?' She said O.K. I said, 'Inside the bank, or right here?' She said, 'This is fine here.' So we prayed. I asked the Lord to remove the hurts within her and bless her day. She came again later, into the lobby this time, and she said, 'I'm doing so good, and I just wanted to thank you for your prayers.'''
I spoke with one employee of the bank, who asked that her name not be used, and she told me that while she had been raised Catholic, she did not consider herself part of the bank's Christian culture. ''You will never find me going into Chuck's office to pray,'' she said. On the other hand, she said that the bank was a ''wonderful'' place to work because ''here the people are all nice -- it's a healthy environment.'' Another employee, a young man who until recently worked at a competing bank, also said that while he hasn't given his soul to Jesus, he liked the wholesome atmosphere of Riverview, and that the only downside was having to put up with his former colleagues teasing him about his bosses making him say his prayers before bed.

there's also some mention of a sort-of free market for religious ideas that is developing:

Looked at in light of some recent trends, there is a certain logic in all of this. First came the withering of the mainline Christian denominations and the proliferation of new, breakaway churches. Then consumerism took hold: today, many serious Christians are transient, switching churches and theologies again and again to suit their changing needs. With traditional institutions fragmenting and many people both hungry for spiritual guidance and spending more time at work than ever, it was perhaps inevitable that the job site would become a kind of new church.


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