Acton Institute Powerblog

Entrepreneurs, Faith And Business: It’s Not Always What You Think

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There are those who decry the infusion of faith in business; after all, why should the bakers down the street be able to turn down the account for the gay wedding? But many entrepreneurs – in many industries and with many different beliefs – intertwine their beliefs and their business … and it’s not always what you think.

Christ Horst at Values & Capitalism says faith (of many different types) plays a role in business in our country. Whether you agree with it or not, many business people live out their faith life with their business life.

For instance, many faithful business folk practice charity through their businesses because of their religious beliefs. Manoj Bhargava, the creator of the wildly-successful 5-Hour Energy, spent years as a monk in India. He predicts his company will give away $1 billion in the next 10 years. David Neeleman, of JetBlue, offers his company’s services to the Mormon church.

Other business people look to scripture for guidance, both personally and professionally. Eved, an e-commerce company, is owned by an Orthodox Jew, Talia Mashiach. She says she uses the Torah to guide her business.

Many faiths call on their adherents to rest one day a week. That’s why Hobby Lobby stores are closed on Sundays. Not only do owners David and Barbara Green adhere to the Christian day of rest, they believe it’s important to offer that to their employees as well.

Many business owners with strong religious beliefs also share those beliefs with their customers in an upfront and frank manner.

The magazine rack at Whole Foods does not resemble many other grocers. Alongside magazines like Modern Farmer, Yoga, and VegNews, Whole Food stocks Shambhala Sun, ‘today’s best-selling and most widely-read Buddhist magazine.’ Notably, other prominent religious magazines—like Christianity Today, Tablet, and Islamique—do not line Whole Foods’ bamboo shelves.

Likewise, the Marriott hotel chain—founded and owned by a Mormon family—stocks their holy book, The Book of Mormon, in each of their hotel rooms worldwide. Norm Miller, owner and CEO of Interstate Battery, even goes as far to share his faith testimony on the company’s web site. The Hindu owners of a nail salon in my neighborhood actually display a religious shrine spanning the back wall of the boutique.

Even hedonists (yes, that’s a belief system) get in on the faith/business mix:

Dov Charney is the consummate party animal. For years, Charney’s let-loose hedonism infused his company, American Apparel. He has since been fired, though he is not going out quietly. Charney lauds American Apparel’s use of “sexually charged visual and oral communications” in their provocative ads and campaigns. He has been known to conduct board meetings in his underwear and throws lavish parties for his friends and employees, attempting to become the “Hugh Hefner of retailing.”

American Apparel is not alone in infusing hedonism—a religious persuasion that elevates pleasure as the chief and sole goal for humanity—into their companies. Hooters, Axe, and Vegas’ “what happens here, stays here” casino industry all thrive on hedonistic impulses.

While faith and business discussions in our country of late seem to have centered on Christianity, it’s clear that American business owners are indicative of America itself: a wide-array of talents, business visions and beliefs.

Read “How Entrepreneurs Practice Their Faith Through Companies” at Values & Capitalism.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.