In The Blessings of Business, How Corporations Shaped Conservative Christianity, Darren Grem provides a chronological narrative of the relationship between financial and political clout and the societal traction of conservative evangelicalism. The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 focuses on the 1920s through the 1960s and the role of prominent businessmen in the shaping and reach of conservative evangelicalism. Part 2 reviews the 1960s through the 1990s with respect to how conservative evangelicalism itself became a business. The six chapters that comprise the text are evenly distributed between the two parts. Each chapter presents a distinct business leader and his role in the promotion of conservative evangelicalism.
Interestingly, Grem does not focus on “business,” though this reference appears in the title of his book. Instead he highlights leaders of successful business entities who wielded power, resources, and rationale to promote their perception of the ideal Protestant perspective. To a large extent the role of the individual was more significant than that of the corporation during the period represented in the book due to the evolving regulatory framework in the United States. As Grem explains, increasing regulatory intervention of public companies over the course of the twentieth century, along with multi-stakeholder engagement and a singular focus on profitability metrics, eroded the ability of corporations to overtly promote religious values. Additionally, as growth strategies and financial return became the focus of pubic companies and their investors, stakeholder-agreeable religious perspectives had to be tied to performance, thereby directly contributing to growth and or implicitly embedded within corporate culture.
Independent of the evolving role of religion in public company activities, Grem clearly describes how the historical self-identification of the United States as a Christian state enabled traction for financial investment and promotion of conservative evangelicalism. Financial resources and access to print media, including the launch of magazines promoting fundamentalist messaging furthered the conservative evangelical platform, as did the establishment and funding of religious value-centered youth organizations. Contextual circumstances that included two World Wars and the Great Depression further enhanced the dissemination of conservative evangelical perspectives. The fear and uncertainty provoked by these historical realities prompted social cohesion around the perception of shared values (such as anti-communism), and promoted adoption of religiously-inspired values as societal norms. Grem points out that the 1960s furthered the interests of conservative evangelists, as dismantling of prior societal frameworks and evolving gender roles prompted Americans to seek stability in evangelists such as Billy Graham, and later Zig Ziglar. This established the era of the celebrity evangelist and signaled the shift from business-funded evangelism to the business of evangelism.
Though historically informative and interesting, The Blessings of Business does appear to miss an opportunity to promote more than a business-centric view, or supply focus of the relationship between conservative evangelism and stakeholders. Grem describes the role of business leaders and the circumstances of the general public, but makes no effort to address the role of consumer demand as captured in behaviors and preferences. He alludes to the dependence of conservative evangelicalism on supply and demand, labor and capital, state politics and consumer behavior; however, his discussion does not promote a cohesive, tangible relationship between complementary economic factors and the development of societal norms regarding religious values. Further, Grem’s omission of the relationship between supply and consumer motivations makes businesses appear more aligned to their religious values than to business metrics (such as profit maximization and cost minimization), which is inconsistent with the reality of competitive markets.
Madhavi Venkatesan is an Assistant Professor of Economics and the Consultant to the Center of Economic Education at Bridgewater State University.
Date Of Review:
August 22, 2016
Darren E. Grem is Assistant Professor of History and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.
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