“Is capitalism compatible with the Christian faith, with compassion, justice, and peace? Or perhaps a better way to phrase it is: Can we make capitalism compatible?” This rather surprising question was asked by a long-time senior executive of a Fortune 500 company at the Collegeville Institute fellows gathering on April 4th and 5th. The subject of the gathering was “Business and the Future of Minnesota’s Economy.”
The fellows heard from a remarkable list of business and labor leaders:
- Matt Kramer, President, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce
- Robert L. Ryan, CFO of Medtronic (retired), director of General Mills, and past director of Citibank, Hewlett-Packard, Stanley Black & Decker, and United Health Group
- Stephen H. Mahle, President of Medtronic’s Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management Business (retired) and director of EBR Systems and Sphere Medical, Cambridge, UK
- Harry Melander, President, Minnesota State Building & Construction Trades Council, and Metropolitan Council Member for District 12
- Susan Sands, President of S & B Properties and member of the Women Business Owners Hall of Fame
Some presenters, like Steve Mahle, brought objects like the sample Medtronic defibrillator and pacemaker shown here. All engaged the fellows in discussion and conversation about business, a subject the fellows readily agreed was not something they knew much about.
Did they agree with most presenters? No. Did they learn a lot about business and labor? Absolutely.
In 2013 the Collegeville Institute initiated the Collegeville Institute Fellows Program, designed to recapture a once vibrant idea of the religious leader as public, or civic, leader (think of Abraham Heschel and Martin Luther King), but to do so in informed partnership and conversation with other leaders from areas such as business, health care, criminal justice, social services, and education. This initiative forms peer groups of 12 accomplished pastors, who are five to 15 years out of seminary. The group meets eight times over a period of 22 months. The group meets regularly with, and learns from, leaders of other professions who have a strong interest in contributing to the fabric of public life in our state.
The program has not staked out advocacy positions concerning particular public issues, but helps clergy speak from an informed position about complex matters, and exercise practical wisdom in their roles as public leaders. We encourage these religious leaders to look for solutions to the challenge of employment in Minnesota, for instance, but we want them to act only when they have a firm grasp of the complex issues that impact the labor force and the business community.
The first fellows cohort concluded in the summer of 2015 and was judged by participants, presenters, and national funders to be a remarkable success. Religious leaders who participated in the program returned to their home congregations and developed programs attending to such issues as transportation, downtown development, remedial education programs, and teen homelessness. The second cohort of religious leaders from the Twin Cities region is nearly at the halfway mark.