Scott Moore, an expert on social enterprise and successful businessman, told the audience of over 300 his story. “God was teaching me that charity won’t end poverty,” he exclaimed. “But opportunity will.”
The event was The Greatest Good: Nil Sine Numine Conference, and it wasn’t your typical conference on economics and work.
The seeds were planted in the summer of 2013, when Colorado Christian University seniors Christian Schlenker and Gillian Foster were approached by Professor Greg Schaller to apply for a grant. The Values and Capitalism initiative of the American Enterprise Institute was giving out mini-grants to students who would explore the moral and material natures of a market economy.
After discussing the matter, and paring down their goals to something practical, Schlenker and Foster combined their passions of theology and economics with the goal of creating dialogue and educating others in the realm of social enterprise.
“We believe that for people to truly thrive they must have both spiritual and economic welfare,” notes Foster. “We wanted to explore that idea and communicate it to others.”
Their blog engaged CCU students and created awareness, but the culmination of their goal was an all-day conference combining students, local leaders, and experts in the realm of faith, work, and economics. With help from CCU’s School of Humanities and Sciences, the Values and Capitalism initiative, and Café 180 – a local business practicing social enterprise – catering lunch, they gathered everyone together.
Again and again, panel speakers encouraged attendees to break down walls in their thinking. The morning’s session focused on the problematic break between faith and work. “The evangelical church is filled with dualists,” noted Dr. Don Payne of Denver Seminary. “We need to change how we talk about things like full-time ministry, because we’re all called to full-time ministry. Language shapes everything.”
Jeff Haanen, of the Denver Institute for Faith and Work, added that the question is, “What does it look like to bring Christ into all spaces?”
The panel also featured Brian Gray of Denver Seminary and Hugh Welchel, the executive director for the Institute of Faith, Work, and Economics.
Dr. Wayne Grudem, the plenary speaker, piggybacked on the morning’s panel as he shifted to address systemic issues of poverty. He, too, stressed the need for humanizing and value-giving work, while laying out political, cultural, and economic conditions necessary for such work to occur. “The problem is not inequality,” he asserted. “The problem is poverty. Do poor people have the opportunity to get ahead?”
The conference closed with a panel of social enterprise experts – Chelsie Antos of Trades of Hope, Chris Horst of HOPE International, Sarah Lesyinski of Café 180, and Scott Moore. Moore told stories of how he learned to break down thought-barriers and combine for-profit business with non-profit ideals—social enterprise in a nutshell. He described a business he runs in Colorado Springs that practices reverse-discrimination, only hiring ex-convicts and addicts, because they are discriminated against elsewhere.
Sarah Lesyinski agreed. The local café allows patrons to set their own prices for the food they buy, and offers the opportunity to work if people cannot pay. “It allows people to work with dignity, because everyone has something to give.”
The Greatest Good: Nil Sine Numine Conference combines the social enterprise concept of “the greater good” with Colorado’s state motto, translated as “Nothing without the Deity,” as it explores spiritual and economic welfare. For more, visit nilsinenumine.org.