Stephen Mansfield: God and Guinness

The author of a new book describes how John Wesley’s theology of social ministry inspired the Guinness brewery family to transcend boundaries between the sacred and the profane.

There are important lessons for modern-day Christian leaders to draw from the Guinness story, including the necessity of bringing ministry outside church walls and into places of business, said Stephen Mansfield, author of a new book, “The Search for God and Guinness.”

Mansfield followed 20 years as a church pastor in Texas and Tennessee with a career as a popular author and speaker. His book “The Faith of George W. Bush” was on the New York Times best-seller list. He has also written “The Faith of the American Soldier” and “The Faith of Barack Obama.”

Mansfield spoke with Faith & Leadership about his new book about the Guinness brewery family. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: Could you begin with a brief description of your book?

My book is the story of the Guinness family, the famous brewing family. It began with Arthur Guinness, around the middle of the 1700s, who was deeply influenced by John Wesley’s social teaching. John Wesley used to say, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” and that mantra gave the upper class and the merchant class a mission.

Arthur Guinness began to think differently about how to use his wealth. He started the first Sunday schools in Ireland and founded hospitals for the poor; he positioned his company to transform lives.

Q: How does the idea that work that’s not specifically religious can be done for the glory of God relate to the Guinness story?

Prior to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had drawn a stark line between the sacred and the secular, so that you literally have a line in the sand that delineated holy ground from unholy ground.

Priests and cathedrals and the work of the church were holy. The leather worker or barrel maker or schoolteacher was not holy. The Reformation said that all work done to the glory of God is holy and that God calls and ordains people with a variety of skills, so that airline pilots and radio interviewers can be called to do their work to the glory of God.

This is what Arthur Guinness absorbed. Even though he was brewing beer, of all things, he recognized that he could use his wealth and the way he went about his business for the glory of God as surely as any money given at church.

Q: How unusual was he for his time?

He was unusual in that he absorbed Wesley’s social teaching very deeply and lived it out more radically than most. He took care of the poor, started hospitals and ran his company in a way that was radical -- paying 20 percent more for salaries than most other people and providing benefits to his employees that would challenge the accomplishments of Microsoft and Google today.

Prior to Wesley going to Dublin and speaking at St. Patrick’s, which was Guinness’ church, Arthur Guinness was frustrated. He had made money as a brewer. He had married well, but he was doing what many people do. He was riding two skis, the secular ski and the holy ski. The secular ski was his business and his social connections, but he was also a serious Christian who understood that he had an obligation to God. The two skis never merged.

Wesley said -- he never said this specifically to Guinness, but essentially he was saying -- “What you’re doing as a brewer is part of your Christian calling. Think of your entire life as an offering to God.”

This caused Guinness to merge his Christian life into his professional life and do them both differently. He had the courage to do more with business to the glory of God than anybody else in his day, certainly in Ireland.

Q: In the book, the way you describe the alcohol issue and the social conditions in Dublin is very compelling. Talk about that.

In the 1600s water around the cities in Europe was nearly poisonous. People died from it. People feared water and didn’t drink it.

They didn’t understand that their sewage being dumped in their drinking water was causing this poisonous water. People had a choice. They could either drink the water or they could drink liquor.

Parliament outlawed the importation of hard liquors in the late 1600s, and this led to what was called the gin craze. People were making their own gin at home, and it caused a scourge of alcoholism throughout England and Ireland. One in six houses in London was a gin house.

The primary answer for this was brewing beer. Beer was healthy. It had a variety of B-complex vitamins. It was lower in alcohol content than the other drinks. It was more nutritious in every way. To answer this scourge of alcoholism, social reformers began to brew and encourage drinking beer. By the time Arthur Guinness came along, the brewing of beer was seen as a positive factor in society.

Q: Could you speak about the work of Dr. John Lumsden and how the Guinness company facilitated his public health efforts?

By the 1900s in Dublin, you’ve had the Irish potato famine. People crowded into the city, and Dublin had become a city of slums. It was horrible. No sanitation. In one case, 11 families in a one-room house.

Dr. Lumsden became the chief medical officer at Guinness and asked permission to survey not only the Guinness workers’ homes but also the area around the Guinness brewery in Dublin.

His reports are fascinating about the horrible poverty. Some of the Irish traditions contributed to the spread of disease, like waking a body, which meant you had a body that had died of disease in a home for three or four days while people ate and drank around the body.

Dr. Lumsden went to the Guinness board and said, “Would you let me begin to clean this up?” He began to have health workers go into the homes. He began to teach people about disease and what they now knew about microorganisms. Guinness also built homes. Workers were not allowed to live in substandard housing, because Guinness was providing free housing.

Many, many nurses and home workers were sent into these homes to teach people about health procedures and paint and disinfectants, and it absolutely transformed poverty, sickness and death around that geographical area; it became a model for the rest of the city.

Q: It must have cost a lot of money without necessarily translating into profits. Why make this investment?

Arthur Guinness and the succeeding Guinness generations believed in a principle. One of the Guinness heads of the brewery articulated it this way. He said, “You cannot make money from people unless you are willing for people to make money from you.” This is different from the typical corporate thinking, which is, “We want to take the worker and get as much out of him as possible and then discard him.”

Guinness believed that they had to invest in their workers and improve their lives so that, in turn, Guinness would benefit from these workers. If you had worked for Guinness in 1928, a year before the Great Depression, you would have had 24-hour medical care, 24-hour dental care, on-site massage therapy.

You would have had a savings and loan to help you own a house. Your funeral expenses would have been paid. Your pension would have been paid without you having to make any contributions. The education of your children would have been paid for and maybe your education as well. Your wife would have been given courses and training and benefits of every kind to make a better home.

There were libraries, reading rooms, athletic facilities. Guinness paid every family every year to have a day in the country, and they paid for everything -- the food, the entertainment, the train ride.

One of the most moving parts of researching the book was going to Ireland and talking to taxi drivers, talking to professors at Trinity College Dublin, whose lives have been transformed because Guinness intervened and sent the father off to college. Now the son of that father who had gone to college has turned into a college professor. Or a taxi driver who said, “My grandfather almost lost his arm when it got caught between two train cars,” but Guinness had taught the workers first aid and they were able to save his life.

Guinness believed it was what a righteous people would do, what God wanted them to do, No. 1; No. 2, they believed the way you profited was by taking care of your clients and taking care of your workers.

Q: Is the Guinness company still committed to a social mission?

Guinness now is owned by an international alcoholic beverage company called Diageo, but the Guinness culture lives so large that Guinness is unique amongst all their companies. Their workers are largely Irish, and they take great pride in what Guinness has done. They are absorbing, to the extent they can in our corporate world, that heritage.

It’s the Irish workers doing it on their own because they love the company and what it has meant to their country. It’s testimony to what culture can do regardless of what the larger corporate environment is.

Q: How are the workers retaining the Guinness corporate culture?

An Irish manager will make sure there are classes, make sure high salaries are paid, make sure there are people being trained, make sure there are scholarship funds for the kids.

Q: Would you talk about the notion of mentorship and the way both the craft of brewing and the corporate culture were passed down?

Within the Guinness family, they would never elevate a member of their family to leadership on the board, to being a manager, unless that man had first served at the lowest levels of the company. You’re talking about the Victorian age, for example, where the son of a nobleman is shoveling grain, maybe even driving horses. When he arrived at the point where he was qualified for upper-level management, he would apprentice at the side of his father.

That same value system was going on at the lower levels. Many times men would teach their sons or other young men their trade. When a man would die, his tools were passed on to his son, who would then go back to Guinness and use the same tools his father had. This had an impact on their work, men working year after year transferring the lore of the Guinness brewing heritage from one generation to the other.

Q: Did you have any thoughts about what lessons modern-day Christian leaders might draw from the Guinness story?

Find out what God is doing in your generation and get involved. Look around at society, look where the poor are, look where injustice is happening, look where you can make a difference and get involved. That is No. 1.

The other [lesson] is that you cannot make money from people unless you’re willing for people to make money from you. The idea is you invest in your clients, you invest in your employees and you transform corporate culture.

Also think in terms of generations yet unborn. Think in terms of the future. Don’t measure corporate success by the bottom line in the next quarter. Measure success by what you’re providing for generations from now.

One of the most important issues is that the sacred and the profane are not delineated as clearly as some people think they are. The Scriptures say, “In him we live and move and have our being,” meaning that all of your Christian life ought to be an integration of your spiritual beliefs, your values, your character as an offering to God.

That would transform things. People need to believe that what they’re doing as a policeman or a teacher is very much an offering to God that’s pleasing to him.