What Christian Democracy Looks Like

Christian democracy is not a familiar idea in the United States, and explanations of what its implementation would entail must often be, of necessity, abstract in nature because there are few examples of it in action. But examples do exist. One is to be found in Minnesota where Joe Lueken, a retiring grocery store owner, is giving his three stores to his employees. [1]

Interestingly, Mr. Lueken had a number of offers from grocery store chains to buy his stores, and he might well have made more money by accepting one of those offers. But he decided that giving the stores to his employees would be better for both the business and the community. “My employees are largely responsible for any success I've had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that,” Mr. Lueken told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “You can't always take. You also have to give back.”

The method of making this work will be an employee stock ownership plan. The employees will not have to pay for their shares, which will be given to them individually according to salary and years of service. The Lueken family will be paid off in three to five years according to the plan. The group will be required to purchase the shares of any employee who leaves or retires.

“He chose to protect his people,” an employee named Svare told the Star Tribune. “Being owners will make us care more about our work. It gives you something to call your own and gives you a more comfortable retirement to look forward to.”

Pope Pius XI would have been proud. In his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, the Pontiff, while rejecting the idea that the wage system was in itself unjust, considered “it more advisable, however, in the present condition of human society that, so far as is possible, the work-contract be somewhat modified by a partnership-contract, as is already being done in various ways and with no small advantage to workers and owners. Workers and other employees thus become sharers in ownership or management or participate in some fashion in the profits received.” [2]

As Christian democracy gains currency over time, more will be asking the question of what it will look like if fully implemented. The response can be that it will look very much like this.

Jack Quirk