Sunday, November 23, 2008
Two news events this past week raise serious questions about how ethically Christians and non-Christians alike will muddle through these tough economic times. They also make me wonder whether when it's over in a few years anyone will be able to tell the difference between the Christians' responses and the secular world's responses to the current turmoil.
Case in point #1: By flying into Washington, D.C., on private jets and displaying uncommon opulence at the very moment they were begging for a government bailout, the leaders of the Big 3 Automakers looked like spoiled children whining for ice cream after being served a huge dinner and large pieces of cake for dessert.
Their PR staffs blew it by not advising those fat-cat corporate execs to drive their smallest, most fuel-efficient models to the nation's capital and proclaim every mile along the way their commitments to cutting the blubber from their own budgets as well as to energy conservation.
Instead Detroit's automakers looked like a bunch of greedy pigs gathering at the feeding trough. They looked unwilling to make the changes necessary for their bloated, debt-ridden businesses to survive.
Case in point #2: Focus on the Family announced that after "looking at October trends and talking to donors who are not in a position where they can give", it was cutting 202 jobs now to prepare for the shortfall later. On the surface the announcement sounded like good business sense. Had I not attended Focus' 25th anniversary several years ago in its fabulously opulent, new, palatial facilities in Colorado Springs, CO, I might not have stumbled so quickly on the announcement.
Let's re-frame Focus' announcement another way: The supposed family-oriented Focus on the Family ministry is going to lay off 149 workers (and rid itself of 53 vacant positions) to balance its books quickly while creating financial hardships for the 149 or so families impacted by the decision. With unemployment escalating, people's nest-eggs shrinking, and property values declining, what person in his or her right mind believes all 149 people will find new jobs quickly? Won't Focus' actions negatively impact not only the 149 people involved but also their families, including spouses, children and maybe even grandchildren?
With the ill winds of economic problems blowing across our country and around the world right now, expect other Christian organizations, denominational agencies, and even churches during the next year or two to follow Focus' lead.
I can't help but wonder whether anyone at Focus stopped and said, "Hey guys, let's look for some creative, biblical solutions here, like maybe all 1,150 of us, including James Dobson and the other top execs, taking a 20-percent pay cut so our fellow Christians will not have to face the economic hurricane alone out there."
In times like these, Christians may need to go back and re-read the Bible, starting with the Book of Acts. When the chips were down and persecution rampant, Acts reports that the early church "had everything in common" (see Acts 2:43-47). No where can I find a passage that says when the going got tough, the early church threw nearly one-sixth of its members overboard so the rest of them could continue to eat well and live lavishly.
Too often today the church--especially in its business practices--reflects too much the world's culture. Making money and the things money will buy has become far too important for churches and church organizations than they should be. Focus on the Family has grown its ministry based on challenging the world's standards and assumptions on many important issues; today that organization needs to look in its own mirrors.
After living for far too many years like people with heads in the sand, Detroit's pitiful jet-led campaign into Washington, D.C., could be expected. Buying first-class, round-trip tickets on American's Airlines next time won't undue the damage their stupidity has cost them. But at least those executives can plead ignorance of any ethical handbook for operating their business.
Churches including para-church organizations, on the other hand, can't plead the same ignorance. The Bible is supposed to be their moral compass. That book makes very clear many ethical matters, including how one is to treat fellow believers especially in difficult times.
When prosperity returns, will anyone be able to tell the Christians from their mortal enemies, the secularists? I sure hope so, but without radical solutions and actions no distinction may be apparent.