How Far Should Mormons Go As Business Examples?

Don - December 15, 2005

My wife and I own a bridal store. We felt there was a need to provide modest (Temple Ready) dresses for the LDS girls in the area. Fortunately for us through wise counsel we opened with a full line of styles, modest making up only about 20%. The majority of our gowns are strapless.

This year when we went to the Bridal Market in Las Vegas we again noticed that some of the dresses were getting lower and lower in the back and the front. Several dresses were open and split down the front past the bust. Some prom dresses were also split up the leg to within a couple inches of the waist.

When we received a package of bridesmaids dresses (you have to buy the whole package) there were two dresses like those described above.  They are both sitting in our back room, my wife said "I won’t have dresses like that in our store." I agree with her.

The question is where do we are Mormons draw the line in business? If we would have opened with modest dresses only, we would have been out of business very quickly. By providing non-modest dresses we can stay in business and still provide modest dresses for those who need them. If styles continue to get less modest, exposing more and more, where do we draw the line….or do we?

We are closed on Sunday. David’s Bridal – our biggest competitor is open. Should we open to compete?

Our movie theater in Utah is closed on Sunday, all the other theaters are open. Should we open to compete? The other theaters show all the "R" rated movies. We have shown 4 in the last 3 years and all of them failed miserably. The "market" made that choice for me…no "R" rated movies.

Is that the criteria for making these business choices….let the market decide? That appears to be the case for Marriott, Alberston, Steve Young, and others. Do we offer the very "sexy" dresses so we can stay open and offer the modest to the LDS? Do we open on Sundays so we can stay open, or sell more and offer a bigger selection of modest dresses? Should we serve coffe and wine in the resturants we own?

Should we be in any business that causes us to break the commandments? Should we be in any business where we offer goods and or services that tempts/causes others to break the commandments?  Where do YOU draw the line?

42 Comments »

  1. Wow, you own restaurants too? I didn’t get the memo.

    Comment by Rusty — December 15, 2005 @ 2:31 pm

  2. Coffee and booze is a non-issue for me as I don’t find it to be a moral issue. Now porn, on the otherhand…I would have a hard time being a Marroit executive.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 15, 2005 @ 2:58 pm

  3. Great post, Don. I am in advertising and struggle with a few things. We’re in the process of putting together a World Cup preview issue, withall of the sponsors. Budweiser is one of the sponsors and I’ve decided that someone else can call them.

    I’ve also had to consider the various casinos in the area. And then there’s Planned Parenthood. What to do.

    I’m sure there are several LDS business owners who force their non-member employees to work on Sunday so they can observe the Sabbath–this is wrong.

    Comment by Tim J. — December 15, 2005 @ 3:18 pm

  4. One question:

    You speak of wanting to compete with these other companies and the limits that your faith imposes on your businesses, but– are your businesses profitable. Are you making money and living comfortably. I’m not saying greed is your number one motivation, and from what I read, I don’t believe it is.

    But this doesn’t sound like this is a “Work on Sunday, or close the business” type situation. Am I wrong?

    Comment by Tim J. — December 15, 2005 @ 3:39 pm

  5. What were the R rated movies that you showed? Was “The Passion of the Christ” one of them?

    I don’t know where you draw the line. Certainly it is ok to sell dresses that do not meet temple standards. So should the line be drawn at your own concept of immodest? Scandalous? Sinful? Swimsuit?

    Or do you just provide what your customers want? Does the presence of a particular dress in your store influence your customer’s standards or simply reflect them?

    Comment by a random John — December 15, 2005 @ 3:41 pm

  6. I think my analysis falls in line with random john’s.

    Lets take the two examples you mentioned
    1) “immodest” clothing
    2) Sabbath Day observance

    The distinction I see is between who is doing the “sin”. In the first category, it is the person’s choice to choose those clothes. No 2 is a personal decision you have made not to work on sunday. I think we should ascribe to personal worthiness.

    The trickiness comes with category #1 and the like. Are we being hypocritical by doing so? I think the difference is in whether we are promoting the sin and whether it is harmful.

    If you actively promote the lower/shorter/smaller dresses, I would think that would be inappropriate. If you are simply carrying the styles, I don’t see the problem. I am ok on this because I think it is a continuum. Full Modesty would require all to wear full body covering. But we as LDS are ok with “covering the garment”. I think it is a good idea to dress modestly, but the definition goes with the situation (ie modest at thebeach is not modest at school, modest for an athlete is not modest for church).

    I guess my standard would be not to do things that personally violate my faith. So if I owned a restaurant I wouldn’t be open on sunday, but I would serve coffee, (though I wouldn’t open a starbucks).

    So in answer to your question – we shouldn’t be in a business that causes us to break the commandments (though this can be more complicated, Say a doctor on sunday is pretty ok because of the “ox in the mire”, what about a nurse? The Janitor? the cafeteria worker at the hospital)

    We shouldn’t be in a business that tempts, induces or promotes the breaking of commandments, but shouldn’t include any potential breaking of the commandments through our actions (its ok to sell cold medicine, even though it might be made into meth).

    I think the wedding dress business has less “return” business than other clothing stores, but for the women I know, once they find a store they like (clothing styles and fit works for them) they tend to frequent that store a lot.

    Comment by Jay S — December 15, 2005 @ 4:23 pm

  7. Tim J, what happens if my theater really isn’t making money and staying open on Sunday may be just enough to push it into profitablity? Do I open on Sunday then?

    Comment by don — December 15, 2005 @ 5:53 pm

  8. ARJ, I think that’s my point. Can we justify offering items/services that violate or promote violating the commandments, including staying open on Sundays because all we are doing is providing what the customer wants?

    Comment by don — December 15, 2005 @ 5:57 pm

  9. I worked for an LDS establishment that was open on Sunday, but wouldn’t sell alcohol, but sold tea and coffee.

    I think we all draw our own lines.

    Comment by RS — December 15, 2005 @ 6:34 pm

  10. don said
    “Can we justify offering items/services that violate or promote violating the commandments, including staying open on Sundays because all we are doing is providing what the customer wants?”

    I would say if it causes you to knowingly violate a commandment, the answer would generally be no. Same if the answer were to cause someone else to violate a commandment (ie not running a brothel). But, as bad as immodest is, I can’t equate a sleeveless dress with fornication, drug use, envy etc. I would say, as to others, as you passively responding to demand, or actively promoting demand?

    Comment by Jay S — December 15, 2005 @ 7:23 pm

  11. Would you change your business behaviour if you become Bishop or Stake President?

    Comment by Daylan — December 15, 2005 @ 11:17 pm

  12. Why draw the line at active sins? What about the passive ones that eat at the soul without you even knowing what you’re doing to yourself?

    There’s slightly immodest– like sleeveless dresses or going a bit further, strapless dressess– and then there are these other dresses. Slit to the waist, belly button or rear cleavage. Knowing Hollywood today, there’s probably a dress out there with all three. Dresses like these just encourage girls to view themselves as pieces of meat to be oggled. They also encourage boys to oggle. It cheapens them both in each others’s eyes because the boys view the girls as objects to lust after and the girls view the guys as someone that they can control with the flash of a thigh.

    David’s Bridal and other like them will always carry those styles but they won’t carry modest ones. Your store fills a niche and I think you should pursue that niche. Which is better? To be one of many providing the same services? Or to provide something no one else does?

    Comment by harpingheather — December 15, 2005 @ 11:53 pm

  13. Don, do people in Utah Valley still decide which businesses to patronize based on whether or not they observe the Sabbath? I know that a lot of people used to prefer Maceys because they are closed on Sunday. When Harmons decided to open on Sundays (my wife was working there at the time) they did lose some business short term, and I don’t think they made up for it with their Sunday sales. I don’t know what effect the change had long term–my wife defected to Maceys so she wouldn’t have to work on Sundays. Would you face any kind of backlash from the community if you opened on Sunday?

    Not that that has anything to do with your moral question. I think the biggest qualm I would have would be asking others to work for me on the Sabbath. I hated my Sundays working at Movies 8 (though not enough to get me to quit–I just complained a lot) and I wouldn’t want to be the one to ask kids to consider breaking a commandment. But I really don’t know what I would do if opening on Sunday was the only way to stay afloat.

    Comment by Tom — December 16, 2005 @ 1:29 am

  14. I wouldn’t want to be the one to ask kids to consider breaking a commandment.

    Tom, are you saying working on Sunday is breaking a commandment? For everyone? Sometimes? All the time? Who determines that?

    Comment by Rusty — December 16, 2005 @ 1:37 am

  15. Now that I think about it, the ultra-orthodox that would rather patronize sabbath-observing businesses probably don’t notice that you close the theater on Sunday; they probably just assume you are open since every other movie theater is. So you’re probably not getting much extra business, if any, by staying closed. But there’s probably not a way to make it known and attract that crowd without being crass. (I can just imagine on the Marquee: “Walk the Line, Spiderman 2, Revenge of the Sith, We obey God–closed on Sunday”)

    Comment by Tom — December 16, 2005 @ 1:37 am

  16. Rusty, I’m thinking from the perspective of a lot of Mormon kids in Utah Valley. Asking them to work on Sunday puts a lot of them in the position of having to decide between getting or keeping a job and keeping what they see as a commandment. Sure, each kid is going to have to face this question eventually, but I would be uncomfortable being the one to put them in this situation.

    I would be less conflicted if all of my employees were adults. And I recognize that there is considerable gray area when you’re talking about what amounts to breaking the fourth commandment.

    Comment by Tom — December 17, 2005 @ 12:34 am

  17. Great post. I’ve been thinking about this alot lately, First of all, my boss who is the bishop of his ward now requires me to work sometimes on Sunday. I’m not happy about it, but don’t feel I have other options right now. Is it right for him to talk about keeping the Sabbath day holy at church, while at the same time requiring some of his employees to break that commandment? Maybe the new house he’s building explains it all.

    Secondly, every day when I drive to work I pass a small drive-thru coffee shop in Layton. It is a small shop and is always packed full. I’ve often thought about opening a shop like this, the small start-up cost and ease of business appeal to me. My only problem has been resolving if it is wrong to sell something I believe is wrong for me to drink?

    I guess the other problem would be, how would I ever know if I had brewed a lousy cup of coffee?

    Comment by jjohnsen — December 17, 2005 @ 10:03 am

  18. Don asked where we would draw the line if we were LDS business people. This quote sums it up for me:

    “Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.” — Marcus Aurelius

    If you have covenanted with God to keep His commandments, then opening on Sunday would make you break your word. I don’t know about other people, but I couldn’t respect myself for selling to others that which I feel is dangerous or just repugnant to me. That’s how I’d draw the line.

    Comment by harpingheather — December 17, 2005 @ 2:28 pm

  19. harpingheather,
    That’s a good line to draw. It’s similar to the Golden Rule.

    jjohnsen,
    That’s funny about not knowing if you brewed a bad cup of coffee. It reminds me of where I did my internship they took a lot of BYU students so in the company handbook of information they had a page about how to make coffee (for BYU interns). It didn’t really help, I still managed to mess it up.

    Tom,
    I’d agree, there is considerable gray area when we’re talking about the Sabbath day.

    Comment by Rusty — December 17, 2005 @ 11:13 pm

  20. At a former workplace, we all took turns running out to get food.

    I was terrified of screwing things up the first time I had to order coffee for people. I ordered a “light and sweet,” a plain black, and one with some artificial sweetener of some kind. There were no complaints, so apparently, whatever my Mormon upbringing has deprived me of, it has not deprived me of the ability to go to the counter and successfully order a cup of coffee.

    I wasn’t making the coffee, however. I’m sure that would have been a different story altogether.

    But come on, who makes coffee anymore? You just send a co-worker to Starbucks.

    Comment by Kaimi — December 17, 2005 @ 11:31 pm

  21. Rusty,

    Mardell wants to know how you screwed up making a pot of coffee. She also says to tell you that it’s relatively easy. Direct quote: “I’ve made numerous pots, and I’ve never had a problem.” (Yeah, we wake up on the right foot here in the Wenger household).

    Yeah, I know, it’s the pits — you try to be all honest and frank about a sensitive, embarrassing moment. And people just laugh. What’s to be done? I hope she hasn’t reversed any amount of therapy by mocking your pain.

    Comment by Kaimi — December 17, 2005 @ 11:35 pm

  22. Kaimi,

    Apparently you need a filter when you make it.

    Comment by Rusty — December 18, 2005 @ 1:10 am

  23. Some commandments we have because certain activities are inherently immoral, or nearly so. Other commandments we have for various other reasons. Speaking for myself and not judging anyone else, I wouldn’t feel right engaging in a business that engaged in the former, but I wouldn’t have any problem with the latter.

    So to use some examples, I wouldn’t feel comfortable engaging in a business that involved the selling of porn, tobacco (strictly speaking, not inherently immoral, but something harmful with no redeeming value) or nuclear/chemical/biological weapons.

    Running a restaurant and selling coffee wouldn’t be a problem, nor running a business open on Sundays (although I’d do what I could to make sure any employees who wished could take days off to fulfill religious obligations).

    Other areas would depend on circumstances: I wouldn’t have a problem running a restaurant that sold alcohol (Jesus drank wine, who am I to say that non-Mormons shouldn’t?), but I’d have a problem running a convenience store that made much of its profits from people abusing alcohol. I wouldn’t have a problem selling hunting rifles, but I wouldn’t feel right selling Saturday-night specials. I wouldn’t have a problem selling “immodest” clothing, although I’d draw the line somewhere (bikinis yes, thongs no, for example), for reasons of business image as much as anything.

    I’m not sure how I could run a movie theater or video store and feel comfortable selling some of the types of entertainment out there that I’d have to sell to be profitable (even many non-R films promote violence and objectification of women, for example). I would end up having to draw an arbitrary line somewhere.

    But we all make our compromises. I work for a media company that makes some of its money (and therefore gets money to pay me) selling ads to companies that sell products used immorally. I consume products that are produced immorally (specifically, that cause pollution in a way that is poor stewardship of the resources God gave us, or that are produced by companies mistreating workers). I work on Sundays sometimes even though I wouldn’t lose my job if I refused on religious grounds. I pay taxes that go to the making of weapons whose use is inherently immoral. I pay taxes to a government that is involved in so-called preemptive war. I pay for medical insurance that ends up being used in part for immoral medical procedures. I use energy in a nonsustainable way, which is poor stewardship. And the list goes on.

    It’s easy to have a holier-than-thou attitude toward the decisions that others make in this area. But if you’re functioning in American society, it’s impossible to avoid getting yourself involved in making similar choices even if you aren’t aware of them.

    Comment by EricG — December 18, 2005 @ 10:20 am

  24. EricG, it must be terrible burden to be so aware!

    Comment by gst — December 18, 2005 @ 6:13 pm

  25. O.O

    Comment by Bryce — December 19, 2005 @ 7:38 am

  26. Im just shocked by more than half the posts in here. Its things like this that fill me with chargin to be happy about not attending church anymore.
    At what point was it our right as mormons to dictate the business non-members recive? How is it even plausable that our morals are the ones to be forced on the world. Who gave you the right to sit there and tell others they are the sinners over selling coffee and wines? More importantly how does any of this even matter??
    I guess I just dont understand the thought of needing to be this picky and down to the last detail about sin. That if things like me requiring my staff to work when were open (which they would know when hired) is going to thrust me through the firey gates of hell I shouldve just started sinning along time ago and maybe enjoyed some of this life.

    Comment by Bryce — December 19, 2005 @ 7:43 am

  27. Bryce,

    It’s all about avoiding hypocrisy. It would be hard for me to open a restaurant and serve alcohol, and then go out with the Elders and teach someone about the Word of Wisdom when I just served them a beer. Now, this isn’t inherently wrong–and the WOW is only about consumption.

    There was a great talk in the last General Conference about a man who worked for a cigarette company and was baptized. It took him a while, but after a few months he came to the realization that he needed to find a new job. This was a great sacrifice because the job market in South America isn’t exactly what it is here.

    “How is it even plausable that our morals are the ones to be forced on the world.”

    I don’t think we’re talking about forcing our morals on the world. If I opened up a restaraunt, I wouldn’t put up a sign that read “No Alcohol served here–it is a sin!” It’s more of a passive statement of my beliefs.

    Comment by Tim J. — December 19, 2005 @ 10:47 am

  28. Bryce;
    Why do these posts shock you so much? We’re discussing ways in which today’s business culture affect our beliefs and vice versa. We’re talking about how we would run our own businesses. We’re not talking about forcing other, non-LDS businessess to follow the same standards. If you grant those other businesses the right to do business as they see fit then you have to grant us the same right.

    Comment by harpingheather — December 19, 2005 @ 12:12 pm

  29. Bryce, I think you are mixing up the question of what I think I should do in business based on my beliefs and forcing my beliefs down the throats of other people. And whether I should offer items/services that either break commandments or can cause others to break commandments. No one has said that businesses shouldn’t provide the items/services to those people who want to purchase them, even when they are contrary to our beliefs. Let others provide, no problem. But what about me? Should I provide them? Where do I/we as a “good” Mormon draw that line?

    Comment by don — December 19, 2005 @ 1:36 pm

  30. Tim J-
    How is it bad then for you to go out with the Elders after someone came to your non-discript restaurant and bought some wine for thier dinner? Its not like the name of your place is “The Mormon Stake House” or anything. So then why do you feel it fit to deney customers based on the fact that they have a different elief structure?

    Comment by Bryce — December 19, 2005 @ 2:11 pm

  31. Heather-
    Its from this attidued on here that it is a horrible thing for us to server wine or an imodest dress. Why would, or why SHOULD this matter? I mean, if God really makes it down to this elcit details in the final judgement then screw trying to live all these petty rules and Im just gonna go enjoy some time here.
    But, who is to say that there will always be “other businesses”? If Im in a small town and theres one gas station on the other side of town and I have an amazing oportunity to open a new one on my side, why should I refrain? Its gonna pay my tithing and its gonna send my send my son on his mission. But since Ill have to sell cigarettes and beer, I shouldnt do it cause its hell for me.

    Comment by Bryce — December 19, 2005 @ 2:17 pm

  32. Bryce,
    C’mon, enough with the typos, man! :)

    You’re reading only what you want to read. It seems most everyone here is saying that it is a gray area and everyone needs to draw a line where they feel comfortable. I don’t understand what’s wrong with that approach. Why should they draw a line where you want them to?

    Another thing: God won’t judge us based on those little details. God will judge us based on the type of person who we have become. The details are part of the becomming.

    Comment by Rusty — December 19, 2005 @ 2:49 pm

  33. So which is worse, the Mormon tobacco farmer or the Mormon bartender? I was in a ward once that had both.

    On the Mormons’ distributing porn charge, isn’t their also an American West libertarian tradition in Mormon roots that we don’t impose our morality on others? Hence Mormon’s being comfortable in Las Vegas today or early Morons tolerating brothels in Utah, etc.

    In the case of Marriott, I believe virtually all the porn is pay-per-view that the guest must select, not in-your-face porn à la West Hollywood (ok, gay porn in that case) or pre-Giuliani 8th Ave. (straight porn). I’m not counting soft porn on the Movie channel, HBO, etc, that probably isn’t considered porn by most nowadays anyway (such films typically have a plot of sorts, and seem more directed to female tastes). In any event, for Mormon staffers at Marriott to sensor such stuff seems outside mainstream Mormon tradition as I understand it (was born Catholic).

    Comment by Steve EM — December 19, 2005 @ 3:57 pm

  34. You’re right Russ, I hve horibbel spleling.

    But you’re right too on the grey bit. EVERYONE will draw different lines on this topic and thats why I thought this was another classic post by Dad. THERE IS NO ANSWER! lol
    I guess I read the responses as way too extreme compaired to where I’d draw my line and that my opinions reflect that.
    Also, if looking at the minute details is part of the being god wants us to become, then my previous statement still holds for me.

    And Steve, you sound like you know an alittle more than you should about porn. O.o

    Comment by Bryce — December 19, 2005 @ 6:18 pm

  35. Bryce,
    This all of course also falls under the whole “not to be commanded in all things” thing. God expects us to draw lines for ourselves and I’ve always assumed He wants us to draw them somewhere between the extremes (ya know, moderation) within the commandments He has delineated.
    Remember also that wonderful little scripture Pres. Bednar always pointed out to us at school in D&C 59:4
    “And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, AND COMMANDMENTS NOT A FEW, and with revelations in their time–they that are faithful and diligent before me.”
    One of the blessings of being righteous and doing what we’re supposed to is gaining more commandments, which I think could include some things talked about here.

    Comment by Bret — December 20, 2005 @ 12:32 am

  36. Maybe I dont understand that quote entirely and more detail would be apreciated, but isnt that a rule above the rule? Is that saying that you are to be rewarded for making more rules than given? I never thought that we were supposed to go above and beyond what has been told and start making up new and higher laws. (Like no PG-13 movies cause thats bad too etc)

    Comment by Bryce — December 20, 2005 @ 2:38 am

  37. I’ve appreciated all the comments here. This is a very appropriate thread for me right now. I’ve been offered the opportunity to purchase a franchise restaraunt (pizza place) with a good friend of mine (he’s not LDS). Right now the place is open on Sundays, serves beer and wine (do people really drink wine with pizza?!?!?), and requires employees (mainly teens) to work Sundays. I’ve struggled with whether or not I want to get into it for those reasons. However, whether I buy in or not, all that is still going to happen. If I do buy in, can I be an influence for good somehow? Can I make it a more enjoyable place for people to work? Will my conscience be free when I go with the elders to teach the WOW? I think that my answer will be yes to them all. Maybe because of all that, someone will buy one less beer. Maybe we change it so that people have to specifically ask for alcohol instead of offering it. Maybe a teen will ask for the Sunday off to attend his/her church with family after they ask why my partner is always there on Sunday instead of me. What is my goal as a businessman: to push my morals on everyone? Or to be a good example in an environment that may not have otherwise had one?

    Also, since it wouldn’t be my only income (or my partner’s), we have also discussed putting a decent chunk of the profits back to the community: food for church/school/scout functions and donations to other causes. We’ve decided that 10% (where’d I get that # from) would be an appropriate place to start.

    So, I can buy in, try to be the best example I can, and still provide well for my family. The community would benefit, I would benefit, and I think the employees would benefit.

    Comment by jkguy — December 20, 2005 @ 10:03 am

  38. jkguy, “…Or to be a good example in an environment that may not have otherwise had one?”

    I think this is a good question. A Big Oil executive could leave because they do too much damage to the environment or he could stay and work to change the company to be more environmentally friendly. I like the idea of living in the world, and really LIVING IN THE WORLD, taking it head on and trying to make a difference rather than leaving or hiding.

    Comment by Rusty — December 20, 2005 @ 12:25 pm

  39. Yea, I agree with JK and Rusty. Great comments by both. There IS a world around us to live in whether we want to or not, its there. Deal with it.

    Comment by Bryce — December 20, 2005 @ 4:48 pm

  40. I know this is just an echo, but kudos for those observations of being a good example. Just from my experiences I think that is oh, so important.

    Comment by me — December 21, 2005 @ 4:08 am

  41. Bryce,
    a fan of optimism, eh?

    Comment by me — December 21, 2005 @ 4:09 am

  42. I would like to see how the big companies explain this, ie the Marriott example. I can understand the little guy. I guess it could be a which comes first issue.

    Comment by annegb — December 29, 2005 @ 8:23 am

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