How Far Should Mormons Go As Employees?

Don - December 19, 2005

It’s one thing to discuss what we would do as business owners in offering items/services that are against the commandments. It’s easy to speculate or even have an opinion, but it’s quite different if it really is your business. It’s kind of like the "Peter principle"…."Oh, I would never had denied Christ 3 times." Easy to say but you weren’t there.  Any way what about you non-business owners, you who are employees?

Where do you draw the line in business and keeping the commandments? If you are against owning a business that would require being opened on the sabbath, or require serving alchol or tobbaco because of your morals, then what about working for a company that does? Is it different to work for a large corporation that makes some, a little or a lot of it’s profits from selling items/services that are against the commandments? Do our justifications change? Is it ok to say "I wouldn’t do that if I owned a business." but then work for a company who does?

I’ve owned businesses all my life. (quite a few different ones, in fact) some were opened on Sunday, some served coffee, some didn’t. I’ve been criticized by people who work for companies that did far worse things than serve coffee.  That’s why I’m a bit sensitive on this subject.  So where do you stand?

27 Comments »

  1. Good topic, Don. I blogged about this last June. Hopefully you get a better response.

    It’s slippery slope to start judging someone by the business they run/work for. If we’re going to run down the business owner who sells coffee, should we run down the employees who work there? What about the night janitor who comes in to clean up? The security officer who watches the place? The delivery driver who drops off goods? And so on.

    Comment by Kim Siever — December 19, 2005 @ 3:20 pm

  2. Kim, I was a councilor to a Bishop who for a short time own a coffee distribution company, while he was Bishop.
    He was a great guy and a good Bishop too!

    How about this…BYU’s student newspaper won’t take/show/sell ads for “R” rated movies, but the Church owned newspaper will!

    Comment by don — December 19, 2005 @ 5:44 pm

  3. My brother served a mission in Baja Mexico, where a large number of members worked for the local beer company (Tecate). Obviously, a balance needs to be made between the need to make money and follow your beliefs. It is no use to judge what balance others decide is right, just what would be best for your own long-term happiness. I think business owners are judged harsher because of the assumption they have more choices in their behavior. whereas they are restricted by market forces and need to strike a balance similar to the employee in order to make money.

    Comment by Secret Agent Snowman — December 19, 2005 @ 6:17 pm

  4. I think that employees know what thye’re getting into when they hire on. They should know that this theater is open on Sundays and that I will request that day off but if I dont get it then I can quit should that make me go against my religion. If you have a problem serving wine, dont be a waiter. If you don’t feel comfortable selling cigarettes then don’t work at that gas station.
    The list goes on, but how much can we put on others when you as the employee are the one choosing where to work.

    Comment by Bryce — December 19, 2005 @ 6:23 pm

  5. I worked for an ad agency whose chief client was R.J. Reynolds. Many of the ads for Joe Camel cigarettes seen in magazines — were designed by me.

    They paid me a lot to do it, so I guess — I’m a whore.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — December 19, 2005 @ 6:30 pm

  6. Kim’s blog thread brings up an interesting and quite subtle question: if I promote cigarette smoking by working for an advertising agency that advertises cigarettes, am I guilty of sin? At the same level as an actual smoker? Or, a seller of cigarettes?

    Here’s a more extreme example: I have a nice 2-bedroom apartment in New York City — perfect for starting up a porn website. I could make a lot of money. If I’m not participating in the sex myself, is it a sin?

    Comment by D. Fletcher — December 19, 2005 @ 6:35 pm

  7. Hey Secret Angent Snowman-
    When did your brother serve his mission in Baja? I served there too.

    Comment by BestHair — December 19, 2005 @ 7:52 pm

  8. I work for a Department of Defense contractor. My work helps our boys kill their boys. Everyday a bit of my soul is darkened.

    Comment by Ed — December 19, 2005 @ 9:30 pm

  9. Ed, that seriously sounds conflicting. And the line one draws in your line of work all depends on his/her political leanings. Ugh.

    D, so you’re a whore that is thinking of doing a porn website in your apartment. Hmmmm… I don’t see a conflict!

    Comment by Rusty — December 19, 2005 @ 10:30 pm

  10. Selling porn would technically mean you’re paying others to have sex.

    Once when I was working as a bank teller one of our merchant customers offered me a job as a cashier at his liquor store. I knew it’d pay more and probably be less demanding, but I didn’t want to sell alcohol. When I said that to a co-worker who had asked why I turned it down, she said, “Oh yeah, I’d hate that clientele too.” Which wasn’t what I meant, but she did have a point. I mean, it was on an area known as the strip, across the street from a motel where the Green River Killer had picked up one of his victims.

    Anyway, this kind of thing is a personal decision. Unless you’re selling porn, that’s just wrong. :)

    Comment by Susan M — December 20, 2005 @ 12:07 am

  11. Yes, selling porn would mean paying others to have sex (with each other). Where’s the problem?

    ;)

    Rusty, at my Bloggernacle party last year, we actually discussed the possibility of Mormon Porn, done right from my apartment! I would only hire married couples, of course.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — December 20, 2005 @ 12:18 am

  12. That’s one nice thing about being an educator, you get all holidays and Sundays off and have a free conscious in your business ethics.
    Oh, but there’s that whole you get paid peanuts and have the pressure of the whole citizenship of the U.S. riding on your back to do the job they want you to OR ELSE!!

    Comment by Bret — December 20, 2005 @ 12:41 am

  13. Bret-
    Bitter?

    Comment by Bryce — December 20, 2005 @ 2:41 am

  14. D.,

    That’s funny. I have heard members of the church rationalise watching a sex scene because the actors were playing a married couple.

    Comment by Kim Siever — December 20, 2005 @ 2:22 pm

  15. Brett,

    I’d love to be paid the peanuts you get, or rather what the educators get where I live.

    Comment by Kim Siever — December 20, 2005 @ 2:23 pm

  16. I’ve been thinking of one of the former posts: the Abortion one. Unless under those few circumstances that were overly discussed, aren’t church members “in trouble” if they support or encourage an abortion in any way? Could that same idea be transfered to this? Should we support or encourage things we know to be wrong (I guess that’s really the question of the blog, isn’t it)?

    Comment by me — December 21, 2005 @ 4:24 am

  17. On my mission we taught a man who owned a liquor distributorship. He made a lot of money from this business. He was reluctant to be baptized. Then as we were walking back to the apartment, the mission president pulled up next to us in his car and asked to talk with us. This brother had called the mission president and asked if they could talk. The brother explained to the mission president that as he prayed about being baptized that he felt uncomfortable because his business was counter to the Word of Wisdom. He asked the mission president if it was alright if he could wait to be baptized until he had a chance to sell his business.

    The brother sold his business and was baptized. The following week, a member of the school board came by to visit. He said that he had heard that the brother had sold his business and was now not working. He then offered the brother the position of school district superintendent.

    I have a great idea for a rapid service coffee stand. My projections show that it could be quite profitable. But I feel uncomfortable running a business that is counter to the Word of Wisdom.

    But on the other hand, while in college, I worked at a convenience store and had no problem selling cigarettes. I wonder where I draw the line? A percentage of sales? Normal and customary?

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — December 21, 2005 @ 8:56 am

  18. This is interesting. I recently had a long discussion about this with a good LDS friend of mine who works at a big NYC law firm. That firm’s largest clients are the major players in the tobacco industry, and some of the main work that goes on there involves defending those companies from liability in the tobacco lawsuit.

    He said, (and I tend to agree), that defending the tobacco industry from liability to which it ought not be subjected for people’s personal choices in smoking is not the same as promoting or supporting the tobacco industry.

    It’s just taking a side on a LEGAL/PUBLIC POLICY issue, and the fact that this legal issue happens to surround the circumstance of something forbidden by the word of wisdom is irrelevant. The issue is not whether or not people should smoke, but whether or not the big tobacco companies should be stuck holding the bag when people make that decision.

    Along the same lines, as a law student I prepared an appeal for a man who had been convicted of murdering his wife- he shot her in the back. There was no doubt that he had been holding the gun, and that the gun did, in fact, discharge into the wife’s back, causing her death. But there were some issues raised regarding the adequacy of his representation at trial, and regarding whether the crime he ought to have been found guilty of really rose to the level of 2nd degree murder.

    I took some flack at church for agreeing to prepare this appeal, but I do not feel that I was defending this man’s sin. Rather, I was ensuring that the procedural safeguards guaranteed by our system of law, no matter how heinous a crime, were properly enforced during this man’s trial. My representation of this individual was certainly not a sign of support for the crime, but a sign of belief in our system. I sincerely believed (and still believe) that certain things were unfairly (and unjustly- contrary to the rules of evidence) admitted at trial which prejudiced the jury to find this man guilty of a crime greater than that actually committed.

    The point is that in my field, we often are hired to represent unsavory characters. That does not make us “slime” or other such nonsense. It does not affiliate us to the wrong-doings of those we represent or give an imprimatur of approval on those acts. Rather, it shows that we believe in the U.S. justice system and certain principles of law no matter how heinous the act- whether it be in the context of arguing that a large corporation should not be held liable for the stupidity of those using its products, or in the context of ensuring that all procedural safeguards have been enforced in a criminal trial.

    Comment by Jordan — December 21, 2005 @ 1:58 pm

  19. Jordan, I served on a jury who convicted a man of some drug related crimes. Afterwards the defense attorney came into the jury room to talk with us. We asked him how he could defend so vigorously such a slimeball. He said almost exactly what you did, and it gave me a new respect for defense attorney’s work.

    The tobacco industry is a whole different discussion. Truth in advertising, lying to the public, cover-ups and other actions me this a bit different matter to me.

    Comment by don — December 21, 2005 @ 2:12 pm

  20. Jordan,

    I mostly agree with your comments–thank you.

    Let me ask another hypothetical–would you defend a man whom you KNEW to be guilty, and try to get him dismissed of all charges (i.e. O.J.)?

    Comment by Tim J. — December 21, 2005 @ 2:14 pm

  21. Tim:

    I would work with my client to get him to do the best thing for him. If he was asking for something I could not in good conscience do, I would ask to resign from the case.

    However, I would fight like crazy to ensure that the prosecution really did have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, with all of the procedural and evidentiary safeguards in place to protect defendants in this country, even with full knowledge of a defendant’s guilt.

    For example, my client in the criminal appeals matter referenced above really *had* shot his wife. The question was the level of mental culpability in the crime, and that, it seems, is always something up for grabs. In truth, only God knows what a person was really thinking when he/she pulled the trigger.

    Don:

    You have to remember that those are things the tobacco industry had been *accused* of. Accusations are not fact. And even if that stuff were true, there is still a public policy issue regarding whether it is appropriate to force the industry to pay for the cancer of those who partook of the substance. There are good arguments on both sides of that fence, either of which I would be willing to make depending on who my client was (the plaintiffs, or the tobacco industry).

    Comment by Jordan — December 21, 2005 @ 2:28 pm

  22. I recall Hugh Nibley writing about the guilt his father or grandfather felt about all the money their family had made in timber industry. Then he tells the story of how the brethren asked his f/gf how they could get the Hotel Utah out of the red and make a profit. After studying the issue his f/gf suggested they open a bar in the basement. The brethren were shocked, but a few weeks later they did just that. So the Joseph Smith Memorial Building has just as coloful history as the Prophet himself.

    Comment by zero — December 21, 2005 @ 8:04 pm

  23. Brett said “That’s one nice thing about being an educator, you…have a free conscious in your business ethics…”

    Are saying you personally have a free conscience in your business ethics? or that all educator’s do? I would have to disagree with part of that because there are so many liberal ideas and philosophies being pushed through the public edication system, that and the fact that God is being removed from the classrooms, and discrimination is being rampantly praticed. There are many educators that should have a very guilty conscience (though I am not saying you are one of them, I don’t know).

    Personally I feel that an LDS business owner should follow LDS standards all the time in whatever he/she does. Stay closed on sundays. don’t sell/serve alcohol, or anything else that violates the word of wisdom. So if you own a restaurant you better cut back the meat to only sparse portions, and only during the winter (to comply with the Word of Wisdom “sparingly” :) – I am going to get attacked for that comment, aren’t I?) Or should I be lenient on some aspects and strict on others?

    Comment by Latter-day Conservative — December 22, 2005 @ 11:07 pm

  24. Latter-day Conservative,

    Welcome!

    A couple quibbles: I guess this is a topic for another post but I’ll tell you, I have no problem with the fact that God is being removed from the classroom. Why was he there in the first place? That’s what Sunday School, personal study and family is for. I sure wouldn’t want to leave it up to the state to teach me about God. And for them to admit that there is a God… who cares?

    And your second paragraph seems almost like a parody of a comment. I guess it would be okay if you said, “if I were a business owner this is what I’d do…” but instead you are suggesting that ALL LDS business owners should follow your ideas of how to apply the Church’s teachings to their business.

    Comment by Rusty — December 23, 2005 @ 10:11 am

  25. Regarding God in the schools – I believe there should be a place for Him, at home and at school (of course not in the same way as at home, but that would take a long discussion to explain). I am a conservative that believes in the tradition of the Founding Fathers. They established a Government that included God in the schools, they had bibles and prayer in the schools, and I believe, just as our prophets said that they were wise and inspired men. (that also would call for a long discussion to understand). There are of course limitations to what should be taught about God/religion in schools, because you obviously can’t teach about one specific religion, and discriminate against the others.

    You’re right the second part of my comment about LDS Business owners was parody mixed with what I would do as an LDS Business owner.

    Comment by Latter-day Conservative — December 23, 2005 @ 5:38 pm

  26. Is it a sin for non-Mormons to drink alcohol or to smoke? My understanding is that it isn’t. (You know, the whole malum in se vs. malum in prohibitum thing). So, if it’s not a sin for them, we are relying on the idea that we think it’s a bad idea for them? Should LDS waiters also tell people “listen, buddy, you can’t order that steak. You weigh far too much for that to be good for you.” I think if you personally are uncomfortable with something, don’t have anything to do with it. But you don’t have to drag your Mormoness into it.

    Comment by jinnmabe — December 24, 2005 @ 1:00 am

  27. This takes the wisdom of Solomon. If you’re a poverty-stricken resident of Mexico and that’s how you feed your family, what do you do? It’s easy to toss off platitudes from the comfort of American living rooms, but when survival is at stake, not so easy.

    I’ve wondered about grocery store owners and employees. This is something that could really be carried to an extreme. Ultimately, God is the one who should decide. The problem is figuring out what He’s decided.

    Comment by annegb — December 27, 2005 @ 9:37 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.