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Living off the Devil

Christian J - February 19, 2007

What is now the Joseph Smith Building in Salt Lake City was once a beautiful and historic hotel serving visitors from many parts of the world. In the 1980′s, the number of visitors to the hotel became increasingly low. The church asked Marriott Corp. to conduct a study as to what could be done to bring in more guests. The report was issued back to the church and at the top of the list was: Start serving alcohol.

Of course we know the end of the story. The church would not sell alcohol and so the building was turned into a memorial for the Prophet Joseph. What interests me about this story is not that the church refused to serve alcohol in its hotel but that Bill Marriott would sell it in his. The issue was raised again recently when a member friend mentioned to me that he owned stock in Anheuser Busch and Starbucks. He told me of a brother-in-law who equated it with buying the beer and drinking the coffee. The issue here is being associated with and profiting from products that are against our religious beliefs.

I personally believe that the world of commerce is so intertwined, especially in our age of globalization, that it is seemingly impossible not to associate in some form with companies and products that we don’t agree with. I believe if we were to completely rid ourselves of these associations, we would find ourselves living in the woods with no contact to other human beings. And yet I also know designers who will not work with certain materials, which are harmful to the environment, and lawyers who will not take certain cases. The decision is so personal that it demands that we evaluate and weigh these issues throughout our lives. That is what fascinates me about it.

Let me be clear that I understand our responsibility to ourselves and our own salvation. It’s unproductive and wrong for us to spend our lives worrying about how others live their lives and how they will be judged. Our eternal judgment will not be in relation to what others have done but in relation to what we have done. So what I am hoping is to hear about the reasons why YOU make the decisions you make. Commenting on what the Marriotts or anyone else should do in their business dealings is fruitless and not the reason for this post. Instead I’d be interested to hear, for example, if Don has ever struggled with what to show at his movie theatre or if Rusty would ever take a job with a cigarette company if the price was right.


  1. A member of my ward is an accountant for Starbucks. I don’t own stock in any “sin” companies, but I’m sure more than a few of my mutual funds have them. I don’t see any corelation between owning stock or working for a company and partaking in their product.

    I think it’s important to make sure you maintain a distinction between the minimum moral expectations you have for general society, and the moral expectations for yourself. Would I work for Starbucks? Sure. Playboy? No. A vineyard? Maybe. Chevy dealer? Never!

    Comment by KyleM — February 19, 2007 @ 11:42 pm

  2. You’re free to devise your own strategy for competing in the hotel business, of course, but I’m not sure that really gives you any moral leverage to critique how others choose to run their business. Alcoholic beverages are a legal product which many hotel patrons expect to find. It seems like we’re held responsible for our own actions, not the actions of the hundreds or thousands of people that we deal with on a daily basis as clients, at work, or in the stores we shop at.

    “In the world but not of the world.” As I see it, being in the world means you need to tolerate a little bit of sin in those you rub shoulders with in the world. We’re not asked to be Essenes. We’re not even asked to be Pharisees! Sheesh, if you think running a hotel is being a little too cozy with sin, there aren’t many professions that will work for you.

    Comment by Dave — February 20, 2007 @ 12:38 am

  3. It’s unproductive and wrong for us to spend our lives worrying about how others live their lives and how they will be judged.

    Exactly–Am I my brother’s keeper?

    I personally believe that even if the world is as deeply intertwined as you suggest, it is still possible to take the occasional principled stand without being cast out of the global community–after all, they need me as much as I need them.

    Comment by Peter — February 20, 2007 @ 12:39 am

  4. You need to make the stands that you can make count. Figure out the things that really matter. Serve coffee at a restaraunt? Sure. Be a bouncer at a brothel? Probably not. Take a stand for the things that really matter.

    You don’t think the church itself is immune from profiting from “sin,” do you?

    Comment by KyleM — February 20, 2007 @ 1:14 am

  5. Maybe you all missed the part that said I have no problem rubbing shoulders with “sin” and in fact think it a vital part of our existence. I think you guys also missed the part where I said that judgement of others is completely NOT the reason for my post. I just wanted to hear about the stands that you take and the stands that you don’t. sheesh.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — February 20, 2007 @ 5:17 am

  6. btw,
    My title, Living off the Devilis a catchy title, nothng more, nothing less. In fact, I think its kind of humorous. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that if you serve beer at your job, for example, that the devil is writing your paycheck. Again, read the post.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — February 20, 2007 @ 5:21 am

  7. The four don’ts we think of as the WofW being artificially put up as a barrier to entry was/is the real crime against the faith, and is long overdue for reform. Expecting Marriott to impose that nonsense on his customers would only come from the Nazi brand of Mormonism. It drives me crazy is when members get upset about pay-per-view porn at Marriott or legal prostitution in rural Nevada, etc. Imposing one’s morality on others is the true evil. That is/was Satan’s way.

    Comment by Steve EM — February 20, 2007 @ 5:35 am

  8. I know of a man who has been a zealot against smoking since he was a teenager. (In case you wondered, he is not a Mormon.) He grew up to be a CPA and today works for a Fortune 500 company – named Philip Morris. He works for them because they pay him very well with excellent benefits and they have an outstanding retirement plan.

    Each Friday as the HQ workers leave the office they are each issued one carton of cigarettes (I’m serious, this is what I was told) for their personal use or to do with what they please. The CPA in questions takes his carton out to the parking lot and then runs over it several times with his car. It’s his little protest and, I guess, helps him sleep better at night.

    In the early years of my career I was assigned to work on a project in my firm (architectural firm.) The project was the Utah Women’s Clinic which is, among other things, the state’s largest abortion clinic. I was apprehensive at first and wondered if I should protest. Ultimately I found the doctors and managers of the clinic to be dedicated – and compassionate – professionals concerned about women’s health. Many babies are brought into the world with the help of the clinic’s medical staff. But of course many are prohibited from entering this life by the choices made by their mothers – and fathers – and by the work of those same staff members. I’m glad I got to see both sides of the issue. I think I would probably decline the opportunity to work on such a project today but that would only be if I were the firm’s principal. If I were a simple employee, as I was in the first instance, I’m not sure I would have much choice or that I would make a fuss if given that assignment. After all, I wasn’t performing the abortions myself…but my work facilitated that action. As you can see, I’m still perplexed by this situation.

    Comment by lamonte — February 20, 2007 @ 5:45 am

  9. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited in the church but even the scriptures seem to concede that wine can have positive effects (a merry heart).

    What I’m trying to say is that I think some things are truly evil/harmful and should not be supported, period. In relation to the harm cigarette smoking does, it’s hard to argue its potential benefits. The same, I think, is true for pornography.

    I’m not sure how a businessman should draw the line. In a recent post I put up about Marriott hotels, I saw people pointing out in comments that it’s unclear the degree of control the Marriott family has over the business. That level of control, among other things, probably needs to be accurately measured and put into perspective.

    Comment by danithew — February 20, 2007 @ 6:59 am

  10. I actually had a post I was going to do called “Do you work for the devil?” Same topic, but you wrote it better.

    Since moving to southern California I’ve come to really detest advertising. It’s everywhere. Billboard after billboard after billboard. The irony? I work for an advertising firm.

    When I worked as a bank teller years ago I was offered a job by one of the merchants who banked with us, at his liquor store. No way I’d want to work for that devil.

    The other day I was discussing with my MIL whether we’d be ok working in a Vegas casino. My first reaction was to say no way. But I realize there’s a blurry line there. I might be ok with working in one of the casino’s theaters.

    Comment by Susan M — February 20, 2007 @ 7:46 am

  11. If anyone hasn’t seen Thank You For Smoking yet, I highly recommend it. Fantastic movie about spin and big tobacco. One of the best movies of 2006.

    This is such a gray area. I’d just say, “follow the Spirit.” which means one person would feel okay about taking the job and another person not. That’s okay I think. I personally have asked to not work on a Planned Parenthood account. But I currently work for a huge cosmetics company which I have my own issues about (telling women that they aren’t naturally beautiful so they need to buy colored dirt to look better).

    The best line in the movie is, “Everyone’s got a mortgage to pay.” Which is the perfect thing to hide behind, “I’m doing it for my family.”

    The other issue is the need to support the bad to allow the good to survive. A gas station being open on Sunday, a grocery store selling alcohol, a family theater showing occasional R-rated movies, a design firm doing a project for Philip Morris. All these things in order to allow the business to stay in business. Gray areas.

    Comment by Rusty — February 20, 2007 @ 8:25 am

  12. A few years back I provided heat transfer modeling to Starbucks of its roasting processes. This was similar to other work I did for General Mills modeling the drying of Cheerios. I wondered if I should ask to not be assigned to the Starbucks job, but decided that company shouldn’t be denied quality engineering services and that it was OK if I provided those services. I now think I made a mistake in taking the assignment. It was hard to pray for the blessings of heaven to aid me in improving coffee roasting and Starbucks sales.

    Comment by John Mansfield — February 20, 2007 @ 8:49 am

  13. Being in advertising this often proves difficult. One of my best clients is a strip club. It was an inherited account that I got when I started. I’ve never been inside and I do all of the business over the phone and via email, but it still makes my skin crawl to place his orders.

    Comment by Tim J. — February 20, 2007 @ 8:52 am

  14. “Everyone’s got a mortgage to pay.”

    That’s a great line.

    It was hard to pray for the blessings of heaven to aid me in improving coffee roasting and Starbucks sales.


    Comment by CJ Douglass — February 20, 2007 @ 8:55 am

  15. Isn’t Phillip Morris owned by Sara Lee? Or vice versa?

    I used to do some work for Starbuck’s, and I was treated fairly and in a businesslike manner. I once mentioned this among a group of church members which included two men who work for a large telecommunications company. They both said that they wouldn’t every work for a company that promoted something that was against their standards. The next week, the newspaper broke the story that many online prawn providers were using the infrastructure provided by the telecommunications co. because it was more friendlier to their needs (900 #s) than other companies. I was NOT a big enough man to refrain from rubbing their noses in it.

    Comment by Mark IV — February 20, 2007 @ 8:55 am

  16. My father-in-law has been a slot tech in Vegas for over 30 years – he also has been a temple worker for the last five years. There are tons of active, temple-going mormons in Las Vegas who work in the casino industry. It used to be that you couldn’t be a card dealer and have a temple recommend, but that is no longer the case. I’m not sure where they draw that blurry line Susan referred to now, or if they attempt to draw it at all. I suppose if you can answer the TR questions correctly and you aren’t a paid assassin or hooker, you’re probably good.

    When I was 19 and extremely Molly Mormon, I worked as a purchasing agent at the Flamingo Hilton. Unless I needed to go to another part of the property to get a signature, I was never exposed to actual gaming. I worked in the office and it felt like a normal job. (Although the employee cafeteria was an interesting place, to say the least.) Whenever I’d have to prepare requisitions for pasties or itsy bitsy costumes for the cocktail waitresses or alcohol, I’d feel as though I was contributing to something evil. (Of course, at that stage of my life I felt evil if I stooped to saying “damn,” so it’s all relative.) I eventually quit because it bothered me, but I was 19, not supporting a family, and had the luxury of making a pretty stress-free, strings-free decision.

    My brother wanted to open a restaurant, but his wife objected to selling liquor so they didn’t. That doesn’t make sense to ME personally, but I’m not drawing their line. I only have to draw my own lines of what feels moral or not – the problem is, when you are talking about money, it’s easy to let that line get shadier and shadier.

    Comment by Sue — February 20, 2007 @ 9:09 am

  17. There are some behaviors that are inherently wrong (murder and drunken driving are obvious examples). Some things are wrong for members of the church because they violate what we’ve been told to do (drinking coffee in moderation is the prime example). In my opinion, nonmembers who drink coffee in moderation are doing nothing wrong.

    For things that aren’t inherently wrong, I don’t see anything immoral about being involved in others partaking of such activities. For me, that includes drinking alcohol or coffee in moderation, and if I owned a restaurant I wouldn’t have a problem with serving wine, for example. (I’d differentiate between that and owning a bar where the focus is on drinking.)

    But we don’t allow alcohol in our home; I might feel differently if we didn’t have kids. We do let guests bring their own coffee or tea if they wish.

    I would have a hard time getting involved in tobacco, though, and porn. I don’t judge those who do, but I couldn’t be a CPA in a tobacco company. Where the gray area comes in is where those are a small part of the business. The same people that install cable that lets me see BYU-TV also install cable that lets other see vile porn. I wouldn’t have a moral problem installing cable, but I can see why some people might.

    I once knew of a supermarket owner who was Seventh-day Adventist. Not only did he sell no alcohol nor tobacco in his store, he also kept it closed on Saturdays. And he made money at it — but the reason he had this luxury is because the town was small and his supermarket was the only one. Although I wouldn’t have done what he did, I admire his willingness to stand by his beliefs.

    It would be difficult to be a purist. I make my living as a writer/editor whose work is paid for by advertising, and not all the advertisers are selling moral services. But the writing I do makes the world a better place (I hope!), and I have to leave it at that.

    One more minor point, for whatever it’s worth: It is now possible to get coffee, the caffeinated kind, at the Church-owned Polynesian Cultural Center. But it’s available only on request.

    Comment by commenter — February 20, 2007 @ 9:46 am

  18. The funny thing is that Hotel Utah used to have a bar in its basement tell well into the 20th century (like until the 50′s if I’m not mistaken).

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 20, 2007 @ 10:43 am

  19. This may not be exactly the same, but…

    I did some work as a speechwriter, mostly for progressive non-profit organizations. A minister from a very large protestant church who also ran a homeless shelter approached me and asked if I was interested in writing his sermons for him. His rationale was that he was not very good at writing a punchy sermon, and that he wanted to focus on raising money and awareness for his ministry to homeless. He assured me that he was paying me out of his salary, not church funds. I made my religious affiliations clear, and he outlined the doctrine of his sermons — very general, feel-good Christianity.

    I did this for about six months. I enjoyed it…it was an interesting exercise. He would give me a topic (usually a NT verse), some of his thoughts on the topic, and often an anecdote he wanted to include. I would flesh out a 20 minute sermon, which he would check over and send back if necessary (which it was twice, both to adjust the tone to keep it fitting for his congregation). I heard him give three of the twenty or so sermons I wrote for him. He had a great style: I always thought of it as Thomas Monson meets MLK. I only stopped because I became too busy with other projects.

    I never felt bad about doing this, although sometimes I wondered if he should. The only time I saw a clear moral problem was a sermon I was writing about the role of Christ in our everyday lives, and I was going to plagarize 2 Nephi 25:26. I decided it would be wrong to use the BofM to strengthen the religious position of another church without making the source clear. I did use the phrase ‘for God will not be mocked’ assuming it was Biblical, and I was amused when I realized where I had heard that particular phrase.

    Comment by Norbert — February 20, 2007 @ 11:32 am

  20. CJ, here’s a couple of first hand examples you asked for in your post. When we owned a number of movie theaters we were open on Sunday and showed “R” rated movies. We had several opportunities to sell coffee / expresso at the snack bar but refused to do so.

    During a temple interview it was suggested to me that I shouldn’t be in that kind of business showing those kinds of movies. The individual said he’d never be associated with anything like that and suggested I shouldn’t be either. (It was shortly after that we got out of the theater business…for a while)

    Our present theater is closed on Sunday, eventhough all the others in Provo/Orem are open. We do not show “R” rated movies, the others do. We are not very profitable and will most likely close at the end of our current lease.

    For our bridal store, we are closed on Sunday at our main store our store in the mall is open mall hours on Sunday, because of the lease. We refuse to sell dresses we consider tooooo “sexy”, low cut front or back, see thru etc.

    I owned a resturant where we did not sell beer/wine/etc. but did sell coffee.

    For me, I don’t know that I have a hard fast rule about line drawing. Each situation stands on it’s own, if it’s too close to “the line” or makes me feel uncomfortable then I won’t do the business.

    Oh, and we pray a lot too!

    Comment by Don Clifton — February 20, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  21. Don – have you considered revising the business model for your theater? I personally loved going to your theater and saw many movies there (nice cushy seats), but it isn’t the most high traffic area. Perhaps you could remove every other row, install tables and serve food, pizza, sandwiches etc, ala the McMenamins chain in Oregon/Washington. Though I think they make a lot of money off the alcohol sales.

    The way I look at is this, you shouldn’t promote sin, but it is ok to sell to business who do things you oppose. Thus You shouldn’t discriminate against providing CPA services to casinos, or grains to breweries, but you shouldn’t actively promote sinful behavior. This line is admittedly gray in some areas, but for my line of work works alright.

    Comment by Ola Senor — February 20, 2007 @ 12:14 pm

  22. Oh this whole thread makes me laugh. I had a job tending bar at a country club when I was 17 (yes, it was completly illegal and I pointed this out to my boss who didn’t take too kindly to me bringing it up – I was supposed to be a banquet server). They didn’t teach me how to make the drinks though, so the person who ordered would show me how to make the cosmo or bloody mary or whatever and of course would always try to get me to put too much alcohol in. It was funny. I really didn’t like it though and started to get vocal about it to my boss and they suddenly stopped putting me on the schedule at all, so I was out of work. But, I learned how to make a delicious (or so I was told) bloody mary (which the ladies loved while playing bridge).

    I worked at a major bookstore chain in HS too, for a quite a while, and part of my job was to pull last months magazines and strip the covers to return to the publisher. This got a little uncomfortable when I had to pull the cover off the porn mags. Even worse than that though, was selling the porn mags (especially to the regulars) to creepy old men (They’ve never heard of a subscription?). And finding the torn open porn mags in the bathroom stalls. Ick. That was my worst job, by far. I was suprised how much of working at a book store is dealing with porn (oh and finding the 12 year old boys reading the kama sutra books in a dark corner. Ick.)

    The only job i had a dilemma with was when I worked as a recruiter for the oil and gas industry. On one hand, I was matching up engineers and designers with much needed jobs. Thats a good thing. On the other hand, I was enabling large definitly NOT enviro-friendly companies to continue to build refineries and oil platforms that were destroying the beautiful gulf of mexico. Not to mention these were companies that were profiting off a war I activly protested against. The only reason I stayed is because I knew it would be temporary – as soon as my husband finished the project he was working on we’d be out of there anyway, and it was the first job I could find when we got to the city (and we were really really desperate) – so, I just cringed and cashed my paychecks for a few months.

    Alot of members feel that my husbands job crosses the line – he designs video games. Of course, our ideas on media and entertainment are different than most peoples’, and its not an issue for us. Just for some members of the some of the wards we have lived in :)

    I have to say, I don’t really understand the issues people have with starbucks, there isn’t anything ‘wrong’ with coffee. We have just agreed to abstain from it. Of course, I guess Starbucks (and the coffee industry in general) does tend to grossly exploit the areas where they get their coffee, so there is one reason to avoid them.

    Wow – that got long. Sorry.

    Comment by Veritas — February 20, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

  23. The whole idea of alcohol as inherently evil is a perversion of our beliefs that has arisen out of demonizing anyting prohibited by our current implementation of the WoW because it makes it easier to teach to the youth. I’ve never had a drink but I was the official dorm keg tapper in college because I was sober when it came time to tap the second keg. Do I feel badly about this? No. Alcohol is prohibited by me LDS dietary code, not a sin in general. Section 89 actually allows (encourages?) the use of both wine and beer while looking down on hard liquor.

    Likewise coffee is not evil, it is simply something we don’t drink. I wouldn’t be bothered at all if an establishment associated with the Church served it or wine for that matter.

    Comment by a random John — February 20, 2007 @ 10:23 pm

  24. i was also going to point out that the church-owned pcc serves coffee, though the sodas are all decaf. i was sure they had regular coffee, though. in light of that, i don’t think i should feel guilty for going to starbucks for a cocoa or cider.

    we have a coffee machine and teapot in our home, along with some tea. my non-lds family visits frequently and they use them while here, which doesn’t bother me. they’ve also asked to bring alcohol in, which we’ve permitted, but i’m pretty sure that won’t last much longer, as our kids are getting older and more aware.

    we are from casino central (“indian country”) and patronize those shops and restaurants (killer buffets!). heck, we even play bingo there! the way i figure, it’s a couple of hours of entertainment, we can meet new people and hang out with our friends, we get free (non-alcoholic) drinks, and it’s cheap. i would never play the slots or tables, but bingo? eh.

    guess i’m irreverent, but i think my family and non-lds background requires me to be a little less stringent, though i have no problems drawing lines for them.

    Comment by makakona — February 21, 2007 @ 1:57 pm

  25. Don’t we all prostitute ourselves in one way or another?

    I work for a company that helps our soldiers kill their boys and girls.

    Comment by ed42 — February 24, 2007 @ 4:25 pm

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