The executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Friday on national television that Jesus would be more concerned about children of Wal-Mart employees going without health care than saving shoppers money.
Appearing on CNBC’s “On The Money” to discuss a pastoral letter and television ad challenging the world’s largest retailer to be a “Golden Rule” company, Parham was asked how it is appropriate to invoke Jesus in a discussion about Wal-Mart.
“Jesus speaks to every facet of human life and human society,” Parham said. “When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who gave us the moral imperative, the Golden Rule. And we believe the Golden Rule–which says do unto others as you would have them do to you–we believe the Golden Rule challenges Christian consumers to think about where they would shop.”
Defending Wal-Mart was Ira Combs, founding pastor and “Suffragan Bishop” at Greater Bible Way of the Apostolic Faith in Jackson, Mich., who applauded Wal-Mart for creating jobs in areas that are economically deprived.
But Parham said Christians should judge businesses not only on whether they meet the needs of customers but also on how they treat their employees.
“We believe that the Golden Rule, which Jesus gave us, should be the guide by which we evaluate the practices of corporations,” Parham said. “We believe that Jesus would be more concerned about health care for the children of Wal-Mart employees than low prices–what Wal-Mart claims it’s providing the American consumer.”
Combs countered that Wal-Mart “is not running for sainthood,” but in the context of a “free-market capitalist system,” Wal-Mart has exceeded its competitors, allowing workers to purchase low-cost health-care benefits and paying nearly double the minimum wage.
“So Wal-Mart really has become a target because it is successful at mastering the tenets of free-market capitalism, free enterprise, and they have boomed globally and grown in the system of globalization that so many unions and socialists and communists are against,” Combs said.
Parham said he was “disappointed” that a minister would “abandon the Golden Rule and have another standard by which we evaluate the moral performance of a company.”
“He knows full well that Wal-Mart has a lot of children that go without health-care coverage, that either have no insurance or they are dependent upon public assistance,” Parham said. “We think the company should strive toward achieving the Golden Rule. That’s a noble cause, and I think all people of faith affirm the value of the Golden Rule. And we think that the Wal-Mart company should strive to be a Golden Rule company, not follow secondary standards and seek only profit for a few, but try to be a Golden Rule company. That’s what Jesus would want Wal-Mart to do.”
“The Golden Rule company, with regard to his philosophical bent, is different than the philosophical bent that I hold,” Combs said.
“We’re talking about Jesus, Bishop,” Parham interjected. “We’re not talking about sociology or ideology. We’re talking about Christology. In Christology the high value is the Golden Rule.”
“I think that what is happening here,” Combs said, “he [Parham] is propagating an ideology and a teaching and doctrine that is contrary to free-market capitalism, which in fact is supported by the scriptures, with regard to sowing and reaping.”
“You apparently worship free-market capitalism rather than the Golden Rule,” Parham said.
“Again, I think that the gentleman has his own philosophy steeped in a great deal of the union’s philosophy…,” said Combs.
“And a great deal of the Bible,” Parham added.
“…with regard to how these businesses and corporations should operate and carry out their business,” Combs continued. “But I think Wal-Mart has mastered, once again, the principles of sowing and reaping. They have sowed well in their community. They are good philanthropic neighbors. They do spread good will wherever they go. And they have been an extraordinary corporation with regard to their success. And they make themselves a target thereby.”
“Bishop, I wish we could read the Bible together,” Parham said, “because you need to be acquainted with the Golden Rule found in Matthew and Luke.”
CNBC linked the BCE’s appeal to the Golden Rule and a controversial TV ad asking whether Jesus would shop at Wal-Mart to the “union-backed” WakeUpWalMart.com, but failed to mention Combs’ connection to Wal-Mart. Last year the company recruited the black Pentecostal preacher with a background in Republican politics for a national steering committee to counter criticism of Wal-Mart’s business practices.
Throughout the segment interviewer Dylan Ratigan addressed Combs, a former businessman with two honorary doctorates who graduated from non-accredited IndianaBibleCollege in 1991, as “Bishop,” and Parham, who has a Ph.D. from BaylorUniversity, by his first name.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.