The Enron bankruptcy occurred with a flood of news stories about deceit, lying, greed, dishonest gain and finger pointing. And Christian leaders are struck dumb.
Those who always have something to say about America’s moral decline uttered not a bleep. The organizational Web sites of the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and Jerry Falwell were mute on Enron.
Several of these sites carried a news brief from AgapePress, a “cooperative news service.” AgapePress describes itself as a news service which “focuses on issues that have moral, social, and political implications, and is written from a Christian perspective you cannot find in the secular world.”
The AgapePress article said, “It is clear the Democrats see the Enron bankruptcy scandal as a tremendous political opportunity.”
The lack of commentary included mainline Christian leaders. The Web sites of the National Council of Churches and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had no statements.
The one shinning exception within the Christian community was SojoMail, Sojourners’ e-newsletter, which ran a column titled “Where do Enron executives go to church?”
Jim Wallis, Sojourner’s editor-in-chief, disagreed sharply with cavalier comments made by Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill about the genius of capitalism on a Sunday morning TV talk show.
“The behavior of Enron executives is a direct violation of biblical ethics,” Wallis wrote. “The teachings of both Christian and Jewish faiths would excoriate the greed, selfishness, and cheating of Enron’s corporate leaders, and condemn, in the harshest terms, their callous and cruel mistreatment of employees.”
“Read your Bibles,” Wallis wrote. “The strongest media critics of Enron call it putting self-interest above the public interest; biblical ethics would just call it sin.”
Referring to the Bush administration and its Enron friends, Wallis said, “I wonder if they will hear a religious word about the practices of arranging huge personal bonuses and escape hatches while destroying the lives of people who work for you.”
“It’s time for the pulpit to speak—to bring the Word of God to bear on the moral issues of the American economy,” Wallis wrote.
Certainly some American pulpits have already addressed the moral failure of Enron and its vision for America. But they are flying beneath the media radar. As of Thursday morning, the major religion wires had no news articles on the Enron story.
At the heart of this failure within the Christian community is the false division made between ethics and economics. We have seen moral behavior as that which concerns matters like private character and human sexuality. We have seen economics as morally neutral.
The biblical witness makes no separation. And neither should we—we need to end the silence of the lambs.
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.