The Common Good

Where Do WorldCom Execs Go to Church?

Sojomail - August 21, 2002


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++++++++++++++++++++++ 21-August-2002 +++++++++++++++++++++++++
+++++++++++ Where Do WorldCom Execs Go to Church? +++++++++++++

 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *P.J. O'Rourke: Walking the talk

 B i z n e s s   E t h i x
     *Where do WorldCom execs go to church?

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *Ethics in Business: A course outline

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *Hispanic presence in the U.S. Catholic Church

 P o l i t i c a l l y   C o n n e c t
     *10 reasons not to attack Iraq

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *Journey to strange new worlds

 B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
     *Literary altruism

 C u l t u r e   W a t c h
     *God gets a game show

 B o o m e r a n g
     *SojoMail readers speak their minds

 W e b s c e n e
     *Virtual church spins Web to reach those outside the pews
     *Photos from the WCC's attic
     *It takes an orchestra to raise a child in music

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Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k

"Worrying is less work than doing something to
fix the worry. Everybody wants to save the earth;
nobody wants to help Mom with the dishes."

        -- P.J. O'Rourke, author of "All the Trouble
           in the World."


B i z n e s s   E t h i x
Where do Worldcom execs go to church?

by Robert Parham

A number of months ago, Jim Wallis, editor in chief of Sojourners magazine, wrote a column asking, "Where do Enron execs go to church?" While Wallis did not specifically answer his rhetorical question, he bluntly connected the violation of biblical ethics within corporate America with the all-too-often pulpit silence about economic sin.

The latest corporate scandal deserves a rephrasing of Wallis' question: "Where do Worldcom execs go to church?" The answer for Worldcom's founder and former CEO, Bernie Ebbers, is Easthaven Baptist Church in Brookhaven, Miss., a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Worldcom is the nation's second-largest long-distance corporation, which disclosed accounting irregularities of more than $7 billion, claiming a profit when the company was really losing hundreds of millions of dollars and also providing sweetheart deals for Ebbers, such as over $400 million in loans at a most favorable 2.15 percent interest rate.

Worldcom's disclosure of its accounting problems has resulted in a Securities and Exchange Commission fraud lawsuit, congressional hearings, and investor lawsuits. As many as 17,000 employees may lose their jobs. And Worldcom's stock prices have fallen to as low as a nickel per share from a record high of $64.50, costing investors their hard-earned money.

After the Sunday morning worship service two weeks ago, Ebbers told fellow church members, "I just want you to know you aren't going to church with a crook," according to a story in the Wall Street Journal. "I don't know what the situation is with all that has been reported. I don't know what all is going to happen or what mistakes have been made," he said. "No one will find me to have knowingly committed fraud." Church members gave him a standing ovation.

Ebbers is known as a generous man, a church deacon, and a civic leader. He teaches a Sunday School class for young, married couples. He helped Easthaven Baptist Church purchase stock and sell the stock for some $1 million for its building program. A graduate of Mississippi College, a Baptist institution, Ebbers chaired the school's New Dawn Campaign, which had a goal of raising $80 million in five years. After the first year of the fund drive, the school had raised almost $58 million. Ebbers said the board of trustees had "stepped out in faith when it began this campaign, and as a result, the Lord has blessed it." The board increased the campaign's goal to $100 million.

Bendon Ginn, Ebbers' pastor, said, "He's probably the most unassuming member of this congregation," according to the Jackson, Mississipi, Clarion-Ledger. "He comes in quietly, politely, and sits in a place so as not to be easily seen." Ginn claimed that Ebbers had a good heart.

Congressman Billy Tauzin, (R-La.), had a different take on Ebbers and Worldcom. Tauzin, whose committee investigated Worldcom's financial improprieties, said this week, "This was a pure case of theft, of inside stealing, again, from their own investors. This is a company simply determined for several years to misstate its earnings to the American public by hiding its costs as capitalized expenses, doing so in the face of advice from their own officials inside the company that it was improper and illegal to do so," Tauzin said, according to The New York Times.

Another former corporate CEO, Ken Lay, also has been described as a man of integrity, civic involvement, and church leadership, known for singing hymns in church. Lay once said, "I believe in God and I believe in free markets." Raised in the home of a Baptist preacher and now a member of First United Methodist Church in Houston, Lay... certainly appears to have lied to employees, cut deals for himself, and cheated investors.

Both these "godly" men have engaged in ungodly activities and have then attempted to evade their responsibilities by proclaiming their ignorance. So, where do these men go to church? Stated more painfully, does church really make a difference in the personal and public behavior of corporate leaders? Does teaching Sunday School shape the character of the teacher? Does the biblical witness carry any moral weight?

Wallis wrote, "The teaching of both Christian and Jewish faiths would excoriate the greed, selfishness, and cheating of...corporate leaders, and condemn, in the harshest of terms, their callous and cruel treatment of employees.... It's time for the pulpit to speak, to bring the Word of God to bear on the moral issues of the American economy."

Preach, brother, preach.


Robert Parham is BCE's executive director. © 2002 is an imprint of the Baptist Center for Ethics. Reprinted with permission.

******************* SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT **********************
Sept. 11, 2002: Time has passed, wounds have healed, but
scars remain. Where do we go from here?

Sojourners announces "A World at Odds: Conscience In A
Time Of Terror," a new study guide that offers a moral
response to terrorism and helps us see light in the
darkness. Free of charge and available for online
distribution, "A World at Odds" outlines Sojourners'
alternative perspective on Iraq, fundamentalism,
globalization, and the Middle East. This special
online guide includes stimulating questions for
study groups as well as worship materials to observe
the anniversary of Sept. 11.

Sojourners invites you to experience this free
resource at!


F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
Ethics in business: A course outline

by Dominic Hilton
Texas Business School

This course lasts for one semester and is run by Professor N. Ron Buggard, author of "Business Morality: A Moron's Guide to an Oxymoron." The course is worth between one and three billion credits, depending on your creative input.

Week 1: An introduction to ethics

Are ethics good for business - or vice versa? This lecture, with accompanying seminar and pie charts, will introduce the student to the once-fashionable notion of ethics. It will outline the main principles of ethical behavior, from duty to obligation, to right and wrong, in all their forms. It will bypass the Kantian (European) notions of ethical action, focusing on the difference between personal ethics, boardroom ethics, golf-course ethics, and public displays of ethics in front of congressional committees.

Week 2: An introduction to business

What is business? And why is it so profitable? This lecture will remind students of the main principles of business, from inflating your figures, to devaluing others' currency. It will ask you to invent a mock stock report, and to imagine a sham profit margin. With reference to real events, it will teach you how to avoid prosecution by either befriending the occupants of the White House, financing the occupants of the White House, or becoming the occupants of the White House.

Week 3: Cooking the books - a few select recipes

Students will learn how to misappropriate funds, turn expenses into profits, shift data among spreadsheets, and hide debts by filtering money through coffee machines.


B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
Hispanic presence in the U.S. Catholic Church

Of the 35 million Hispanics in the U.S., nearly
one third live in California and Nevada. In the
U.S., the percentage of...

Parishes with Hispanic ministry:  18%
Hispanic priests:                  4%
Catholics who are Hispanics       30%
Hispanics who are Catholics       67%

*Source: Secretariat of Hispanic Affairs, United
         States Conference of Catholic Bishops


P o l i t i c a l l y   C o n n e c t
10 reasons not to attack Iraq

by David Cortright

War against Iraq would be monumental folly, for at least 10 reasons:

1. There is no justification for war. Iraq has not attacked or threatened the United States. It has not been implicated in the attacks of Sept. 11.

2. A military campaign against Iraq could kill thousands of innocent victims, inflicting further torment on a civilian population that has already suffered severely from more than 11 years of sanctions.

3. War and its aftermath would cost the United States tens of billions of dollars. The campaign against Afghanistan reportedly cost almost $2 billion a month. An attack against Iraq would be much larger, with proportionately greater costs.

To read the other 7 reasons not to attack Iraq, go to the original feature as it appeared in the July-August issue of Sojourners magazine:


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S o u l   W o r k s
Journey to strange new worlds

"If knowing answers to life's questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables - of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and most of all, things unfair."

- Madame Jeanne Guyon


B u i l d i n g   a   M o v e m e n t
Literary altruism

Dave Eggers, one of the brightest writing stars in the literary firmament, could be enjoying the high life offered an author of his growing stature: the parties, the talk shows, the lucrative speeches.

Instead, the 32-year-old best-selling author of "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" commutes every day from his Marin County home for an unpaid job at the 826 [San Francisco Mission District] writing lab, investing his time and considerable fortune to help less privileged young people learn the craft that has fueled his career.

To read the entire feature, link to:


C u l t u r e   W a t c h
God gets a game show

Many people view clerics as smart people and think the place they display their knowledge is in the pulpit. But a German television station is giving them the chance to entertain and impart their wisdom on TV. TV station RTL is lining up pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams in a show titled "Germany's smartest clergyman."

*Source: Ecumenical News International


B o o m e r a n g

Tim Callaway writes from Calgary, Canada:

I had a truly blessed time last night hearing and meeting with Martyn Joseph following his performance here. I reviewed "the show" for one of our major dailies and for another paper as well. What an incredible servant of God!! I couldn't help but weep as he shared his experiences in Brazil and shared some of the songs he'd been prompted to write as a result. Thanks to SojoMail for introducing me to him and making me aware of his being in our neck of the woods.


Simon and Hazel Hudson write from St. Albans, England: Thank God for Archbishop Rowan Williams and Bishop Peter Price (our former parish priest) for speaking out about Iraq. It is so encouraging to hear the church being in the vanguard of such protests.

I remember the protest against cruise missiles in the 1980s and at that time it took the church a while to get organized to speak out. Keep at it brothers and sisters! We are right with you. As Peter once said, "The gospel is to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable."


Nancy Buchan, assistant professor of marketing, University of Wisconsin, writes from Madison, Wisconsin:

I wanted to at least respond to you about a recent Boomerang. The writer was critical of American business schools and that the narrow profit-minded focus of business education has yielded the mess of corporate corruption in which we now find ourselves. I am a professor in a business school. Although people may be right to be critical of business education - and in fact, many of our own chat rooms and communications within the business academic community have been filled with discussions of ethics and self-examination of late, I can assure you that we are not all blind followers of the almighty dollar.

I teach global marketing and my courses all begin with several discussions of globalization, ethics, and the impact that business can/does have for better or for worse on the world's population. The emphasis of my course is a sociological one - in each class the focus is on achieving better cross-cultural understanding. Of course, truly understanding what people in a given market need and how to communicate with them will make my students better marketers, but more importantly, putting themselves "in others' shoes" will make them better - and hopefully more compassionate - human beings.


Arthur K. Sudler writes from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

Re: "God Is My Palm Pilot," by David Batstone and Bill Wylie Kellerman, the cover story of Jan/Feb 2001 issue of Sojourners:

The mere fact that you published this topic in a e- conversation format rather than a traditional article format is indicative of the power of technology. While I enjoyed your discussion, I hope that in the future you will reflect on some of the more "practical/concrete" ways in which technology is/is not being embraced - particularly in the faith-based setting - and the impact such decisions are having on us currently and in the future.

Issues like: The power/reach of e-lists. Who is using them? Is it bringing us together or only some of us? Is it an obstacle to more personal forms of communication? Is having the Bible, or the Book of Common Prayer, on a PDA a good thing? Why are there millions of electronic computer games (many of which are violent) available at Staples and OfficeMax but only a few that are faith-based? Whose faith is proclaimed in the faith-based software that is available? Why isn't there a "Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger" investment software package? Why isn't there a PDA calendar with quotes from the lessons of "FaithWorks"?


Ron Partridge writes from Lower Halstow, Kent, England:

I have heard it said that "faith-based organizations" should be quite happy to accept funds from the U.S. government to support any non-religious activities, such as relief work, community development, etc. If anyone believes that this would not blunt or mute the prophetic role such organizations may sometimes feel called to play, they should take note of the news story to which SojoMail provided a link, published on on Monday, July 15: "Capitol Hill lawmakers rushed over the weekend to put Public Broadcasting System on notice that it better think twice before bringing to America a new, HIV-infected Muppet developed for audiences in AIDS-ravaged South Africa. Republicans leading the influential House Commerce Committee reminded PBS president Pat Mitchell that the panel has budgetary oversight of the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, which in turn provides funds to PBS." He who pays the prophet sets the message. How could it be otherwise?


SojoMail reader Greg Gelburd writes:

Last week, as we were leaving on a medical mission trip to Honduras, I sat across from the father of one of our team members. I learned in our hour and a half conversation about this person's love for Christ and his desire to spread the gospel around the world and also through a new novel he has just published, "Mission Compromised." I read it over the trip and it's actually quite a thrilling story salted with Christ throughout. It will be released in September. At the end of this warm and friendly conversation this man handed me a signed copy of his book, sheepishly asking me if I'd read it and give him some feedback. The name on the cover was Oliver North. It's interesting who Christ calls to serve Him and, at least on a personal level, he's a great believer. We avoided politics and history.


Rev. Dana Green writes from Corpus Christi, Texas:

As terrible as 9/11 was, it has set off reactions that may be more terrible yet. The bully pulpit declares loud and clear by word and deed that Palestinian lives and property are of less value than those of the Israelis. It's a message both un-American and un-Christian.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:




The second gathering of Word and World: A People's School
will be held in Tucson, Arizona, Nov. 9-16, 2002. The
main theme of this school is social justice movements
throughout the Southwest from the time of the Spanish
conquest to the present, as well as the spiritual significance
of the Sonora Desert. Word and World is a popular institute
designed to address the need for theological pedagogy
between the seminary, the sanctuary, and the street.

Contact: Deborah Lee; (520) 670-9048;


W e b s c e n e
This week's best of the Web

*Virtual church spins Web to reach those outside the pews

An ambitious "virtual church" that cuts across regional boundaries is tapping into the appeal of clubbing for the teen and twenties generation. The U.K.-based project aims to reach those who are "uncomfortable with church but aware of their spirituality," according to one of the founders, minister and broadcaster Steve Chalke, and his colleague, Joe Davis. Go to:


*Photos from the WCC's attic

Ecumenical history buffs will enjoy the U.S Conference of the World Council of Churches' new online display "Photos from our Attic Pages" that feature the visit of Pope Paul VI to the Ecumenical Center in Geneva in 1966 and President Dwight D. Eisenhower's participation in the WCC's Second Assembly in Evanston in 1954. There are also wonderful pictures of Dr. King, Dag Hammerskold, Cesar Chavez, and the Dalai Lama. Check it out at:


*It takes an orchestra to raise a child on music

SFSKids is an educational Web site for children and families from the San Francisco symphony. The fun, interactive site introduces future virtuosos to instruments of the orchestra, music theory, and more. Go to:


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