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FIRST-PERSON: Big Boy consultants

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–The current chain of corporate scandals (Enron; Andersen, etc.) brings to mind an interview I read awhile back. A pastor was talking about the way our denomination’s working-class, rural and Southern roots impacted our worship. By his account, we met at 11 on Sunday mornings to give farmers time to tend to their cows and such. And our preachers hit drinking, smoking and illicit sex because these sins concerned the only thing we had any control over, our bodies.

If a pastor had inveighed against insider trading, soft money, shell corporations or offshore entities, we would have scratched our heads or wondered what that had to do with us. Those were matters for the cultural insiders, more likely the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Catholics and Jews.

Much of that has changed. Now we have more powerful people in our midst. Just look at a list of current and recent political leaders with Southern Baptist roots or ties: Jimmy Carter; Bill Clinton; Al Gore; Newt Gingrich; Trent Lott; Strom Thurmond; Dick Gephardt; J.C. Watts; Mitch McConnell; Jesse Helms. That’s not your father’s SBC.

Some of us have traded our Bics for Mont Blancs, our Fords for Lexuses, and our vacations with Mamaw and Papaw for Caribbean cruises. We turn to the stock quotes before the St. Louis Cardinal box scores. We accumulate frequent flyer miles instead of S&H Green Stamps.

With that comes a new vocabulary. We used to live on Hunter Street. Now we live on Hunter Pointe. It was Chase Street; now it’s Streetor’s Chase. We shopped at Oklahoma Tire and Supply and ate pie at Shoney’s Big Boy. Now it’s Cappuccino at Starbucks, poolside hammocks from Hammacher Schlemmer and stuffed toy bears from F.A.O. Schwarz. It’s Stoneleigh for Stanley, Bourne for Burn and Towne for Town. And you can always reverse noun and adjective in the French style — First Bank becomes Bank (or Banc) One.

Now that we’re in the professional class, we’re working for institutions with more august names meant to convey nobility and stability. It’s Fidelity this, Mutual that and Associates another. No more of this Sid’s Bait Shop and Bob’s Burger Heaven.

It’s nice to have nice things, and high-toned names don’t have to hurt us. But they can. We need to be careful about their seductive power. We might wake up one day putting on airs and looking down on our spiritual superiors who happen to wear pocket protectors. We might spend more time talking about a good concierge than witnessing to the lost. And on the other hand, we might muffle our witness because we’re enthralled or intimidated by the jargon and bearing of the elites.

Which brings us to the embarrassment at Arthur Andersen, Enron and WorldCom. Turns out, they have their share of creeps, just like the mechanic who surreptitiously squirts some fluid on an auto part and says you have a leak. They’re trying to make a buck, and they don’t much care whom they hurt along the way. Just like the scary folks on Jerry Springer, they put their evil on one leg at a time.

There’s a lot of talk about fines, license revocations and even hard time. Let me suggest a semantic penalty. Any firm caught in shenanigans must change its name to something you’d find on a diner or wig shop. Arthur Andersen would have to be Big Boy or Sans-a-Goof Accounting. Deloite & Touche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst and Young had better watch out, or it’s Touche-Mart, Shur Advice, AuditRite and Thrifty Consulting for them. (And we might make Enron drop their E back on its base.)

I think this has all been good for us. Anything that punctures the pretensions of the world — the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is a good thing. Of course, this is no special problem of the rich and powerful. Some of them are far godlier than many poor folks. It’s just to say that they enjoy no special moral status or license to strut because they’re blessed. And woe is us if we covet and emulate the pretensions of the obviously lost, whatever their station.

I ride the pre-dawn train out of Chicago’s North Shore with these men, I on the way to teaching assignments, they to their brokerage, consulting and accounting firms. They’re under enormous pressure to keep up the mortgage payments on their million-dollar homes, maintain their wives in the luxury to which they’ve become accustomed and make sure their kids keep up with the little Farthingtons down the block. They live in horror that they’ll have to share a duplex with their current cook, get a Sam’s Club card and learn to ask, “You want fries with that?”

Just like us, they need the peace which passeth understanding, found only in Christ.

Seeker sensitive, we might begin by talking of Yahweh & Sons, LordfathershouseRepenters, and Sinner Adamsen. We could even sing, “Softleigh and Tynderleigh.”
Additional reflections by Mark Coppenger are at www.listten.com. Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church.

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  • Mark Coppenger