Must “good business” be amoral?

The Texas Association of Business (TAB) is apparently pretty spooked by recent events in Indiana and Arkansas. After those states passed laws intended to protect religious freedom for all their citizens, and similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by the first President Clinton, various outsiders decided to threaten the states. Angie’s List, the City of Seattle, the NCAA and the state of Connecticut each promised boycotts or some similar punitive measure against the Hoosier state. Arkansas’ own 500-pound gorilla, Wal-Mart, made low, rumbly noises after that state’s legislature passed its own RFRA. That’s all it took. What was a few minutes ago a matter of conviction became a “catastrophe” for those two governors. So they blinked; they began apologetic rewrites of the laws to make sure that no one is offended or inconvenienced by the notion of religious liberty—especially that the states’ bottom lines were not inconvenienced. 

Well, TAB is concerned that our own state’s law, which they say allows for all kinds of mistreatment of our sexual minorities, could open us up to threats of financial loss. I have a couple of observations on that subject. 

First, I have to wonder what would happen if Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Texas and every other state with a RFRA stood firm. OK, maybe the city of Seattle could get away with banning travel of city employees to all but coastal states. Maybe the state of Connecticut could limit its own endorsement to states that have, perhaps coincidentally, legalized the recreational use of marijuana. But would Toyota, Angie’s List, Dell and the Dallas Mavericks move out of state for the sake of conscience? Where? California? It would be the opposite of the dilemma for pro-family folks who want to boycott those who disagree with us on important issues. Nearly all airlines, telecomm companies, tech companies, department stores and television networks would be off limits for us. Boycotts have that limitation; they can sometimes become as impractical as boycotting idol worshippers was in the first century Roman Empire. If these states had kept one day to the convictions they held the previous month, without regard for the threats of billionaires, the threats would have dissipated as the companies faced the choice between business-friendly states and those less so. 

Second, I doubt there is any reason to think that Texas law has resulted in people left homeless, battered and starving because of their sexual behavior. None of the 20 or so laws targeted by LGBT advocacy groups would decrease the quality of life of any Texas citizen; they are, rather, intended to protect the minority opinion of biblical Christians. 

I also doubt there is any reason to think that Texas will crash and burn economically if we overtly protect religious liberty for even conservative Christians. Texas Competes, which might be described as a more aggressive spin off of the TAB, has a couple of charts on their site to support the assertion that companies with “anti-discrimination” policies perform better than do companies without. This is a way that statistics are misused—correlation is not always causation. Did they, for example, compare Apple’s performance with that of Radio Shack or maybe Chik-Fil-A with Long John Silver’s? No experienced consumer believes that those companies are on their present trajectories because of what they have said, or did not say, about a person’s sexual behavior. And again I raise the specter of California. Is California broadly perceived as less business friendly than Texas because Californians are less affirming of unusual ideas than are Texans? No, so progressive social mores are apparently not the same as progress, growth or even financial solvency. 

As simply as I know how, for the sake of the billionaires in the audience: people gathering in various places for religious purposes is freedom of assembly; what people do in those assemblies is freedom of speech; what those people do when they disperse into their neighborhoods, schools and workplaces is freedom of religion. Texas will be a better place for all Texans and for their vocations if its citizens are free to believe what they believe, and to live by those beliefs until the state can show a compelling reason to limit that religious expression. 

Finally, I don’t understand all the ways that philosophy, religion and conviction fit into the quality of a community’s life, but I do think they are more important than do some of the CEOs of Texas’ largest companies. If you change your convictions about man and God in an effort to stay ahead of a market, you’ll do it pretty often. “Conviction” becomes an absurd concept if you change it for pragmatic reasons. That applies to billionaires and governors, even as it does to you and me.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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