Saturday, January 23, 2016

Crooked as a Dog's Hind Leg


On or very near this date thirty-five years ago, the man pictured above was promoted to be the manager of a store in a major retail chain where I worked.  I was working as a security manager while taking doctoral seminars at seminary.  It was apparent from the beginning that the new manager relished having power over the lives of his employees.   When he was introduced to store employees, his first words were, “I’m the boss now, you’ll do things my way or you can get the hell out!”  Then he exclaimed that the store was filthy saying, “I guess you’ve all been here so long that you don’t see dirt.”  You could tell right away that public tongue lashings were his preferred management style and worse, he was a studied practitioner of the “drip, drip, drip” method of employee abuse.    

After my first private conversation with him I knew that my days on this job were numbered.  One of my responsibilities was to maintain records of who had keys and alarm codes for the store.  I also monitored who disabled the alarm whenever the store was closed.  My new boss informed me that he wanted keys to the building and the alarm code.  That seemed odd to me.  The previous manager had neither keys nor alarm codes.  There were at least six merchandise managers who rotated opening the store at 6:00 AM and closing the store at 10:00 PM or later.  The store manager kept office hours.  So, I asked him why he needed keys and alarm codes.  He informed me that he could not get all his work done without working on Sundays (this was during the era when “blue laws” kept most retail stores closed on Sundays).  That too sounded odd to me, so I decided that he must be testing me.  I said, “It is my responsibility to protect your integrity and mine.  If you are in and out of the store on Sundays, then there will be times when I will be watching you as you come and go.”  My new boss was rarely at a loss for words, but for a moment he was speechless and his face turned red.  Then he bellowed, “I’m not paying you to watch me.”

As soon as this conversation ended I was on the phone with the Regional Security Manager hoping to find an opening for a position at a different store in the district.  He advised me to “lay low, play dumb” and keep an eye on my new boss saying, “Company auditors have been trying to catch him for years, but have never been able to find anything.”  I decided that I would keep my eyes open until the end of that semester at seminary and then look for another job.

The next day one of the highest level managers advised me that he heard my new boss on the phone asking the District Manager why he needed a security manager.  At the end of the conversation he heard him tell the District Manager that he would have to use the “drip, drip, drip” method on me.  That meant that, on a daily basis, he would make working for him so miserable that I would quit.  Normally, he made life most miserable for me once a week at the management meeting.  There I discovered that, in addition to my ordinary duties, I was assigned to correct every problem that arose.  Every day, when new merchandise arrived on the receiving dock, it was my job to see that it got out to the floor.  Periodically, when Company shoppers left, it was my job to see that the hundreds of items they bought were cleared through accounting and returned to the floor.  The list went on and on.  On more than one occasion I nearly told him to take his job and shove it, but by that time other people were counting on me to make a case against him.

Within two weeks of his arrival, I began sending Regional Security written reports of my observations of the new manager’s behavior.  It was immediately apparent that every department head was under intense pressure and that pressure quickly transferred down the chain of command.   Mature, long- tenured, high performing female managers and employees were abruptly resigning.  Their replacements were attractive young women fresh out of the manager trainee program.   Low quality jewelry, not approved for sale in Company stores, was coming in the back door and the vendor – once she could extricate herself from his bear hug – was placing the merchandise on display herself.  He promised a single mother who had done some modeling that he would help her land some assignments with the Company’s advertising department.  She agreed to pose for a private photo shoot with him, but was so embarrassed about the kind of photos he took that she never returned to work.

All of that information was of interest to Regional Security but nothing prompted them to action until I informed them of some pictures that I took.  Pictures I took of the store manager entering and leaving the store while it was closed on a Sunday afternoon.

Less than a week before I took those pictures I learned that the new manager had appointed me to be responsible for maintaining security on the firearms that were on sale in the sporting goods department.  The firearms were kept in a high security storage area with the key under the control of the sporting goods manager.  Previously, my duty was only to double check the monthly inventory of the storage area.  Now a shotgun was missing and, after the fact, I was being held responsible.  With federal reporting requirements necessary, somebody’s head was going to roll.  He thought he had the excuse he needed to get rid of me.   So did I.  Fortunately, after searching through weeks of cash register tapes, the missing firearm was found misplaced in an unsecured area in the lay-away department.

That incident convinced me that I was not going to last until the end of the semester.   I encouraged my wife to accept a job that she had been offered, hoping that it would pay the bills until I could find another job.  A couple days later, late on a Friday afternoon, she called me at work to inform me that the physical she took for her job revealed that she was pregnant with our second child.  Before I was off the phone, one of the managers was in my office to tell me that he heard the store manager tell another manager that he was going to lay me off the following Monday and eliminate my position.   That meant that I only had one more chance to see what he was up to on Sundays when he was alone in the store while it was closed.

I monitored alarm logs daily throughout the new manager’s tenure.  I knew that he usually spent a couple hours in the store while it was closed on Sunday afternoons.  I took pictures of his coming and going with my 35MM camera and a telephoto lens on one Sunday only.  There was nothing to hide behind but a chain link fence at the end of a long parking lot.  Fortunately, he did not see me as he entered the store.  His hands were clean and his pockets empty when he went in.  Neither were empty when he left. 

As he was leaving and locking the door, he turned his head and looked across the parking lot between us.  His knees buckled when he saw me taking pictures of him.  Once he was in his car, he drove up to the chain link fence I was behind and honked at me before driving away.

The next morning, before the store opened, the manager had an underling ring up a sale for him for candy he took the previous day.  He had also contacted the District Manger to inform him that I had pictures of him at the store when it was closed.   The District Manager then contacted the Regional Security Manager to inquire about my investigation.  By noon that day, I had my pictures developed and both the District Manager and the Regional Security Manager, along with a team of company auditors, were at the store.

Store records listed as in stock three briefcases like the one he carried out of the store.  None had been sold, but none could be found in the store.  The manager did not admit to stealing any briefcases.  He did admit to the Regional Security Manager that he had not paid for several different items that were in the briefcase as he carried it out.

The most incriminating evidence was uncovered by company auditors.  When they interviewed the head of the store’s accounting department, she told them that on the day the new manager arrived he told her, “I’m crooked.  I’m crooked as a dog’s hind leg, but the auditors will never catch me.”  Then, under threat of losing her job, he told her how he wanted her to cook the books – a scheme that chose a different vendor each week and defrauded them of two thousand dollars.

By the end of the day, the new store manager was looking for employment and I was getting an unexpected merit increase.

I have spent thirty-five years reflecting on the different ways that people I knew responded to this incident.  Up and down the chain of command there were scapegoats, victims, bystanders, and perpetrators.   I got a very thorough education in the techniques of employee abuse.  I learned how powerless workers are in the hands of autocratic bosses.  I also observed how lightly those in authority viewed the boss’s handling of people in comparison to their concern for how he handled property.

One Baptist deacon’s response made a particular impression on me.  I was shocked to see a man of seeming integrity so eager to become a willing accomplice to the abuse of employees trying to preserve their dignity under very trying circumstances.  He helped prepare me to see through the pious personas of bullying preachers in both the Southern Baptist Convention and in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Since that time, I have no use at all for those who practice and/or condone “drip, drip, drip” methods of employee abuse.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On Removing Oklahoma's Ten Commandments Monument(s)

American Christians have been divided over the relation of the Ten Commandments to government since 1635.  That was when a Separatist Baptist minister who fled religious persecution in England was drug before the magistrates in Massachusetts Bay Colony for espousing "dangerous opinions" that threatened the peace and order of the colony.  The charge against Roger Williams, which he freely admitted, was that he proclaimed that civil government should only enforce the "second table" of the ten commandments -- the last six commandments.  The commands of the "first table" of the law -- the commands regarding religion and worship -- were matters of private, individual conscience.  Williams was convicted and banished from the colony.

Roger Williams believed that there should be a "wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world."  Likening compulsory religion to a spiritual rape, he insisted that genuine faith was a conscientious voluntary commitment.  He was the first American advocate for religious liberty for everyone -- whether, in his words, they were "paganish, Jewish, Turkish or anti-Christian."

Williams went on to found the Colony of Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church in the Americas.  The charter that he and John Clarke, another Baptist, secured for that Colony has been described as the first charter in the history of the world to secure "a free, full, and absolute liberty of conscience."  Among other things it guaranteed that no person would be "molested" on account of their religious beliefs.

In time, Rhode Island's provision against being "molested" for religious convictions would make its way into the charters and constitutions of several other colonies and states.   Among them, Oklahoma, but for more than another century Baptists and other religious minorities suffered for their religious convictions.  As late as the early 1770's jails in Virginia were filled with Baptist preachers whose only crime was "preaching without a license."  By law, only Anglicans or Presbyterians could get a license to preach.

That is why Virginia Baptists refused to ratify the proposed U.S. Constitution until an amendment was added that secured the right to religious liberty for everyone.  When the Constitution with the First Amendment was finally ratified, John Leland the leader of Virginia Baptists, rejoiced that it made it possible for a "Pagan, Turk, Jew or Christian" to be eligible to serve in any post or office in the government.

Baptists support for separation of church and state endured for nearly two more centuries.  With this support states like Oklahoma, populated with numerous Baptists, wrote state constitutions that made separation of religion and government even more explicit than in the U.S. Constitution.  Oklahoma's State Constitution made sure that religion could never receive any tangible support from the government:
“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.” ( Section II-5)  
How could separation of religion and government be made more explicit?

Baptist support for separation of church and state began to decline after the civil rights era.  During the 1970's and early 1980's Bob Jones University and the IRS were engaged in a law suit over the constitutionality of the IRS's denial of the school's tax exempt status.   In 1970 the IRS ruled that contributions to private schools with racially discriminatory policies no longer qualified as charitable tax deductions under the provisions of the tax code.  The school argued that denying them the right to discriminate on the basis of race violated their  right to religious liberty.

Many prominent Southern Baptist ministers, along with several TV evangelists and conservative mega-church preachers from other denominations were alarmed when the Carter administration supported the IRS ruling.  A number of them determined to organize political activists within their churches and institutions and then use them to exert influence on secular politics.  The result was a fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and the rise of the Religious Right.

The more successful their political efforts, the more they promoted the union of church and state.  By 1998 Richard Land, then President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, was telling the New York Times that the Religious Right was tired of being taken for granted by the GOP: "No more engagement.  We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage."

The Religious Right never got a ring.  Diamonds were too small for a movement this size.  Instead, they settled on granite.  All around the country, large granite monuments became the symbol of an unholy union of pretentious piety and politics.   Erecting Ten Commandments monuments on public property -- preferably at the state capitol or on the courthouse lawn -- became the sign that the marriage of right-wing religion and the local government has been consummated in that community.

Nowhere has the engagement of right-wing religion with government been more prominent than in Oklahoma and both parties have been desperate to effect a consummation.  

The first attempt was a monument on the courthouse lawn in Haskell County, but elected leaders there proved too vocal about their intent to establish religion.  In 2010, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it unconstitutional and made them remove it.

Before that case was final, lawmakers approved of the erection of a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol.  There elected leaders deliberately attempted to circumvent Section II-5 of the State Constitution and key leaders were careful to describe the monument in secular terms as merely a historical artifact related to law.   Public perception, however, has always been that the monument is religious nature.

I, an ordained minister, opposed placing this monument on public property and filed suit with the ACLU because I believe it is bad for religion.  The Ten Commandments is a covenant between God and people of faith.   The text mentions God six times and refers to "the Lord" seven times.  It is obviously religious in nature.  Erecting the monument under sham secular pretenses serves only to trivialize the holiness of sincere religious covenants and undermines religion by negating the significance of the most sacred symbols of religious language.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently agreed that the Ten Commandments monument is not merely historical.  The court said it is "obviously religious in nature."  The ruling also accused lawmakers of attempting to circumvent the clear intent of the language of the state constitution which prohibits the government from "directly or indirectly" providing support for religion.

This ruling is good for both religion and the government, but the verdict may not yet be final.  Incensed that their consummation has been denied yet again, the governor is refusing to remove the monument and state legislators are threatening to either impeach supreme court justices or alter the wording of the State Constitution.

Obviously, two of the three branches of Oklahoma's government are firmly in the hands of the Religious Right and now they are aroused again.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Statement at the Sierra Club Press Conference 1-15-15


Here's the statement I made at the Sierra Club's press conference prior to the EPA hearing in Oklahoma City yesterday regarding haze pollution in National Parks in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas caused by dirty coal fired power plants in Texas:

I support the EPA's efforts to restrict the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere and thereby reduce the haze and pollution that is impacting national parks and wilderness areas like the Wichita Mountains

I believe that reducing green house gas emissions from dirty coal plants and other sources of haze and pollution comprise the most important ethical issue of our time.  Man made pollution not only has an impact on the environment it also has an impact on our health.  My wife is a diabetic with a heart condition and asthma.  When the air is hazy, she has a hard time breathing.

That is one of the reasons why I believe it is a moral imperative that we do whatever we can to preserve an environment that will sustain life as we know it -- whether we are perfectly healthy or not.

Another reason is that I want my children and grandchildren to experience a quality of life that is as good or better than my own. I have no desire to see life made harder and more difficult for them. Climate change threatens to make the world my grandchildren inherit completely different from the world we live in today.

Increasingly extreme weather events – droughts and floods, tornadoes and hurricanes – are making life treacherous for people around the world. With ever increasing regularity, extreme weather events are destroying our homes, schools, lives and livelihoods.

We have a moral obligation to to do everything possible to mitigate the emissions that are fueling these extreme weather events.

We are all part of an ecosystem. In one way or another, all the forms of life on this planet are connected.  Scientists tell us that global warming is going to cause a lot of extinctions. The destruction of biodiversity is dangerous for our entire ecosystem.

Each one of us has a responsibility to do whatever we can do to reduce our own greenhouse gas footprint.  Do whatever you can to stop contributing to climate change.

We need to work both individually and collectively to support efforts to address this issue both nationally and internationally. 

Make this a burning issue when you are in the voting booth to elect leaders.

The future of life on this planet depends on it.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Oklahoma Ten Commandments Monument Affidavit

Here is an excerpt from my affidavit filed this week in the District Court of Oklahoma County for the case against the Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol (Prescott vs. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission):

6.      Historically, Baptists have affirmed the Divine inspiration and authority of the Bible.  The Bible declares, and I affirm, the sacredness and holiness of the religious covenant being affirmed in the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19), and it explicitly states that Moses recorded that God personally spoke and wrote down the Ten Commandments:

"These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more.  Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.  (Deuteronomy 5:22 NIV, cf. Exodus 24:12)

Historically, Baptists have affirmed the religious significance and purpose of the Ten Commandments as being the terms of a religious covenant between God and people of faith.

7.      Many Baptists, as well as many other people of faith -- Jewish, Christian and Muslim -- continue to affirm that the Ten Commandments are properly understood to be the terms of a religious covenant between God and people of faith.   Among them some, like myself, are horrified when attempts are made to have secular courts of law rule that the terms of this sacred and holy covenant no longer have any religious significance and meaning.   In the long run, I believe the effect of such rulings serves to undermine sincere faith by trivializing the value of religious covenants.

8.       Foremost among the terms in the covenant are those that identify Divinity.   The word "God" appears six times, usually within the phrase "the Lord your God" (five times).  The word "Lord" appears seven times.  One of the commandments pertains to the dignity necessary when invoking Divinity and the special care necessary to assure that every invocation of God have meaning and significance:

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."  (Exodus 20:7 NIV)

I believe that the name of the Lord God is "misused" when declarations are made that the words "Lord" and "God" on Ten Commandments monuments are historical artifacts and no longer have religious meaning and significance.   In effect, this undermines religion by negating the significance of the most sacred symbols of religious language.

9.      Historically, Baptists have been among the foremost proponents of the separation of religion and government.   Theologically, this conviction derives from the belief that liberty of conscience is prerequisite for the personal decision and commitment from which Baptists believe sincere faith grows.  Politically, this belief stems from their experience of persecution for their faith by both the English Crown and by the established church governments of Colonial America.   In distinction from nearly every other Christian denomination, the earliest Baptists were insistent that liberty of conscience be secured for people of all faiths and people of no faith.   

While some Baptists now deny that church and state should be separate, many    Baptists and others like myself, continue to affirm the historic Baptist commitment to separation of church and state.   I believe posting a Ten Commandments monument on government property under sham secular pretenses serves to trivialize the holiness of sincere religious covenants and misappropriates a sacred religious symbol to endorse a diluted religiosity devoid of any transformative experience.

10.        I have observed the Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol from both within and outside the Capitol building.  The placement of the monument makes viewing it unavoidable to any sighted person walking up and down the Northeast staircase of the Capitol building.   The monument gives me the impression that the Oklahoma state government endorses a certain form of religion.


I have met many people walking up and down that staircase whom I know to be people of other faiths and people of no faith.  People for whom both the U.S. Constitution and the Oklahoma State Constitution secure an equal right to freedom of religion and freedom from religion.  I believe posting the Ten Commandments monument before unwelcoming eyes on government property sends a message that such persons are looked down upon as second class citizens by their government.  I also believe that their irritation with the monument will serve to create unnecessary divisions and conflict within the community between them and people of conscientious and sincere covenantal faith. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Reproductive Biology and Hobby Lobby

Reproductive Biology and Hobby Lobby from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Dr. Dana Stone, OB-GYN speaks about "Reproductive Biology and Hobby Lobby" at a forum sponsored by the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice on August 6, 2014.