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Inappropriate Pompous Christian Business Owner

October 26, 2011

There is this gentlemen – I’ll call him Ray Smith- who was a prominent business owner in the region. He was well known, not just for his company and the products it sold, but also for their charitable works. Ray had even set up a special non-profit entity for the specific purpose of funneling his company’s profits into missions-oriented and disaster relief projects.

One day I was chatting with an entrepreneurial friend of mine whose business was taking off like a rocket. He asked if I had any ideas on how he might structure a way to channel his corporate profits towards doing good works. I immediately thought of Ray, and suggested we set up a lunch meeting to explore the possibilities.

The next day I dialed over to Ray’s office and spoke with his polite young assistant, Brian.

“Mr. Smith isn’t in at the moment, but I can take a message for you.”

“Can I leave a voice mail?” I asked.

“No, I handle all of Mr. Smith’s affairs, and I’ll take care of it for you.”

I don’t know what the big hoo-ha was with the personal male assistant and all, since none of the other execs around here have trouble picking up the phone and returning a call, but I chalked it up to eccentricity, and told him of my interest in a meeting.

A couple of days later, he called back.

“You’ll be meeting Mr. Smith at Le Espalier for lunch next Thursday,” Brian proclaimed, enunciating every consonant.

It was the fanciest French restaurant within a forty mile radius. Surely we didn’t need all the pomp and rigmarole associated with such as place, but I was excited to introduce my friend to a fellow CEO of such integrity, such a wonderful example of corporate generosity and living out the gospel in the corporate setting.

On the appointed day, the Maitre d’ sat us at our table and we all began to talk. Or, I should say, Ray began to talk.

Right off the bat, he spat out an off-color joke that had a punch line ending with a curse word. Now, I have nothing against using salty language now and then, strategically placed in select conversations, of course, and in the context of appropriate company. But this was just odd, having had just met under the pretense of discussing missions work.

Ray then went to great lengths name-dropping several celebrities, one of which he was apparently working closely with as a sponsor for some type of national youth outreach program. He followed this with another first-hand celebrity story involving a famous Christian artist and – I don’t quite know how to put this – a mishap with his private parts. We all pretended to laugh heartily, as I exchanged fearful glances with my friend.

Was Ray purposefully trying to shock us? Or make a statement? Is this how he advertises his anti-Evangelical-Establishment leanings? “Hey guys, I’m a progressive, relevant, fun-loving, foul-mouthed Christian business owner who doesn’t give a F** about your old-fashioned rules of religious engagement!”

For his next trick, he switched gears and talked up his global travels, and how he funded trips for several of his employees to visit impoverished areas of the world, “because it totally blows their mind, man.” This, at least, was somewhat on topic.

The excruciatingly inappropriate lunch hour eventually came to end as he abruptly asked for the check and adjourned the meeting.

As my friend and I stood in the parking lot watching his Mercedes peal out of the parking lot, I silently mouthed, “WHAT WAS THAT?”  

“What an idiot,” was all my friend had to say.

I apologized profusely during the first few minutes in the car, and then we spent the rest of the ride mocking Ray’s pompous attitude. 

A couple of years later, Ray’s business filed for bankruptcy under a great deal of public scrutiny.

It was scandalous, actually.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2011 6:45 am

    Bradley, my first request is that you come out and tell us that this was not a true story, but a clever way to make a point! Please tell me this guy didn’t actually do all of that! I am still sitting here with my jaw on the desk…

    My second request is that you would shoot me if you ever saw a hint of that attitude in my posts or heard of it in my actions. I cannot imagine being in that position.

    At the same time, if this is indeed a true story, we have to assume he did not start out that way. Otherwise, he would not have had the excellent reputation you described. Most likely, he would have been known for the very behavior he exhibited that day with you.

    So, what is the lesson? I see it as a clear picture of where any of us can end up if we do not diligently focus on the little day-to-day decision and temptations we face. Ray Smith is at the bottom of the slippery slope we have all faced at one time or another. His journey did not happen overnight (likely) and he probably never realized he was headed there.

    If we will stand in the mirror of God’s Word daily and examine our motives and the actions that follow, maybe, just maybe, we can avoid a similar fate!

    Thanks for the warning!

    • October 26, 2011 8:33 pm

      Yeah, it’s true. Happened a long time ago, but always wanted to tell someone about it – it was just so bizarre. I think you zoned in here on a very good takeaway lesson from this story. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  2. October 26, 2011 9:02 am

    I met a few people like this at fancy fundraising functions that I used to volunteer at for a local non-profit. I think that is partly the reason I went into social work instead of business.

  3. October 26, 2011 9:21 am

    I cringe because I believe your story is all-too-true. I cringe because the temptations toward those behaviors are all-too-real. I know a young man, a faithful Christian, who nearly cost his employer a long-established contractor relationship because he called him out on his salty language. There is a temptation, sometimes,for believers to over-correct for those kinds of postures in the workplace and try on the fun-loving, foul-mouthed, hip and happening Christian stance. As always, the tension comes in trying to be in but not of; in trying to play ball with the big boys while pursuing faithfulness and demonstrating integrity–things you write about so well. Maybe I should start dropping your name 🙂

    • October 26, 2011 8:41 pm

      Very good observations, nancy. You can go ahead and drop my name any time. (I won’t be there to pick up after you, though.:)

  4. October 26, 2011 12:00 pm

    i don’t get your “point.”

    • October 26, 2011 8:47 pm

      Nance, I’m not sure if there is a point. I find that most readers make their own interpretations, whether I am trying to make a point or not. My intention was to write about something strange that happened, and let people draw their own conclusions, rather than teach some lesson. Sometimes it’s just a writing exercise for me, because I felt that it was a story that needed to be told. And i enjoyed writing it. (the point is in the writing, perhaps)

  5. October 26, 2011 5:41 pm

    The craziest thing about that to me is the personal assistant. If he could meet for lunch, you think he’d at least be able to pick up the phone.

    • October 26, 2011 8:48 pm

      To be honest, I was very annoyed by that personal assistant. Sounds like you would have been too!

  6. Susan DiMickele permalink
    October 26, 2011 10:08 pm

    I am laughing out loud. What an entertaining lunch. I know a few guys like Ray, and unfortunately they can give Christian execs a bad name. Sometimes, if I am really feeling brave (and insane) I’ll try to throw in a few zingers of my own into the conversation, just too see who is awake. Ugh – I really hate that name dropping for the sake of name dropping stuff.

    Ok, I admit — part of me really wants a male assistant! One of my clients has one, and he just seems so darn important.

  7. October 26, 2011 11:08 pm

    Ouch – this one hurt. How I wish this were not true – but I must say, it rings a lot of bells for me. Sigh. There was a guy like this in a church we were once a part of and it was so tough to deal with sometimes! Glad all you had to endure was a very strange lunch (and a couple of weird phone calls!)

  8. October 27, 2011 9:47 am

    This hits a core as I’ve had something (not quite as colorful) happen recently that I am struggling over.

  9. October 29, 2011 10:24 am

    I describe my first interview with my boss, who is the president of our company, as “the business equivalent of the best,first,date.ever.” Five years later, it’s still that good.

    When I underwent thumb surgery a few years ago and was working with my arm in a cast, she fetched coffee from our office kitchen for me before a meeting. Stunned me.

    Stories like this one, Bradley, remind me of how fortunate I am to work for her and amplify my appreciation of her.

  10. October 31, 2011 8:24 am

    I think I must be really jaded in this area because my first thought was “he’s been doing all that charity work to cover up for poor treatment of people”. That’s impossible to know for sure, but I wish I could say I hadn’t seen this before.

  11. November 1, 2011 3:32 am

    Reminds me of when I had a similar experience with the former head of a major Christian organization (similar to Intervarsity or Young Life). He wasn’t as “hip” or “progressive” as Ray but his old school arrogance was incredibly annoying. I know I shouldn’t be disappointed since we are all flawed, but I was thinking to myself, “I don’t believe I read his Bible study materials as a youth… so disappointing…”

  12. rexx permalink
    June 14, 2012 3:57 pm

    This guys is not a christian, he found an angle.

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