The Bible and Bartertown: The Ethics of the Yarbrough & Sons Case
“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless…For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 3:8-13
By now, readers of the Pulpit & Pen should be familiar with the case of Yarbrough & Sons, a family-owned heating and air conditioning company in Blanchard, Oklahoma. During the course of its business operations, Yarbrough bid out the HVAC work for a local medical clinic; after winning the bid, Yarbrough contracted to complete the HVAC work. In late March, after it had completed 80% of the contracted work for the medical clinic, Yarbrough discovered that one of the services the medical clinic planned to provide was abortion. To Christians, this detail is controversial in and of itself, given that abortion is the unjustified taking of an innocent life. However, this detail is especially relevant because the proprietor of Yarbrough & Sons, Darren Yarbrough, is a deacon at First Baptist Church of Blanchard, a Southern Baptist congregation which, according to its statement of faith, believes “At the moment of conception a new being enters the universe, a human being created in God’s own image. This human being deserves our protection, whatever the circumstances of conception.” Despite his church’s stance against abortion, Darren Yarbrough has chosen to continue his company’s work on the medical clinic…on the abortion clinic. Darren Yarbrough’s son released the following statement from the company:
“My dad has been in contact with our pastor and many mentors over the last couple of days. After much thought, prayer, and mentorship we have decided to complete the job because we are contractually bound and know that a breach of contract is illegal.”
This choice is unfortunate because it is one that contradicts a Christian ethic. Adding to the moral tragedy is the fact that this choice was made after consultation with Darren Yarbrough’s pastor and mentor. Has God really created a world in which a Christian (in this case, Yarbrough) is morally obligated to help construct an abortion clinic? Darren Yarbrough, a deacon at a baptist church, seems to think so (based on advice from his own pastor, no less). The simple fact of the matter is that God has not created a world in which a Christian is morally obligated to help construct an abortion clinic. There are lessons to be learned from the Yarbrough Case for Christians everywhere; these lessons should be put into practice, lest Christians should repeat Yarbrough’s mistake in their own lives.
Bust a Deal, Face the Wheel
One of the most popular action movie series of the past three decades is the Mad Max franchise. The titular character and protagonist of the series, an Australian police officer named Max Rockatansky, is a police officer who has watched his society crumble in the wake of a nuclear war. Throughout the franchise, Max struggles to survive in an Australia that has essentially become a barren wasteland. Even in Max’s post-apocalyptic wasteland, some form of the rule of law prevails – contracts and deals are respected among the scattered populace. The importance of respecting contracts is a theme featured in both Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome. In the latter film, Max finds himself the victim of thievery and in desperate need of resupply. He happens upon a commerce-based society named “Bartertown.” The ruler of that society, Aunty Entity, is embroiled in a power struggle with a diminutive engineer named Master who supplies Bartertown’s energy needs. Master is protected by an imposing warrior named Blaster, who conceals his face in a large metal helmet and obeys Master’s orders unquestioningly. Seeking to eliminate Master’s protector, Aunty Entity cuts a deal with Max. If Max can kill Blaster in single combat, thus giving her control of Bartertown, then she will resupply Max with everything he needs to survive. Max accepts the deal and challenges Blaster to a gladiatorial fight to the death in Thunderdome, the only venue in Bartertown in which such fighting is allowed. After a vicious struggle, Max gains the upper hand on the much larger and more powerful blaster. Knocking Blaster’s helmet off, Max prepares to strike him with a death blow. However, upon seeing Blaster’s face, he ceases fighting and refuses to kill Blaster.
Max learns that Blaster is mentally retarded, a man with the mind of a child. He exclaims to Aunty Entity loudly, “This wasn’t part of the deal!” Despite having entered into a contract, Max recognizes that there is an overriding moral principle at hand. Had he known that he was being asked to essentially kill a child, he would have not entered into the contract. Max breaks the contract and refuses to kill Blaster. The law of Bartertown requires Max to face the consequences for doing so. He must spin a wheel that specifies various punishments for “busting a deal.” Max’s punishment is exile in the barren wasteland. The is an almost certain death sentence, the penalty for busting a deal and refusing to participate in the killing of a child. As Max rides off into the desert, the watching audience of the movie isn’t expected to sneer at a deal breaker. Rather, the audience is expected to respect the movie’s hero for taking the obvious moral high road. The audience, even a general one that includes lost people, can intuitively deduce what is right in the situation.
A contractual obligation does not make one morally obligated to participate in an evil such as killing a child. Such is obvious to the watching audience of a Mad Max film. Sadly, such is not obvious the ownership and management of Yabrough & Sons. In the Thunderdome, Mad Max was 80% finished with his contract but took the moral high ground when the full scope of his work came to light. It seems a fictional character in post-apocalyptic Australia has a truer moral compass than a real life Baptist deacon in Oklahoma.
Tort Law and Joshua
The book of Joshua presents a somewhat similar cautionary tale. Joshua Chapter 9 tells the story of the treachery of the Gibeonites and the failure of Joshua to seek the Lord’s counsel before entering into a covenant. Knowing that Joshua will, under orders from God, certainly destroy them in his conquest of the Promised Land, the Gibeonites, who are residents of the Promised Land, pretend to be travelers from a far country and approach the men of Israel. They make a peace treaty with Joshua, who upon finding out that he has been tricked, is forced to keep his word that he will not destroy the Gibeonites. He has no other alternative given that he made a “promise before the Lord” not to kill them. Had Joshua known all the details of the Gibeonites situation before making the deal, he surely would have destroyed them.
Darren Yarbrough seems to think he is in a similar situation as Joshua, that he must adhere the terms of his contract. Like Joshua (and Max Max), Yarbrough did not know all the relevant details when he entered into his deal. A public statement from Yarbrough & Sons indicates as much:
“Such actions would also be dishonoring to our code of conduct and what we believe in. If we had known the women’s clinic also provided services that go against the convictions of the owners and the many men & women within the company, then we simply would not have bid the job and moved on.”
Unlike Joshua, however, Yarbrough and the abortion clinic to which he is contractually obligated have legal recourse. In the American system of law, those who violate the terms of a commercial contract, such as failure to complete a job at all or on time, are subject to commonly understood civil (not criminal) penalties (which are often stated in the contract itself). Thus, Darren Yarbrough is not morally obligated to keep a contract to help construct an abortion facility. (It’s not “illegal” to break the contract.) Rather he is on the hook for whatever financial penalty the courts levy against him for failure to complete. Yet, instead of facing potential fines and damage to his valuable business reputation, Yarbrough has chosen to continue to help construct an abortion facility. Yarbrough knows it is wrong (as the company’s statement implies) to help build and abortion clinic, but he is doing so anyway.
Christians looking on need to ask themselves how they can avoid getting into situations like the Yarbrough Case and check their own moral compasses. If the time comes in your life, even if through sheer bad luck, to choose between God and (lots of) money & a ding to your business reputation, what will you do? God has not created a world in which you are forced to do evil; don’t make the wrong choice.
[Contributed by: Seth Dunn, host of The Christian Commute]
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.