On Feb. 23, Family Christian Stores is closing after declaring bankruptcy for the second time. Evidently, this time it’s for good. Unlike the first go round, which was largely a reorganization, this is a liquidation, with the proceeds for the sale of the property and merchandise to be sent back to the creditors.
What’s tragic here is that another brick and mortar outlet for Christian-based merchandise has left the scene. Yet, I don’t think anyone can look at the circumstances of the demise of FCS and say they are surprised. I’m not.
A little over 18 months ago, I read a blog post from Steve Laube that gave some of the salient details on the brief dive and quick departure from the bankruptcy pool. I’m going to list them here for reference.
- Stores will stay open
- Trade creditors will get 5% of what they are owed plus 100% for all of the sales made within 20 days of the bankruptcy filing.
- Owners of consignment inventory will get paid for a percentage of their inventory, somewhere between 10-35%, depending on circumstances.
- The main secured creditor will get paid 100%.
- Another secured creditor will take a large write-off.
Somewhere in the minutiae of the details was the fact that my royalty check from Bethany House (for my fantasy novels such as A Cast of Stones, The Hero’s Lot, and A Draw of Kings) would be smaller because of the bankruptcy. I’m not sure how much, but my best estimate in somewhere in the four-figure range. No, my world didn’t end, but I did work hard for that money, and like a lot of people, I felt cheated.
Surely, business is risk. I understand that. I think most people do. Surely, I didn’t expect to be immune to the pitfalls and misfortunes that come with the publishing industry. Oh my, no. You can’t get into a reasonable discussion with anyone in the publishing industry without getting at least a sense that it’s going through some serious growth pains.
Why did I feel taken advantage of?
In the end, I think it had to do with two factors. First, back in 2015, someone had decided that their economic survival depended on my financial sacrifice. Well, no one bothered to ask me for my sacrifice. They just took it. I read lots of comments on the inter-sphere talking about how this would help FCS emerge stronger and leaner and better able to serve their market.
I didn’t believe it for a moment. After delving through the details, I got the impression the reorganization was basically a ham-fisted grab for merchandise to try to artificially inflate the balance sheet. I remember commenting at the time that I’d thought FCS had poisoned the well with the way they’d conducted themselves.
Imagine you’re one of the companies who had to settle for five cents on the dollar for what you’re owed. Would you supply that company with any more of your precious product without full payment up front? I wouldn’t. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m a little sharper than a bowling ball.
And this brings me to the second point of what bothered me so much about the FCS reorganization: It was the fact that all the while, the parties involved kept spouting the usual Christian platitudes, even while they were forcing other companies to pay the price for their mistakes.
What does it mean to be a Christian business?
No, that’s not a trick question. I suppose it’s a sad commentary that we’re at the point where we have to define terms, but I think it will help. I say this because I think a lot of the time, we use that term in different ways. Since I’m a science nerd, I thought a Punnett square would be helpful. If you don’t know what that is, here is the definition, courtesy of www.dictionary.com.
Punnett square – noun: in genetics, a type of grid used to show the gametes of each parent and their possible offspring; a type of grid that can indicate all the possible outcomes of a genetic cross; also called checkerboard.
(Sells Christian merchandise)
(Does not sell Christian merchandise)
BM Bm b
(Doesn’t act Christian)
So, ask you can see, there are four distinct possibilities here. I’m probably like a lot of people. When the “Christian” appears in the title or description of the business, I immediately go to the upper left of the matrix and assume that the Merchandise and the Behavior or both will be Christian. If this doesn’t happen, I’m disappointed, often bitterly so.
I’m pretty sure this has to do with expectations. For example, most of the time I encounter a true example of the upper right corner of the matrix, the Bm square, I’m impressed. I recommend that business to other people, usually because it’s such a pleasant surprise. Chick-fil-A comes to mind as an example. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read stories of how store owners have helped people in trouble by bringing them free food from the store. The merchandise isn’t Christian. Far from it. For crying out loud, it’s a chicken.
That brings us to the final two squares. Like most people, I’ll avoid the lower right corner like the plague unless there’s just no other option. But as a point of clarification, usually what I mean by the “bm” label is a business that takes my money while they’re treating me like dirt. Sorry, I won’t be back. Good luck and hope you get a clue.
The real problem is the lower left corner of the matrix, the dreaded “bM.” I’d like to say they don’t exist, but the truth is, they can’t help but exist. Church history is rife with people who saw the power and popularity of the gospel as the way to make a buck. To assume that these people and business don’t exist is worse than naïve, it’s intentional stupidity.
Did FCS fall into this category? I think so. To be clear here, I’m not judging their hearts or motive, but their actions. With the help of the bankruptcy judge, they confiscated what wasn’t theirs and kept it. They refused to pay their debt.
This begs “The Big Question.” How should a business then act?
I would hope it would be a “BM” all the time every time, but that expectation is unreasonable. In the end, a business is like a church. It might be filled with Christian, well-meaning people, but sooner or later they’re going to make mistakes. Forgiveness is really the only path left to us. I could wish that FCS had been “BM” the whole way. I think it would have been a better witness than to forestall the inevitable by eighteen months.
But they didn’t. Now, just as it was then, it’s up to the rest of us. Don’t gloss over the wrong, but offer compassion and forgiveness. That’s not the way most people would act and that’s precisely why we need to do it. As always, the most important gift we have to offer the world is our witness. People are watching. They’re always watching.