I was a ghost

But it wasn't a deathly experience

Issue: "Guns & Poses," April 13, 2002

An end of innocence? Many Christians have not believed in the existence of ghosts. Yet, they are everywhere. Perhaps Sunday school teachers should inform their charges that every time a cash register rings, a ghost gets a new job.

From 1978 through 1983 I led a ghostly existence at the headquarters of the Du Pont Company in Wilmington, Del. Oh, I did other things as well in the company's public-affairs department. Brought in rising young academics to meet with Du Pont managers so each could learn how the other half lived. Tried to choose the wine for a dinner involving the CEO and an influential senator. But mainly I was responsible for ghostwriting the remarks our CEO would make at that dinner, and many other speeches as well.

The job was irritating at times, but I am still grateful for the on-the-job education Du Pont gave me. Before 1978 I had never set foot in a corporate headquarters. Suddenly, at age 28, as the CEO's agent, I had the run of the place, and the opportunity to learn lots-good and bad-about big business, all while being well paid.

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Plus, Du Pont taught me to write. That's strange to say, since I had received a decent education at Yale, written for the Boston Globe, and obtained a Ph.D. But I was good enough to get by largely on the basis of first drafts, and thus never learned that 90 percent of writing is rewriting. Going through 10 drafts of a speech with the legal, biochemical, and textile fibers senior vice presidents looking over my shoulder taught lessons about precision in word choice and pacing for audience comprehension. (Lessons I often forget, of course.)

After a few years it was time to get out, if I were ever to do writing of my own. Leaving had a price, including a 50 percent reduction in salary and the end of a guaranteed audience eager to hear my words because a person in authority was saying them. But I did not leave because what I had done was wrong. Everyone knew that the top Du Pont executives, trained as chemists and busy running a company, did not write their own speeches. No deception, no foul.

Let's jump to the current question about heads of big Christian groups using ghosts (see page 7). The name of President Bush or a corporate president on a communication is well-known shorthand for saying, "I have final authority over this product so it represents my view, but it is a group effort." But that shorthand at many Christian ministries is a less-than-clear scribble, since their leaders tend to be articulate minister-types rather than chemists who fear that mixing words will create an explosion. A cynic trained on David Letterman would look at big ministries with organization charts like Du Pont's and assume that the same ghostwriting policies go on at both. But Christians aren't cynics; thank God for that.

We now have two choices: cynicism or disclosure. The latter is greatly preferable: Christian speakers, radio commentators, columnists, or book writers should work to ensure that listeners and readers aren't deceived. Some big ministry leaders involve themselves in the initial thinking-through of themes, but that does not make the ideas theirs; the group effort should be forthrightly acknowledged. In chapter 14 of Acts, when crowds at Lystra treat Paul and Barnabas as gods, Paul protests by insisting, "We also are men of like nature with you." A Christian CEO should not pretend to omniscience.

Executives should know about the care and feeding of ghosts. Like gremlins, ghosts should not be fed after midnight, but the wise executive will feed them well during the day by praising them publicly and establishing joint authorship arrangements. These arrangements should be in writing; it would be great if some person or organization could put together a code of executive/writer ethics that could become standard.

Writers also have obligations. Ghosting can be great experience, but it should be a step in the process of growing up, not a sinecure. Ghosts see and hear their words and ideas featured prominently because a prominent individual has hugged them. But eventually the ghosts need to leave that security and create their own homesteads, thriving or failing under their own names. When they do so, they should remember the days of their youth with pleasure and not bitterness, realizing that for a season they sold that which is theirs, but received much in return.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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