Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
A small company that prints the letters “WWJD” – a common acronym for the question “What would Jesus do?” – on its correspondence has been sued by the president of a competing company, who claims the reference is “abusive” and “harassing.”
Bullseye Collection Agency of Monticello, Minn., uses “WWJD” as a part of its business philosophy and motto, as a reminder to treat others respectfully in an industry often characterized with incivility.
But when Bullseye sent out a general collection letter with the “WWJD” imprint in the letterhead to consumer debtor Mark Neill – who happens to be the president of another, much larger collection company – and his wife, the Neills filed a federal lawsuit, claiming the motto violates the federal Debt Collection Practices Act.
Documents from the lawsuit claim Bullseye’s use of “WWJD” invokes shame or guilt in the letter’s recipient, portraying the debtor “as a sinner who is going to hell.”
“That claim is beyond ridiculous and absurd,” responded Harry Mihet, an attorney for Liberty Counsel, which is defending Bullseye in the suit, “because the collection letters do not contain any language even remotely resembling that claim.
“The only thing that the letters have is this four-letter acronym in upper right corner of the letterhead,” Mihet told WND. “They are otherwise a model in civility and respect, quite different from other letters you will find in this field.”
“The motto appears at the top of all the communications Bullseye sends out, not just the collection letters, but even communications that they send to their creditor clients,” Mihet said. “The reason they put it there is because they want the world to know that they have adopted for themselves a code of conduct that goes above and beyond any federal law requirements to be civil and polite to debtors. They treat debtors the way they would want to be treated and the way Jesus would treat them: with civility, respect and integrity, which is a breath of fresh air in this industry, where people have unfortunately come to expect quite the opposite.”
Bullseye’s website even creates a play on the acronym based on the owner’s name, John Twardy:
“Frequently someone will come into my office and explain a situation on an account and ask me what to do. They will say to each other, ‘WWJD – What would John do?’” the company website states. “The answer is always the same. Solve the problem instead of creating a new one.”
Nonetheless, the Neills contend that even the presence of “WWJD” on the letterhead constitutes an “abusive and unfair collection practice.”
Bullseye and Liberty Counsel, however, believe that the lawsuit brought against the Minnesota company may reflect an ulterior motive: a large company using an anti-Christian legal case to drown a smaller competitor in legal fees.
Mihet told WND that Bullseye employs only a small staff of mothers and grandmothers, some working only part-time. Defending itself from the lawsuit cost Bullseye significant legal fees prior to receiving assistance from Liberty Counsel, so much that it was forced to cut its pay budget.
Bullseye, therefore, has filed a counterclaim for abuse of process and civil conspiracy against the Neills and their much larger collection company, Bureau of Collection Recovery.
“Competitor businesses may not use the courts to crush their competition and press their intolerance of Christian viewpoints,” Mihet explained in a statement. “The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act forbids only religious slurs and insults, but does not prohibit courteous references to people of historical, philosophical or religious significance. Courts cannot be used to legitimize religious harassment. The big business bully thought it could crush its competition by pouncing on it with a lawsuit. Liberty Counsel will not permit that to happen.”