Category Archives: Economy

Must American Businesses Convert or Die?

Hobby LobbyJesus said: What are you people like? What kind of people are you? You are like children sitting in the market and shouting to each other, “We played the flute, but you would not dance! We sang a funeral song, but you would not cry!” (Luke 7:31)

I visited Hobby Lobby for the first time last month. The store was clean and well organized; staff was friendly and helpful; the store had a great selection of crafty products at reasonable prices. The only indication that this business was on the margin of acceptability was the occasional Christian melody I heard playing while browsing, and the ample selection of religious items for sale.

Of course that in itself is not a problem. After all, religious people are a significant share of the market so to cater to them makes good retail sense. Their money is as good as the next guy’s.

The problem is the products and the music aren’t just about marketing and the bottom line—that would be perfectly OK—rather, they are a reflection of the deeply held beliefs of the employer. Moreover, those beliefs inform the decisions of the corporation, and in the case of Hobby Lobby, that means that the owners believe human life, even at the cellular level, is sacred and must be protected. Hence, when it came to their attention that a handful of the contraceptives to be provided by their company were abortifacients, their conscience kicked in and they demurred, refusing to provide those drugs. Not all contraceptives, mind you, but those drugs which terminated a pregnancy.

Heresy! That a company would not provide all contraceptives, regardless of their nature, to their employees proved to some an unacceptable threat to liberty. What followed was the Supreme Court challenge, Burwell (formerly Sebelius) vs. Hobby Lobby. The outcome of that landmark case was to uphold the right of a company to make corporate decisions based on the personally held religious beliefs of the owners.

Notice what was at stake here. The court was deciding whether a business owner could be allowed to make decisions consistent with his/her religious worldview and still remain in business. It was deciding whether Hobby Lobby should be required to change its point of view and modify its creed—convert or die. In this case the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation such as Hobby Lobby could still participate in the free market.

Other businesses have not been so lucky.

Hide Out in the Pews

Consider the case of Cynthia and Robert Gifford who own a farm in New York. As part of their business they use their property for a variety of gatherings—pumpkin patch, corn maze, birthday parties; a rather impressive selection of family activities. They also have been a popular venue for weddings and receptions. And therein lies the problem: As Christians they feel strongly that a marriage ceremony reflects a covenant before God and that marriage is between a man and a woman. Therefore, they did not feel they could provide the venue for a same-sex wedding. That got them in trouble with the State of New York when a lesbian couple complained that they were denied services at the Gifford’s “Liberty Ridge Farm.”

It may be important to note that the Giffords were willing to host the reception even though they declined to host the ceremony. That surprised me. It seemed to me that both events would have been problematic, but that was their choice. Either way, they wound up in court and came out of the courtroom with a $13,000.00 fine and a decision to make. Would the fine serve to rehabilitate them and change their behavior? Would they modify their convictions as a cost of doing business? According to reports, they chose instead to modify their business. In the future they will not host wedding ceremonies on their property.* That will result in a significant loss in revenue, but it should prevent any future conflicts of conscience and keep them out of hot water with the state.

Predictably there were shouts of outrage from Christian and conservative circles—an attack on the first amendment, they cried. An affront to religious liberty! There were those who differed, though. Consider this comment posted to a report at the Religious News Service web site:

[Liberty Ridge Farm is] not a church and it is open for business to the general public. The state’s anti-discrimination laws are pretty clear on the subject…If you want to be able to discriminate on services provided to the public, declare yourself a church or do not advertise openly…Religious freedom does not give you the right to discriminate in open commerce. Such discrimination is committing a willful harmful act against another. Free Exercise of religion has never ever allowed such a thing.

The message is clear. If you have religious convictions, you should not be able to keep them and remain business. You’ve a right to your beliefs as long as you don’t intend to live consistently with them in the world of commerce. You need to be willing to compartmentalize your faith and surrender to the state. It’s the law. Otherwise, you should retreat to your church, keep quiet and make a living some other way…if you can.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that persons of sincere and unyielding faith must be driven from the marketplace. They must take the mark or be forbidden to buy or sell.

So, am I saying meanness, rancor and hostility are appropriate reactions toward consumers with whom we disagree? Am I proposing a license to slam the door or pontificate in the face of someone who requests services that impinge upon our conscience? Absolutely not. To kindly refer a customer to a competitor who does not have the same compunctions we have is appropriate and respectful. Only know that a customer whose business we decline may well circulate a bad review among friends and across the internet or, as was the case in New York, take us to court.

And if that happens, what should be our response? To arms! Take up your swords and charge once again into the culture wars? Christians, write your congressperson! Circulate a petition! Demand your rights!

No. It has always been too late for that.

These are the days of counting the cost. We live in times that force us to consider what we can and cannot do as a matter of conscience, and having discerned the course we must follow, live accordingly. If the demands of faithfulness and conscience call us to defend ourselves before the courts then make a defense, and if in the end our business must convert or die, then die it must.

*At this writing, the web site of Liberty Ridge Farm lists weddings and receptions as part of their line of services. It is unclear when (or if) that will be updated.

Warning: Forcefields

ForcefieldsRecently, I became aware of research being done on the effects of radio waves on migratory birds. The results seem to indicate that certain frequencies have the potential to disoreient our feathered friends so they can’t find their way to wherever it is they are going. In the research, AM radio waves were among the culprits — yet another reason to listen to FM, I guess.

Forcefield Ahead Continue reading Warning: Forcefields

Spend or Invest?

Are you a spender or a saver?  Do you look for a bargain or ‘always buy the best’?  We seldom consider how our financial choices reflect the kingdom that we most identify with.

Many years ago, Theo Johnson (who was our dentist at the time) was at his monthly professional meeting.  As he and his peers sat chatting over lunch, they began to discuss their various investment portfolios.  One shared that his money was in the stock market, another was invested in a variety of properties, another krugerrands.  Some looked over at Theo, who had remained quiet, pondering their question. “Theo, what are you investing in?”  His answer has had an eternal impact on my life.  Theo responded with just one word–”people”. Continue reading Spend or Invest?

Birthing an “inspired thought”

QuestionWhen I started the process of studying the economy of

the kingdom vs. the economy of the world, my intention was to address what I considered ‘foundational’ topics first.  In doing so, I started off with “The Nature of the Two Kingdoms”.  We are so used to navigating only what we see with our natural eyes, what our senses can see, smell, taste or touch, that we have paid little attention to the systems and structures overseen by the prince of darkness.  In that first study, when I asked, “What is the difference between the kingdom and the church”, I found out how little thought we have ever given to the topic of KINGDOM.  We have shared the gospel of salvation and invited people to come to church, but know little about the gospel of the Kingdom, where Jesus invites us to partner with Him to go to the world.  After that first ‘ground-breaking’ study, I began to look at  God as Creator–where He establishes His ownership, and then at God as Provider–where He establishes His nature and character.  In both Old and New Testaments, we watch the lessons of provision unfold.  Lessons are continually a part of God’s nature and character as both Father and Provider.

Exodus 16:1-4

Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt.  And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  And the sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we say by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction.”

When we consider the pattern of God continually ‘testing’ us concerning provision–don’t interpret that to mean that He will always proceed provision with ‘lack’, in order to see if we are as ‘grumbly’ as Israel was.  God doesn’t test for the purpose of failing us, but to tutor us into the ways of His Kingdom.  We have lived so long in the same manner that the world lives, that often, our faith has become corrupted. I believe I have picked up on one of His ways through a story I read last Sunday in the newspaper.  There was a story of a young woman who had gone to Uganda and saw the plight of young women trying to get an education in that country.  She came home with a heart commitment to make sure at least a few of these women received the needed funding.  Instead of raising funds/money from friends, she came up with an “inspired idea” for starting a business that made a unique sandal.  Martha Stewart saw this “idea” and featured it in one of her catalogues, and success multiplied overnight. I don’t know if this particular story concerns a Christian seeing a need and then meeting that need through an “inspired thought”, but it should certainly be a lesson for us concerning His ways.  Jacob claimed to have an “inspired thought” (Genesis 31:1-13) and God used this for a transfer of wealth from Laban to Jacob.  We see Joseph given an “inspired thought”–and provision is secured for the known world.

As you look in your corner of the world, perhaps there is a level of provision that you have yet to see.  It is not coming as money, but as a “seed”–an inspired thought.  Pay attention, and see what the Lord might accomplish.

The church in the mirror

A friend just sent me a link to a BBC article. It’s below (Thanks, Shannan … I think). 

I was aware that the Occupy movement was global, I just wasn’t paying much attention to that part. Anyhow, Jesus people need to be thoughtful about stuff like this, I think. 

The article highlights something that I’ve been concerned about — I blogged about it before. In times of economic stress, the continental drift between the wealthy and the poor can continue only so long. There can come a tipping point where revolution becomes inevitable. Once again I ask, if that happens, with whom will followers of Jesus be perceived to stand? Will they be seen as part of the establishment or as advocates for the poor? As the article points out, the question has been asked many times before. The debate occurs when “the church”  becomes establishment (read system) instead of just people; becomes an organization instead of an organism; an institution instead of a body. Moreover, it occurs when that which is perceived to be “church” swaps zeal and sacrifice for wealth, power and political influence, the ingredients of mammon. Eventually, “the church” looks at herself in the mirror and experiences a crisis of identity and a resurrection of conscience. The iconoclast becomes the voice of faith.

Links referenced in this post:

The article that inspired this missive.
That previous blog post.

Giving off the books?

I just noticed this in the Christian Post:

Tithing Hits Record Low – Churches Spend More to Make Congregants Happy

It has been true for long time that the giving of most churches in the US goes for staff costs and building maintenance. Now, put that reality next to the very low percentage of income that is actually being given, and we have to wonder about the state of the Christian virtue of generosity. Here’s another snip from the report:

In a report, titled “The State of Church Giving Through 2009,” released Friday by Empty Tomb inc., a Christian service and research organization, authors found that “benevolences” – or funds used for giving outside the church including giving to charities and seminary training – hit new lows compared to their first report in 1968.

May I wonder out loud a bit? First, are the figures based on what is given to the religious organization we call “church?” Note what I am saying here: In my mind there is a difference between the system or organization we often call “church” and the Church, which is an organic expression — the Body of Christ, which is people. What if Christ-followers are giving “off the books,” if you understand my meaning. Is part of the issue that givers are bypassing the local organization and giving directly to where they see needs. I know Jody and I give very little to local congregations; we give more directly to people whose ministry we know. Furthermore, we have benefited from the generosity of others who do the same. Who tracks that kind of generosity? Some of that is not even claimed as a deduction.

I don’t doubt that giving is low. I do wonder, though, if some of the scarcity seen by local churches is partially a reflection of givers following their heart in their giving rather than assigning the responsibility to the board of trustees.

When I discuss tithing, and the broader principle of extravagant generosity, I make it clear no organization has the prior claim on your money. God has the prior claim. Where He directs your giving is where you are to give, and it may not be to anywhere that is keeping track. Seems like Jesus would be OK with that ( Matthew 6:3-4 ).

Here’s the link to the article in CP.