taking the words of Jesus seriously

Per their website, Hobby Lobby is committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”  Before offering my criticisms, let’s take a moment to respect that statement.  Their commitment is a worthy goal.

My criticism begins immediately with the question of “who” this goal belongs to.  And we thus instantly run into the myth of a Christian corporation.  Let’s put the notion of corporate personhood aside for the moment and just consider the first part of that phrase: Christian.

I happen to have attended a small, private university that identified itself as Christian.  It was, sometimes, like church.  It was also, sometimes, like a sore extension of youth group.  There were many comforts about being there.  Namely, it felt safe because it was Christian.

But sometime around my Junior year, it dawned on me that an institution simply cannot be Christian—the primary problem being that an institution is…an institution.  An institution, for example, is not capable of embodying and professing a personal faith.  An institution, furthermore, must act upon its interests and well-being as an institution, and this, I believe, will necessarily and inevitably conflict with Christian ideology at some point.  Nonetheless, given its churchlike qualities, the Christian university often did act as a “body” of Christ, in all of its loving, broken, and hypocrisy-filled ways.  (Which is to say that it mirrored us, the broken humans that make up the body of Christ.)

Related: The Christian Industrial Complex – by Shane Claiborne

My quibbles over the “Christian-ness” of an institution are less ambiguous, however, when it comes to a for-profit corporation.

A new narrative—indeed a needed narrative—has been emerging for some time now.  Aside from Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, and other contributors to this community, Pope Francis has given a global voice to the inherent evils of capitalism.  They have spoken to its impact on the poor who labor under oppressive conditions.  And they have spoken to the spiritual sickness created by the ballooning wealth accumulated by those at the top of the food chain.

Hobby Lobby is a part of this system.

Now before calling out the guilt-by-association fallacy, let’s just reconsider their mission statement.  What I would propose here is that if Hobby Lobby wants to run their corporation “in a manner consistent with biblical principles, ” a good place to begin is by addressing the aforementioned concerns with capitalism and the extent to which their business practices are either helping or hurting the poor.

I bring this up, not as a distraction to their case that is currently before the Supreme Court—a case that is arguing for their right for to be exempt from providing contraceptives they believe are abortifacient.  I rather bring this up because of their place in the national spotlight.  And in this place, Hobby Lobby stands fighting for “their” rights to enact their religious beliefs.  They stand, as these cases do, representing Christianity to the nation.

My case is that the “contraceptives issue” amounts to smoke and mirrors—a distraction.  It is the issue by which Hobby Lobby is attempting to argue that such a thing as a Christian corporation can exist.  But if we get so narrowly focused on this one particular issue—which boils down to a pro-life stance on contraceptives—as often happens, we will lose sight of the bigger picture.

We’ve done this before.  We, the American church, have focused so narrowly on issues like abortion and homosexuality that we’ve completely neglected issues that affect far more people on a global scale.

This is an opportunity to ask questions.

Hobby Lobby has spoken out on contraceptives.  But what about the ethical labor behind the products they sell?  Can Hobby Lobby ensure that all employees in their supply chain are paid fairly?  Can they affirm that no child labor or sweat shop labor is used in the making of their products?  Are their products environmentally sustainable?  Are they acting as good stewards of the earth?  Or are they rather adding to this planet’s landfill and pollution problems?

Related: A Theology of Capitalism,  Entrepreneurs vs. Money-Changers

And what might Hobby Lobby have to say about consumerism, in general?  What might they say to the fact they are selling non-essential household items to Christians in the world’s richest country?  Things, in other words, that people don’t need in a country that has enough food, while the rest of the world looks on.  What might Hobby Lobby have to say about the extent to which they are adding to our culture’s spiritual sickness—a culture that celebrates the “right” to consume and have a house filled with cheap goods manufactured from Lord-knows-where, while demanding that the poor pick themselves up by their non-existent bootstraps?

I support Hobby Lobby’s right to take their case to court, and to make arguments they’ve derived from their moral compass.  But let’s not pretend that this—whether we agree with their stance on contraceptives or not—is what makes them a “Christian corporation.”  We need to ask more of them, if this is what they claim to be.

I would maintain, however, that there is no such thing as a Christian corporation.

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