Monday, July 6, 2009

Christian Business

I was reading the paper* this morning and came across an interesting article detailing the growing number of Christian businesses. By this I mean, businesses based on a Christian philosophy - mostly the Golden Rule. The article exampled Christian Brothers Automotive, an $80 million company. Supposedly you would expect them to give you a fair deal. In fact, at one location a mechanic even stated he would pray with you if you felt the need. I was also surprised to see that Chick-fil-A is a Christian based company and, as such, are closed on Sunday. I am beginning to wonder how many more businesses claim this faith, but just don't have it stated in the name.

I am not sure how I feel about this. I certainly am not opposed to Christian businesses. There are many businesses under lots of different faith umbrellas. My main concern is that they live true to the golden rule value and don't discriminate in hiring or customer service. I also don't want to walk into their (or any other faith-based, non-church/synagogue/mosque, etc.) profit-based businesses and be evangelized. I think it is a fine line to be a profit based business and adhere to state and national regulations. It is ok to have a company value statement, it is not ok to use that statement to the exclusion of others or to the "skirting" of local laws.

I am curious, though, would you be more likely to frequent a business if you knew its owner's religious leanings? According to the article, because the above examples espouse to be Christian, they are hoping to tap into the large Christian market. Is it ok to use this for marketing? Is it ethical? What if they claimed to be Unitarian Universalist? Then would you be more likely?

*St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 6, 2009


Bill Baar said...

Isn't ethical investing and ethical consumption all about dealing with folks warranted to behalf in an ethical fashion?

Or when the plumber in my community makes a point of advertising they clean their trucks every day, the workers take of their shoes and put on clean slippers before coming into my house; they're warranting they'll do a professional job in return for a just compensation.

These are all signals about trust just complicated by today's complex world.

Diggitt said...

My experience (six decades as a UU) has been that when people say Christian, they don't mean us. In spades they don't mean us.

When people go out of their way to claim their Christianity -- and again, this may just be my own experience -- excluding non-Christians from their own charmed circle is only part of what they are doing. They are saying that non-Christian experience, or teaching or learning, or ethics or morals, is not only not the same as theirs but also is less worthy than theirs. Because if non-Christian anything is equivalent they would have no need to proclaim their Christianness. Why make an issue out of a difference if you don't mean to imply that your own is better?

I suppose that logically that does not need to follow, but in practice, that's generally what it means. Again, this is only my experience ... but I doubt that many people can come up with a "Christian" dry-cleaner or gas station or food store or law firm where the definition has no subtext of better.

David w/ CBA said...

Good day,

My name is David and I work for Christian Brothers Automotive at their Home Office in Houston, Texas. I am proud to say that we strive every day to run our repair shops with integrity as unto God. He is the judge of our actions daily and we want Him to be proud of us in each instance. I assure every one of you that if you need anything with your vehicle, the owner of your local Christian Brothers Automotive will treat you with respect, honor, and kindness as modeled by Jesus Christ. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and we purposefully strive to achieve that.

I hope you all have a terrific day and I'd be glad to answer any questions.



Bill Baar said...

My experience (six decades as a UU) has been that when people say Christian, they don't mean us.

As they shouldn't.

Volly said...

I'm wary of businesses that put the little fish emblem on their signs or promote their Christian ownership, for two reasons. First, speaking as a UU and former evangelical, "Christian" is shorthand (especially in the South) for a set of values quite opposed to my own. It shouldn't have to be that way, but it generally is.

The other cause for concern is that, especially with independent, Mom & Pop companies, there is often a tendency to actually offer substandard goods & services, or to overcharge, with the suggestion that profits are going toward something godly. A church, perhaps, or a charity, or even something more subtle, such as enabling the owner to send his kids to a private school and thereby shelter them from "the world." It's too easy to hide behind a buzzword. When confronted by such a proprietor, I am automatically skeptical and generally go elsewhere.

Chick Fil-A is something of an exception, at least from the customer's point of view. They do offer a pretty good product, the restaurants are well-run and the service is usually above average and friendly. I've never found their prices unreasonable. The only drawback to their closing on Sundays is that I have this annoying tendency to crave their food more on that one day than on any other. Purely psychological, of course! I think Truett Cathy (the founder of Chick Fil-A) would run the same type of operation even if he were an atheist. Perfectionism, competitiveness and a desire to serve the public appear to be part of his basic nature.

I would not, however, give a moment's thought to being an employee at Chick Fil-A. I suspect the Christian agenda would be felt much more strongly on that side of the counter. At one time, I seem to recall they were giving out little storybooks from a Focus on the Family affiliate, but that has most likely stopped since then.

Dana said...

I thought about this post for a long while—thank you for asking such a thought-provoking question.

I guess the thing that troubles me most is that by advertising that you (i.e., business owner) run a Christian business, you are asserting that you adhere to a certain set of principles. By labeling them as "Christian" principles, you are also excluding other groups that may, in fact, live by those principles without proclaiming them openly on their marquee or business cards. Every major religious tradition places importance on the very qualities that make Christian businesses "Christian."

I also feel uncomfortable patronizing institutions that declare their religious affiliation, as it seems beside the point unless it directly correlates to the business (a Kosher butcher, for example). There are Christian business owners who are crooks and atheist business owners who follow a strict moral code. A fish on the side of a truck or a cross on the front door doesn't make me trust them more, it makes me wary of why they are so insistent of advertising it in the first place.

Rebecca Hecking said...

What an interesting discussion! My thoughts are similar to those expressed here already. To overtly claim "Christian" is mostly an attempt to capitalize on an "us and them" mentality, and to appeal to other (usually very conservative) Christians. When I see such a label, I know that it's likely that a percentage of the profits directly supports very conservative Christian causes, which may be in opposition to my own beliefs, and act accordingly.

"Christian" is no guarantee of ethical. I've known of quite few "Christian" churches and businesses that have had scandals (financial and otherwise)every bit as bad as any secular business.

To my knowledge, there is no third-party certification that "Christian" businesses behave in a more ethical way than others. Perhaps if they were certified (sort of like fair-trade certified) I might take their claims of superiority more seriously.

Until then, I'll just take it for what it is... code for "us and them."

Bridgett said...

I'm not UU (catholic). I tend to avoid the little fish symbol businesses mostly because I think the proof is in the pudding. Either you're a good HVAC business or you're not. We tend to be more skeptical of the fish folks, but if they're good, we'll go there. I don't know if that's happened yet, though.

My husband is a computer consultant and had one company that was actively pushy with their Christian agenda, to him, to new employees, etc. In the end, the CEO was brought up on some sort of money-related charges (embezzlement? tax fraud? I can't recall). And the company's focus to begin with was kind of a scam...

On the other hand, I will buy from just about any Catholic monastery that exists--whether they're peddling soap or notecards or fudge--because I know where they stand. Perhaps if I were evangelical, I would be more excited about fish businesses.