In defense of Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby co-founders David and Barbara Green (Hobby Lobby via AP) The original copy of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in Hands … Continued


Hobby Lobby co-founders David and Barbara Green (Hobby Lobby via AP)

The original copy of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in Hands of Angry God” prompted me to wonder how this “Enfield sermon” would be received today. This simple homily scratched on little paper squares riveted a Connecticut community in 1741 and reaches through history to the present. In that same secure room in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library were various other sermons, and research has shown their inextricable link to our nation’s founding.

The “Sinners” sermon was but one of around 7,000 that the average churchgoer would have heard during their lifetime in New England. Harry Stout, the Yale professor and leading Edwards’ expert, argues that sermons were the fulcrum of New England’s history, and their messages were biblical, not merely based on the ministers’ wisdom.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that the Jonathan Edwards Center is in New Haven, the “new refuge” where Yale was established to counter the liberal voices at Harvard. The trove of sermons is in New Haven, a city built on the nine-square model from scripture and where Edwards attended at age 13.

Jonathan Edwards took the Bible as truth, and patterned his entire life around its message. As Stout’s robust research shows, for 140 years New England’s social and civil arenas were clearly governed on scriptural principles.

Today, in Denver’s Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, we’ve come across another Edwards of sorts in David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby, for whom personal success remains secondary to traditional biblical teachings. He’s already on a pace to give away much of his wealth, and he and his wife, Barbara, signed the Giving Pledge in 2010. He seeks no attention, and loves helping people.

I was in his Oklahoma City office the day the press first released news about his lawsuit against the Obama administration for its new policy requiring coverage of “birth control.” Besides the rapid fire ding of incoming emails, David was business as usual intensely engaged in helping to run the company. We paused in the modest hallway in the 5.5 million square-foot Hobby Lobby complex and reflected on the case. Before walking away I asked him how I could pray for him and his family.

Leaning against the door frame, he softly replied, “Pray that we know the path to follow, and have the courage to follow it.” As I started to walk away he said with the mild unpretentious confidence, “And Jerry, we know the path.”

Like Jonathan Edwards’ warning to his Connecticut audience, David’s resolution was clear that regardless of what was ahead his life and business are in God’s hands. And that he plans to stay far from the slippery rocks Edwards’ warned of while preaching on Deuteronomy 32:35, “and in due time their foot shall slip.”

I am also aware of the Green family’s commitment to gift a few hundred million dollars to a project that helps to tell the Bible’s history, story, and impact on world civilization. Last summer they purchased a major building in Washington for an interactive museum (around 1 million square feet), and to do this in addition to the very successful Passages exhibit now in Colorado Springs, and the Verbum Domini exhibit that was at the Vatican. The family is also hoping to send special exhibits to Cuba, Seoul and Israel and a return trip to the Vatican (all at their expense).

These exhibits represent a book that has changed history, from the Ancient Near East through Enfield, Northampton and communities worldwide. It’s also the book that underpins his family’s business and his personal life. Steve Green, Hobby Lobby president, shared on behalf of his family, “We believe that all Americans deserve the right to live and do business according to their beliefs, so we are fighting for our religious freedom. We are very encouraged that we have been granted a full court hearing with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals today (May 23rd), and we look forward to a favorable outcome. We ask for prayers of support as we take this important step in defending our religious freedom.”

Running the business on biblical principles has been a consistent feature with Hobby Lobby, from its high ethics to paying all full-time hourly employees at over 500 stores a minimum of $14 per hour, which is 90 percent higher than the required minimum wage. They remain closed on Sundays and keep work days short to honor family time and needs.

A contagious humility permeates their family. A few times I’ve left a meeting or dinner outing with the family for engagements at colleges in other states, only to learn while on those campuses that the Greens had donated a building or helped in a tremendous way and they had never mentioned it. David Green wrote in his open letter, “Hobby Lobby has always been a tool for the Lord’s work. For me and my family, charity equals ministry, which equals the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Jonathan Edwards lived his life and organized a community around biblical principles. The church remained the central organization and the word from the pulpit was indeed the word for the community. David Green and his family still believe this, and have lived accordingly for decades. They are in court not because their business is successful, but scriptural.

Jerry Pattengale is executive director of Green Scholars Initiative and assistant provost at Indiana Wesleyan University. He also holds distinguished appointments at Tyndale House, Cambridge, Baylor University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and the Sagamore Institute. He serves on the board for the Religion News Service and as associate publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review.

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  • SODDI

    I won’t shop there. They are overpriced and the products they carry are substandard. They are to a real art supply store like Pearl Paint what a McDonalds is to a cordon bleu restauraunt.

    And their “beliefs” are vile.

  • dean-the-Less

    What are your beliefs? Dean-the-Less
    Perhaps the entire internet audience would like to ridicule!

  • globalone

    I’m guessing they’ll survive your decision.

  • Letsberational

    Imagine what those “few hundred million dollars” could do if directed towards food banks, job skills classes, or homeless shelters.

  • practica1

    Why don’t we just stop privileging religious speech and practices over civic values? It’s all make-believe, and interferes with rational choices about how to treat people well while they are alive on this planet/

  • jarandeh

    Ah yes, ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’.

    “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire”

    A despicable speech meant to bring people low, to terrify and control them.

  • wenharas1

    I think it’s wonderful that they pay their employees a good wage and are respectful of scheduling needs. It’s lovely that they donate money to projects they feel are worthwhile. But while these actions may be informed by the owners’ religious beliefs, Hobby Lobby is not a religious entity. It isn’t a religious school, it isn’t a church, it isn’t a religious charity – it sells fabric and craft supplies. That is why they are required to play by the same rules as other secular businesses.

  • jarandeh

    ^^ It’s just so simple, isn’t it?

  • jarandeh

    ” . . . flee to the succor of grace and mercy provided by that same God.”

    So crawl on our bellies in abject self-loathing toward a being who is perfectly willing to torture us for eternity?

    It astounds me that Christians consider this sort of sadism to be “perfectly just” and “perfectly merciful”.

  • OneBentDude

    Yet another reason to decouple the relationship between health insurance coverage and a persons employer. The biases of my employer, whether conservative or liberal, should have nothing to do with my health insurance.

    If U.S. employees were not dependent on their employers for access to ‘relatively’ affordable health care, then David Green’s argument might make some sense. The fact is that employees are dependent on employers for their health care. If i were to work for David Green, and were to choose NOT to avail myself of the health care offered by his company, I would be foregoing the significant contribution of Hobby Lobby to my health insurance costs. My health insurance costs would be significantly higher because of this, and also because as an individual policy holder, I would not be able to avail myself of the volume policy discounts available to large companies.

    Until the tax breaks and/or tax credits go to the employee instead of the employer, and the relationship between affordability of health insurance becomes decoupled from the specific company for which a person works, Mr. Green’s argument will fall flat. He is getting a tax break for paying part of employee health insurance. It’s not his business what that insurance covers. it’s his employees’ business.

  • jbfromca

    Not to mention many people from the churches and universities they have given to will in turn be inspired to give to such charities and inspire others. I have seen it first hand.

  • Joel Hardman

    The Supreme Court has recognized many times that the religious cannot ignore laws of general applicability.

    I don’t think anyone is claiming that employees have a constitutional right to get contraceptives through employer sponsored health plans. That’s a statutory right.

    If the government were trying to force religious people to take contraceptives, I think that would be a violation of the individual right you describe.

  • nkri401

    Thre are two kinds of people – sanctimonious and obsequios – they tend to compliment each other.

    Try to avoid either one…

  • Counterww

    Soddi thinks that people who believe in God are vile. His anti religious fervor shows in each post. Irrationality at its utmost.

  • Mrs-Weasley

    It is this angry, spiteful, mean, controlling picture of a so-called loving god that
    convinced me to leave the church – there was nothing there that was either comforting nor nurturing to my spirit. It was spite, anger, and the desire to completely control (in a negative sense) that convinced me that this god was nothing more than a man created mythos to keep everyone in line – especially women.

    The constant harping on the DON’Ts rather than love and peace – the admonitions to OBEY blindly and without question the dictats of the church leadership and the requirement to merely accept and believe without question were insults to my intelligence – personal growth and knowledge arise out of questioning and seeking answers not out of being handed a set of answers and being told to shut up and do what you are told and believe what we tell you, Unquestioning, blind faith ignores the quest for understanding. It teaches ignorance, intolerance, self-satisfaction, and the reliance on outside things to keep you “in line”.

    There is no ONE TRUE PATH – there are many paths and each of us much choose our path for ourselves – following the dictats of another will create nothing in us but fear and self-loathing – neither of which are conducive to maturity of character.

    Just because that is the way it is always done is not an excuse to make changes.

    Faith in something requires doubt, questioning, seeking and growing in knowledge not blindness and rote responses to life’s circumstances.