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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.