Conventional Thinking: Christian businesses?
Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby and Domino’s Pizza are a few of the well-known businesses that have been in the news lately for taking a stand based on Christian principles.
Chick-fil-A found itself in a PR “food fight” of the largest scale when its Chief Operating Officer, Dan Cathy, upheld the biblical definition of marriage in a media interview. Protestors and supporters alike (though more supporters) made their views known by either withholding business or giving business to the quick-service restaurant.
Hobby Lobby and Domino’s each took a public stand against the Health and Human Services mandate, on the basis of religious liberty, requiring them to pay for abortion-inducing drugs. Both businesses experienced battles in the courts of law and public opinion since that time.
Recently in court, a “U.S. district court judge has halted enforcement of the HHS mandate against Domino’s Farms.” The judge said Domino’s “has shown that abiding by the mandate will substantially burden his exercise of religion. The Government has failed to satisfy its burden of showing that its actions were narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest.”
While Hobby Lobby’s court ruling was less fortunate, the corporation’s legal team appears to have found a temporary way to avoid the large fines from not providing the health coverage, estimated to be $1.3 million a day (See article on page 12).
When asked why Hobby Lobby takes such a stand, CEO and Founder David Green said, “We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate. We are Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles.”
So can a business be Christian? Many experts and pundits insist that, while churches and non-profits can operate under Christian principles, for-profit businesses cannot.
There is a fascinating parable of Jesus in Matt. 20. The vineyard owner pays the workers at the end of the day. Some are upset that those who worked only one hour were paid the same as those who worked all day. The business owner says, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” (Matt. 20:13-15).
The often-missed truth in this parable is this. The business is an extension of the owner’s values. If the business owners are Christian, how can we expect him to run the company any other way?
We sometimes hear the term “Christian-owned business.” The implication is that the business is owned and operated by Christians, and will therefore be guided by those principles.
To expect an owner to act differently than those principles, as was in the case of Chick-fil-A; or worse, to require it by law, as in the case of Hobby Lobby, is absurd. In fact, it is wrong. In America, we have a Constitutionally-protected right to religious liberty, and that includes business people, too.
“But this isn’t Sunday School, it’s business!” some object. They wish to keep Christianity limited to Sundays or personal preference. Religion is fine as long as it doesn’t interfere with the “real world.”
Writing 70 years ago from prison in Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer likewise grappled with this notion. He said, “As long as Christ and the world are conceived as two realms bumping against and repelling each other, we are left with only the following options. Giving up on reality as a whole, either we place ourselves in one of the two realms, wanting Christ without the world or the world without Christ—and in both cases we deceive ourselves. … There are not two realities, but only one, and that is God’s reality revealed in Christ in the reality of the world. The world has no reality of its own independent of God’s revelation in Christ.”
Throughout time, Christians have suffered in various ways for taking principled stands. It was true for Bonhoeffer, and it is true for our own day. Yet, we know to act contrary to His principles and face Him for that means something far worse than facing any public opinion or public official. After all, as Christians, we answer to a higher authority.