Gospel on the Sly

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Our golden lab, Starbuck, was a great dog, but adventurous. Every squirrel needed to be chased, every hole in the ground held a mystery, and every fence needed to be jumped.

One of those fences was just a little too tall and he opened up a festering wound on his front side. Two pills a day for five days and the infection would be gone, the vet told us.

The problem was giving him the pill. Starbuck would hold it in his throat, and then unceremoniously deposit it on the rug a few minutes later.

So we decided to wrap the pill up in a piece of bacon, which was his favorite taste of all time. It worked. He gulped down the swine-wrapped pill and after a few days and a pound of bacon, the infection was healed.

Sneaking in the gospel

Our little trick with Starbuck reminds me of how some companies with Christian-based values are trying to sneak the gospel message in with their products.

Take Forever 21. The fast-growing company offers low-cost, “fast-fashion” clothing and an unspoken cool. Go to any mall where they have a presence and you’ll see their bright yellow bags hanging on the arms of teenage girls. But what you might also notice discreetly printed on the bottom of those bags is the Christian’s favorite bible verse of promise and hope: “John 3:16.” No text. Just the reference.

Most teenage girls will never notice the verse as they slip the skimpy clothes out of the box and onto their frames.

According to the company, the inscription is “a demonstration of the owners' faith."

The owners of the privately-held company, Don and Jin Sook Chang, are committed Christians. The couple emigrated from Korea in 1981 and built an empire using hard work, thrift and a sense for fashion. They now have sales of $1.7 billion, with 450 stores around the world, including a 90,000 square foot mega-store on Times Square. And many of their goods are actually manufactured in the U.S.

You would think it is difficult to be an outspoken Christian in the midst of the unseemly garment world, with the constantly swirling charges of sweat shops, rip-off designs and questionable teen fashion trends.

But I’m mostly intrigued with those bags. Does that scripture reference really make a difference? It’s clever – even Jesus-like - because customers have to discover it. It’s not in anyone’s face.

Other approaches to taking a stand

There are other well-known Christian-run companies that express faith in various ways. California Burger chain In-N-Out prints the John 3:16 reference on drink cups, Nahum 1:7 on the burger bags, Rev. 3.20 on the fry bags. Cool. But really. Does it do any good?

How about this approach by Sierra Trading Post, a large mail-order company that outfits outdoor enthusiasts? They print a bold mission statement inside every one of their millions of catalogs. “Our business ethics must be consistent with the faith of the owners in Jesus Christ and His teachings. We invite you to write our founder and president, Keith Richardson, if what we do does not match what we believe.”

Richardson admits, “This lean amount of space is not intended to proselytize or offend. Practically speaking, no one would change their faith-views based upon two sentences. On the contrary, the purpose is to hold me accountable for upholding Jesus' injunction to treat others the way I want to be treated. It is also my way of thanking God for the blessing of Sierra Trading Post.”

I like it.

There are other retailers who send a clear Christian message. Stroll past a Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday and you know their stand, because they aren't open then. Interstate Batteries is currently running television commercials about finding love and changing the world. Our own Howard Butt, Jr. (founder of The High Calling) is an owner of the privately-held H.E.B grocery chain, and his faith is expressed through funding of the Foundations for Laity Renewal, Laity Lodge, The High Calling, summer camps for youth, and other charities.

It seems that each of these believers has a different approach, from hiding the pill in the bacon-burger, like In-N-Out, to good deeds, like Mr. Butt, to just laying it all out, like Sierra Trading Post.

I’m not sure if there is a best way to talk about faith as a business owner. Sadly, many choose silence.

Image by Marcus Tacker. Used with permission via Flickr. Post by David Rupert.