Weekly Edgework #58 - August 8, 2005

Christian Business Directories

And now – the Christian Business and Church Directory – your guide to businesses and churches in your community (As heard regularly on Golden West Radio Stations).

It could only happen in the Bible Belt – a special directory listing all Christian businesses and churches in a community. Some years ago, it seems to me, it was just a Christian Business Directory, but more recently “Churches” have been added to this elite listing of Christian entities. I don’t know if my church appears on this list. I hope not.

I suppose there are many who are eager to have the name of their Christian business or organization on this directory. Why else would there be so many on the list? It seems that the prevailing perception is that making it onto this list gives your business or organization some sort of advantage over those not on the list. But personally I am uncomfortable with this kind of public relations for Christianity and all hangers-on. I am left with many questions for which I find less-than-satisfactory answers.

The first question that comes to mind is whether a particular business on the list is in fact uniquely “Christian” or whether it is a normal business whose owner happens to profess the Christian faith. This is a tricky question indeed. If it is the latter, why do Christian business persons need to get enlisted so that their clients will know they are Christians? Should that impression not emerge in the rough and tumble of their daily lives? “By their fruit you shall know them.” If the fact you are Christian needs to be announced publicly, then why not fly a Christian flag near the entrance of your business. It would then be right in everybody’s face – something like the distinctively “Christian” clothing some in my community prefer to wear. But in my books there is something wrong when you can only be identified as Christian by some outward symbol.

If on the other hand the message is that the business is uniquely Christian, just what does that mean? Does it mean that its business practices are on a higher plane than other businesses? That they pay their employees a living wage? That customers are told the whole truth about the products and services they buy? I have sometimes been surprised to hear that a certain business is included in this exclusive directory just after someone has told me about being treated unfairly by that business. Or that a truly Christian employee has left that business because he was asked to participate in shady business practices. I am sure that some Christian businesses live up to their name, but my experience has shown that this can not be taken for granted.

Is the message emanating from this directory perhaps that Christians have some moral obligation to buy from other Christians? After all, should we not support our brothers and sisters? To me this smacks of an elitist attitude that can only lead to the isolation of Christianity. It is not much different from the notion in Mennonite Colonies in South America that you should keep your contact with the “outside world” to a minimum. “You can never trust those pagan rascals, you know! Since they don’t walk by the light of the Gospel you should be aware that their basic orientation is to rip you off at every turn.” Again my experience tells me that I am just as likely to get a fair deal from a “non-Christian” business than from a “Christian” one. So I can’t buy this line of thinking.

The presence of this directory also raises the question of how Christians are to be present in the world. It seems to me that the biblical vision is not one in which Christians form tightly knit and exclusive webs within the larger world, but rather one in which they live openly and honestly in the world. They must rise above the notion of looking out only for themselves and their kind. In fact, their basic reason for being in the world is mission. How can you be in mission with an elitist and exclusive orientation to life?

Let’s follow the hypothetical experience of a non-Christian, let’s say a Muslim named Imar, who decides to move to my town to set up a business that would provide competition to my “Christian” business. When he begins advertising his business he soon discovers that he is excluded from the most elite business listing in the community because of his faith. He is in the minority and so must find other ways of making his presence felt. Imar assumes that if he has good deals Christians will consider buying from him. Imagine his dismay when he discovers that Christians will not even look his way even though his products and services are better than mine. He is at a disadvantage because he is not a Christian and does not run a “Christian” business. After hanging on for a while, Imar leaves the community because he could not break into the Christian web. So what, I ask, has been our collective Christian witness to Imar?

It seems to me that the notion of a Christian Business Directory is rooted in the same kind of arrogance and bigotry that has inflamed violence in places like Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Serbia, Rwanda and many other places around the globe. Of course we are more civil about it all. We don’t eliminate our competition and protect our own people with bullets. We do it with the subtle nuances of elitism and exclusivism. But when exposed for what they are, such means are not much less ugly than the blatant violence used in other places.

And finally I am not sure why Christian churches were blended into this directory. The only reason I can think of is to add weight to the elitist message it bears. I would recommend that the notion of a Christian Business and Church Directory in my community be abandoned. Let Christians be Christian through and through and let them open doors of communication to others outside their fold.