What Makes Hobby Lobby A Christian Company? Hint: It’s Not A Greed Or A Misogyny Thing
Can a company be Christian? Hobby Lobby refused to comply with one particular Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) diktat because it was a Christian Company. But is there any such thing as a Christian company?
The idea of a Christian company sounds strange to some ears, but such companies actually are quite common. I recently wrote a column about a group which has 1,800 Christian companies as members. Typically these companies have mission statements and even sometimes a statement of doctrinal beliefs which declare that they are dedicated to God and founded on Christian principles. One might argue that only individuals, not institutions, can be Christian. But the problem with that argument is that there are Christian schools, Christian colleges, Christian ministries and, of course, Christian Churches. If only individuals can be Christian, there is no such thing as a Christian church, because a church, like any other institution, is a collective entity. What makes an institution Christian is the worldview which infuses it.
I sat down across a Skype line recently with the CEO of one of the most highly visible Christian companies in America, Hobby Lobby (although Chick-fil-A would also be a contender for that title). David Green’s new book, Giving It All Away…and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously, talks a great deal about how he built the company as a Christian company and what that means in terms of corporate culture. I read the book and it had significant material about building a Christian corporate culture, but I still wanted to know more. Who better to ask than David Green?
For Green, building a Christian culture starts with prayer. By asking God to help guide you, you are doing something real and external, not just internal. You are inviting Him to begin ‘dealing with’ you, by sending challenges to your current way of doing business in order to learn how to be a better leader. Where that prayer eventually led the Greens was towards a culture which sees management as the servants of employees and employees as servants of customers. Where the rubber met the road (or the shop floor) for this company was to move the company minimum wage up above the legal minimum wage, to give employees Sundays off, and to close early enough that they could tuck their kids in at night.
It also meant saying ‘no’ to a federal mandate which dictated that the company pay for drugs which stopped already conceived embryos from implanting into the uterine wall. For the Greens life begins at conception, and a drug which ends the life after the point of conception is an abortifacient, a potential taker of innocent human life. Green is quick to point out (since most of the press was not interested in doing so) that the company already voluntarily paid for 16 other contraceptives. So the refusal wasn’t an anti-birth control thing. He also points out that his employees, in addition to health insurance, have a free onsite clinic, so his refusal was not a greed thing. And more than eighty percent of his employees, to whom he pays higher than market wages, are women, so it’s not an anti-woman thing.
So, if it’s not a mandatory procreation or a greed or a misogyny kind of thing, then what kind of thing is it?
It’s a conscience thing.
The court agreed, found in favor of Hobby Lobby, saved the company from being fined out of existence, and established a precedent which allowed freedom of conscience on this issue for the rest of American businesses.
But if you want to hear the story in the man’s own words, you can listen to my interview with him here or read the partial transcript below (both have been edited for clarity).
Jerry: In preparation for this interview, I read some of the articles about Hobby Lobby. And it seems like a lot of writers think of the idea of a business with a Christian culture as weird or strange. You see scare quotes around ‘Christian business’, and ‘prayer’. And there’s almost a sarcastic attitude that financial writers seem to have about Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A, other businesses that pursue a Christian culture. I’m sure you’ve run into that. How do you deal with that, and where do you think it comes from?
Mr. Green: Well, it is out there because I get questions like, can you be successful in business, and be a Christian? It’s kind of humorous to me, because I say how do you have success without being a Christian business? So for us, we’ve never seen anything that prevented us from being a very profitable, successful company trying to follow Biblical principles. So for us it’s fairly simple, that God’s word is God’s word, and we believe it, and we believe it’s the best way without any questions. We have zero questions about that.
In fact, we are strongly committed to believe in that, and we are going to do best in our company when we do follow His word, and we show integrity in every area of our lives the best we can. And so it is amazing that some ask, can you be a Christian and a businessman at the same time?
Jerry: Let’s say that somebody’s listening right now, and they’re Christian, and they are business owners, or a business managers, or at least in a position of high influence in the business, and they’re past that contemptuous attitude. And they say, I really want in on that; that makes sense to me. I don’t care if people think it’s weird; I think that will work. How do they do it? How do you build a Christian culture into a corporate environment from the beginning? And let me add on top, if you didn’t start that way, how would you advise somebody to sort of re-found their corporate culture that way?
Mr. Green: You know I think prayer could come in there really well. The Bible says, “You have not because you ask not”. And I think as we ask Him for His advice and His Holy Spirit leading and directing us, I think He will do that; I know He will. As we are serious about wanting to do things God’s way, then I think He will start dealing with us.
He dealt with us about closing on Sundays, and He’s dealt with us in different areas in our spirit, in different areas — He dealt with us when we didn’t have people around here that were helping our people with anger management and all the different issues in marriages. So I think God will definitely lead and guide them in areas that they’re falling short.
Jerry: If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given, right? That’s James.
Mr. Green: Exactly. And that will work; that works when we’re serious and we want to run our business based on Biblical principles in our prayer, and reading the scriptures God will — one at a time. Maybe here’s an area that you need to work on. So we wanted to do that, and God has guided us, and we just sense God’s guiding in so many areas. And we’re still on that path; we haven’t reached the end zone yet, but we’re still trying to do things more in His keeping.
Jerry: What’s your favorite part of the Bible when it comes to learning how to run a business, or business wisdom?
Mr. Green: Well, I guess it might be Proverbs 3, verse 5 and 6 — it says, “Trust in Lord with all thine heart, lean not unto thine own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy path.” So that answers your question of how other a businessmen would do it, it is to be serious about trying to follow after God. And we have to start by believing this is His word and I’m going to stand on it. And then we see our things going in so many different ways. Like debt as an example, that’s something in the Bible; if we start reading it, you find out God really has a lot of negatives to say about us being a slave through our debt.
Jerry: Like “the borrower is the slave to the lender” it says in Proverbs, right?
Mr. Green: Exactly. Exactly.
Jerry: So are you a low-debt company, a no-debt company? What’s your financial management structure?
Mr. Green: We have no long-term debt. We buy hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of Christmas and Fall merchandise in the summer months, and we’ll have a short-term line of credit that buys that, and it’s zeroed out in December. We have no long-term debt even though we have nine million square feet of warehouse that we own here, and so we have no long-term debt.
But we think that’s part of trying to follow after where God would have us to be. He loves me; He doesn’t want me not sleeping at night because of debt. He loves me that much. Just like I love my son, I don’t want him in debt, my Father doesn’t want me in debt.
Jerry: That’s interesting. I guess God is an equity investor, isn’t He?
Mr. Green: Yes.
Jerry: Not a debt investor. He doesn’t say this much and no less, but He says I’ll give you the ability to earn and then I want you to share that with me by giving to the kingdom.
Mr. Green: Exactly.
Jerry: He has a kind of a venture capital model, doesn’t He, rather than a debt model?
Mr. Green: Right, exactly. Yeah. Yeah.
Well, sometimes in debt, we’re kind of telling God He’s not going fast enough. So sometimes in debt we’re making a statement when we spend more than we make. You know that we’re not happy we’re not content. So there’s a lot that can be said about debt. And I thank God for what we found out when we got out of debt. We felt like God was blessing us at just a totally greater degree. It’s like He’s saying, “I like what you’re doing and let me give you the profits to grow those companies at the rate that I give them to you,” rather than us having to say, “Well, I’m not satisfied with this rate, so I’m going to go out and get myself in debt.”
And we had done that. We had times when we almost lost the company because of indebtedness. So we learned in some of these areas the hard way.
Originally published on Forbes.