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The Christian Blue Pages

When I was in my late teens, my father, who’d been a farmer all of his life, diversified into selling farm equipment. He set up an office and repair shop in town. I had just decided to be a theology major and was going through an especially intense phase of religious life, so I insisted that in his new office he hang a picture of Jesus (Sallman’s head, of course) and have a Bible on his desk, Amazing Facts brochures on the coffee table, and Bible text plaques on the wall. After years of working alone on a tractor, he finally had a chance to witness to the public, I told him, to show what a dedicated Seventh-day Adventist is like, and he ought to do it.

He demurred, and finally admitted he didn’t care for the idea. He wasn’t a talkative man, but I gathered his objection was that he didn’t want either to use faith for his gain or to hide behind it. If something went wrong in a deal, he wanted people to blame him, not Jesus.

Now, after thirty years in business myself—the religion business, as it happens—I see his point. Business is full of pitfalls, and misunderstandings happen even between the most well-meaning people. You don’t want God to take the rap every time that happens.

I’ve also learned that the more a person talks about Jesus when we’re doing business together, the tighter I should hold my wallet.

I thought of this when I picked up from a rack at the entrance to a supermarket a magazine called the Christian Blue Pages, a directory of local businesses that are willing to pay to identify themselves publicly as Christian. These business owners, according to the front page, proclaim Jesus as their Lord and Savior, demonstrate their faith through active involvement in a local church, and strive to do business according to biblical principles.

What screening process exists to prove all of that before acceptance in the directory isn’t clear. I suspect being able to produce a check for the amount of the advertising fee is one step.

“Because honesty and integrity matter,” says the masthead page, “turn to the Christian Blue Pages FIRST!” Besides their trustworthiness, the magazine suggests you should shop these businesses because they’re family friendly, and (my favorite) that it is just good stewardship to support your Christian brothers and sisters in business: they will presumably pay tithes and offerings, and so keep God’s work humming.

The rest of the business owners might squander their profits on booze and midwinter jaunts to Vegas.

The listings are not only for Christian book and Bible stores, radio stations, churches, or ministries, though. Measured by number of listings, there are a lot of Christian accountants, HVAC installers, home remodelers, money investors and retirement managers, plumbers, and real estate agents.

But the winner in Blue Pages listings is attorneys—about 10 percent of the magazine. There is either a surfeit of Christian attorneys, or many who think Christians are especially needful of their services. The first (full page, color) ad in the section advertises the skills of M. Shawn Dingus, who specializes in, among other things, DUIs, domestic violence, drug offenses, and divorce.

And you’ll be happy to know that if you patronize Shawn, there is “FREE parking in the rear,” so your church friends won’t see your car there, and have to speculate which of those brought you in.

Most of the other attorneys’ ads don’t admit they’re even aware that conservative Christians, the kind who consult the Christian Blue Pages, might need help for DUIs, divorce or domestic violence—just as often, probably, as those who search for legal counsel in the godless Yellow Pages. The rest talk demurely of wills and trusts. I give Shawn credit for being frank.

I’m not quite sure why one would list in the Christian Blue Pages. Besides risking God’s reputation by linking it with ours, it draws a hard line between Christians and the rest (or, properly, between our kind of Christians and the rest). We show everyone we’re very aware of our borders, who is on the inside, who on the outside. It says that we Christians stick together. We support one another. We’re a very exclusive club. We even shop at one another’s stores.

Just don’t forget the secret handshake.

I wonder how I’d have felt if the directory I’d picked up from that rack was for all Muslim businesses? I think I’d understand why: Muslims are a minority here, occasionally maligned, certainly misunderstood. So they stick together. But it wouldn’t have made me want to check out their businesses or their faith. It makes their subculture seem less accessible, not more.

Christians have always felt misunderstood. Whether we were or not. Even when we’re the dominant group in a society, we tend to assume a vaguely persecuted tone. You hear it all the time from the Religious Right. The world is so against us. So against God. We need to band together and support one another to get everyone else to do what we’re certain God wants them to. Like forcing everyone to pray our prayers in public schools.

Never mind that we live in the most religion-supportive society in the world. That we say we appreciate religious freedom. That every presidential candidate has to claim to be born again just to get elected.

Perhaps shopping only Christian businesses makes some people feel secure. To me, it feels a touch too clannish. It reminds me of families I’ve known who stick too close together, and isolate themselves from others. You sort of wonder what’s going on behind the scenes, and whether it is entirely healthy.

So you’ll forgive me if I don’t go out of my way to shop the Christian Blue Pages.

Even if it does make tithe somewhere go up.

Loren Seibold is senior pastor of the Worthington, Ohio, Seventh-day Adventist Church. He also edits a newsletter for North American Division pastors called Best Practices for Adventist Ministry.

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