Interview: Hobby Lobby's Steve Green – Bible Engagement Visionary

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By Katherine T. Phan , Christian Post Reporter
March 2, 2012|3:20 pm
hobby lobby steve green (Photo: Courtesy of The Green Collection)

Steve Green's official title may be Hobby Lobby president, but at heart he's a visionary for Bible engagement. He devotes half his time to promote the study and reading of what he calls the "most-banned, most-debated, best-selling book of all time."

While the average American owns seven Bibles, Green and his family own over 40,000.

The collection is more than just a hobby. Green bought his first rare biblical artifact in November 2009 and now oversees The Green Collection, which has grown to be the world's largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts. He is also working on building a national, nonsectarian Bible museum in Washington D.C. to house the collection.

In the meantime, parts of the collection are being shown to the public through "Passages," a worldwide traveling exhibition which has stopped in Oklahoma City and is currently in Atlanta.

Motivated by his "love for God's Word," Green wants to use his collection to inspire people to engage with Scripture and come to know the God of the Bible.

The Christian Post spoke with Green while he was at the Vatican this week for the launch of "Verbum Domini," a special exhibit of 150 rare biblical antiquities celebrating the interfaith contributions of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Orthodox Christians to the Bible.

"Our goal here is same as our Passages exhibit in the U.S. and that is to hopefully get people to be excited with being engaged with their Scripture," said Green.

"In some cases in America, I believe the Bible has become commonplace and it's not necessarily read and known as it has in the past. I think we probably have the most ignorant population we've ever had because we don't teach it in our schools like we used to. Just like the Passages, we want to encourage people to be reengaged with their scripture, become motivated to read scripture and be acquainted with the God of the Bible."

Through "Verbum Domini," which means "the word of the Lord," Green will be able to reach millions of people visiting Rome during the Lenten season. The 5,000 sq. ft. exhibit weaves together a story of how each faith tradition helped to preserve God's Word, including the transmission of Hebrew text by Jews, the influence of Catholic commentaries on the study of scripture and preservation of Greek text by Orthodox Christians.

"It's a way of celebrating what we have in common," Green told CP. "We have differences and we can argue about that. But what we hope is that it can help bring some unity by celebrating what we hold in common and that is God's Word."

He hopes that as visitors experience the story of the Bible, they will consider the book's main character Jesus and what he did.

"I believe that when he came to earth and died on a cross, that was the most important event of history," said Green.

Steve Green's love for the Bible is in his genes.

He said his passion for The Green Collection comes from "the love of the Bible that has been passed down in our family for multiple generations."

Green's father, David Green, was practically the only one in his family who didn't become a Christian minister.

"My grandfather on my dad's side was a minister of gospel and his mother's father was minister of gospel. My dad's siblings all became ministers of the Gospel," said Green.

His father found that his skillset was in retail and started Hobby Lobby with an art-supplies store in 1972. The U.S.-based company has grown from one 300-square-foot store to more than 469 locations in 39 states with sales of $2.5 billion, making Hobby Lobby the largest private arts and crafts retailer in the world.

David Green now has a net worth of $4 billion, according to Forbes.

"But he never forgot the fact that the love of the Bible that was passed down to him from his mother," Steve Green told CP. "When he had the opportunity to start distributing God's Word, he started doing that early on. It has just grown."

To this day, the Green family is very active in sharing the Gospel message. They started small by running newspaper ads during Easter and Christmas. Nowadays, they continue to give away dozens of properties worth millions of dollars to Christian ministries that share the same vision.

Green explained how he balances his work at Hobby Lobby and The Green Collection, saying, "My primary responsibilities at Hobby Lobby are real estate department and growth there. My father is still very active and we have a lot of good people there. Because of the fact that I have some good people in my real estate department, I have time to spend on all these bigger projects."

Green works together with the "Indiana Jones" of rare biblical artifacts, Dr. Scott Carroll, who as the director of The Green Collection, travels the world to hunt down more biblical texts and manuscripts. Another member on his team is Dr. Jerry Pattengale, an assistant provost at Indiana Wesleyan University, who serves as the director of the Green Scholars Initiative, which engages leading academics around the world to study the collection.

It has been an "exciting journey" to dedicate his time on cultivating the study of the Bible around the world, said Green.

"The more I learn, the more I have confidence in the Bible that I have believed in all my life."

The interview with Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, can be read below:

CP: Your family is the driving force behind The Green Collection, which featured at the Verbum Domini exhibit. The Green family has done a lot of work in preserving the Bible and making it more accessible. What is the goal of the exhibit?

Green: Our goal here is same as our Passages exhibit in the U.S. and that is to hopefully get people to be excited with being engaged with their Scripture. In some cases in America, I believe the Bible has become commonplace and it's not necessarily read and known as it has in the past. I think we probably have the most ignorant population we've ever had because we don't teach it in our schools like we used to.

Just like the Passages, we want to encourage people to be reengaged with their scripture, become motivated to read scripture and be acquainted with the God of the Bible.

CP: How will the Verbum Domini exhibit showing the different faith contributions to the Bible reignite people's passion for reading God's Word?

Green: At Vatican, we have unique opportunity to celebrate multiple faith traditions that have a love for God's Word.

We have been able to highlight the different faith traditions and show the way they have contributed to the Bible, starting with Jewish people giving us the Old Testament and the Catholic traditions, the Orthodox traditions, the Protestant traditions.

It's a way of celebrating what we have in common. We have differences and we can argue about that. But what we hope is that it can help bring some unity by celebrating what we hold in common and that is God's Word.

CP: You have been heavily involved in The Green Collection, the exhibits, making a Bible museum to serve as the permanent home for the collection, and your family in general has been a big benefactor to the collection and to other works to preserve the Bible and other Christian faith traditions. Can you share where this passion comes from?

Green: It comes from the love of the Bible that has been passed down in our family for multiple generations.

My grandfather on my dad's side was a minister of Gospel and his mother's father was minister of Gospel
My dad's siblings all became ministers of the gospel. But he found that his skillset was in retail. So he started Hobby Lobby business because he had the opportunity, it has grown and become very successful.

But he never forgot the fact that the love of the Bible that was passed down to him from his mother. When he had the opportunity to start distributing God's Word, he started doing that early on. It has just grown. Today, the opportunity to finding a museum, which resonates with our family, we were excited with the opportunity to tell as many people as we can about God's Word and tell them to consider His words.

CP: How do you balance your time between your role as the president of Hobby Lobby and working on the Bible exhibits and traveling with Dr. Scott Carroll for The Green Collection?

Green: My primary responsibilities at Hobby Lobby are real estate department and growth there. My father is still very active and we have a lot of good people there. Because of the fact that I have some good people in my real estate department, I have time to spend on all these bigger projects.

It was kind of a surprise a couple of years ago. The project name was not what we had envisioned but we got started and it's just grown to what it is today. I was fortunate enough to be able to have the time to get to work on it. It's been an exciting journey.

It's also been a learning process. You talked about the opportunity I have to travel with Dr. Scott Carroll. The one thing that is exciting for me is that the more I learn, the more I have confidence in the Bible that I have believed in all my life. It gives me more confidence that my faith has not been displaced.

CP: What is your personal reflection being in Rome during Lenten season, as you and so many other Christians there look forward to Easter?

Green: Personally, I have made a commitment years ago to read the Bible on a daily basis and I do read the Bible on a daily basis.

I strive to apply that Word to my life. Specifically, this exhibit here in Rome is a way for us to highlight the artifacts in the exhibit and tell story of the Bible. Hopefully, through that, we will encourage people during this time of year to consider the main character of the whole Book and that is Jesus and what he did.

I believe that when he came to earth and died on a cross, that was the most important event of history.

For us to be here at the Vatican, telling stories, pointing people to that event is really an honor. We feel humbled by the opportunity to do that especially at the Vatican.

CP: Are there any exciting highlights from your trip that you would like to share?

Green: Well, this is my first time in Rome. We got to tour the Vatican this morning. It is just, in itself, just inspiring when you see the great art that Scripture has been in a part in motivating. The presence that the Vatican in itself presents is inspiring and for us to be a part of that.

CP: Anything you would like to add?

Green: The only other thing is that because our permanent museum that we anticipate putting in Washington D.C. is several years off, we've built a traveling exhibit there in America that is opening in Atlanta today. And it will move around the country. It was a way for us tell that story as we are finding a permanent location. We are actively looking in Washington D.C. to find a permanent site. But in the meantime, we have the traveling exhibit which we opened in the year 2011, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

The other element we have in addition to The Green Collection, the permanent museum, Passages, is The Green Scholars Initiative, where we are engaging leading academics around the world to study the collection. We have academic credibility where we put it in a museum because we have leading academics around the world studying the artifacts that are going on display.

Follow Katherine T. Phan on Twitter: @KatherineTPhan
 

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