Jonathan Merritt Whiffs on Hobby Lobby

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    (Photo: Hobby Lobby)
    A Hobby Lobby store in Orem, Utah, is seen here.
By Samuel James, CP Op-Ed Contributor
June 18, 2014|11:56 am

If you think Hobby Lobby is a Christian company, you're mistaken, says Jonathan Merritt. Actually, Hobby Lobby is conspiring with China, through trade, to keep millions in poverty and maintain China's forced abortion regime:

Turn over just about any trinket in a Hobby Lobby store and you'll find a gold oval stamped with "Made in China," a country that is one of the worst offenders of human dignity, unborn infant life, and economic justice anywhere in the world.

As such, those shiny stickers littering every Hobby Lobby from sea to shining sea are more than a statement about a product's geographical origin; they are also a stinging indictment against the way the retailer has sought to label itself.

Imagine for a moment a nation with nightmarish labor conditions, inadequate workplace regulation, and rampant child labor. You've just imagined 21st century China. Seventy thousand Chinese employees die every year in workplace accidents - that's roughly 200 humans snuffed out of existence every day.

Some provinces in China are raising their minimum wage standards. But don't rush to praise them. Starting this year in Shanghai, minimum wage is rising to only $293 per month - a paltry figure that is still the highest amount paid in all of mainland China. That's about $9.77 per day. If you were wondering how Hobby Lobby can sell wicker baskets for next to nothing, now you know.

The Bible is replete with calls for economic justice. Can you call yourself a "Christian business" when you leverage your profits to support an economic system that blatantly perpetuates injustice?

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I have to say, after reading the teasing headline, I expected something more salacious than, "China=bad. Hobby Lobby=China. Therefore, Hobby Lobby=bad."

Merritt's conclusion doesn't follow from his premise. Merritt apparently thinks that the mere existence of business transactions with China implicates the leadership of Hobby Lobby in salvation forfeiting behavior. Where's the evidence though? Where's the actual information about what Hobby Lobby does in China? It won't do to simply cite macro-economic and cultural data about China to create the impression that HL wants to make children and the poor labor in sweatshops to produce their product. Merritt is content to go for guilt by association based on "What We All Know Goes On In China."

Would Merritt hold a third world, emerging country to this standard? Would Merritt say that its wrong for companies to trade with developing nations until and only until they ensure that no economic injustice or corruption is taking place? What's missing from the article is a principle, a standard that can be applied for Christian businesses to follow. I'm not sure there's virtue in writing an article simply to prove that Hobby Lobby isn't really a Christian company. Even if there is, I'm quite certain there's no virtue in engaging in "drive-by" editorializing.

The most embarrassing piece of the article, though, has to be this:

Now, of course, a huge number of American companies outsource labor to China, and thus help prop up this shameful status quo. But very few of these American companies simultaneously trumpet themselves as "Christian businesses," arguing in court that providing employees with health insurance covering contraceptives violates their religious beliefs. How can this ObamaCare mandate be so foul to Hobby Lobby executives, while they say very little about Chinese policies forcing women to have abortions against their wills? Is abortion wrong only when the terminated life is American?

Ah, now the agenda emerges. So here is Merritt's entire point in a nutshell: Hobby Lobby should absolutely be forced by the Affordable Care Act to furnish contraceptives in their insurance plans, because they buy products from a country that enforces family planning, and therefore, don't really have a conscience that the ACA could violate. Got that?

If we can get beyond the slanderous insinuation that Hobby Lobby turns a blind eye to aborted children, we can see that Merritt's argument fails a very basic logical test. The question of whether the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare is wrong does not depend on how consistently Hobby Lobby lives out Christian business principles. Conestoga, the furnishings company also represented in the same suit as HL, is a non-religious organization that also objects to the mandate. To say, as Merritt does, that it's hypocritical for HL to object to the mandate while doing business in China is absurd. You can't deny equal protection under the law until people get their moral houses in order. The issue in the lawsuit is whether the federal government can demand privately owned businesses to furnish insurance that includes conscience-infringing contraceptives. There are completely non-religious arguments that work in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga's favor.

Christians in America pay taxes to an abortion subsidizing government every April. Does this mean we are not true believers? Merritt's theology needs more Bible and less Huffington Post. Jesus taught us that paying taxes to even the most corrupt and vile leadership was appropriate for his disciples. And Paul reminds us that to stop dealing with the people of the world would require leaving the world, something that the Apostle neither wants nor thinks is possible. Every day Christians do business with people who live outside of faith in Christ and of the life the Bible calls us to live. I'm sure that Merritt would agree with that. Why does he think it is only Hobby Lobby's ownership that has to choose between dealing with the world and being a Christian?

Merritt's is a thinly argued, bizarrely antagonistic hit piece that misses basic logical points in theology and policy debate.

Samuel James has a degree in theology and philosophy from Boyce College. He enjoys his family, his beautiful girlfriend, writing, and rainy days.
 

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