Today, I was looking for a book written by a local pastor to give to a friend as a gift. I looked in a bookstore, and then remembered there was a Christian bookstore down the street and decided to go there. As, is often the case, I was disappointed in the Christian store.
I think Christian stores in America demonstrate a lot of the problems in the church today. Many of the people that have written articles about this seem to focus on the company marking up their goods and making a profit. They are a business in a capitalist society. I have no issue with a company making a profit.
My problems lie with the things in the stores. Walk in to almost any Christian store and look at the store as if you were an outside observer. The first thing you is is a ton of trinkets with bookshelves in the back. There may or may not be a music area but there is almost always a “Children’s Education” area and a clothing area.
Now you have looked at the overall with your “observer’s eyes”. Now, look at the specifics:
Let’s start with the front of the store trinkets. Look at every item that mocks the faith. There are hundreds. I wish I were making the names of these products up. From “TestaMints” (Breath Mints), a “SinEraser” (Rubber eraser), or even “Salvation Chocolates” (chocolate candies with verses on them). The first question that should come into your mind should be, “Is it really a “Christian” store if it is openly mocking the faith?” If the only difference between the Christian store and a novelty store like Spencer’s is the shape of the packaging (more cross, less genitalia), then I don’t really consider it a “Christian” store.
There are 66 books in the Bible. Granted, some of the verses are not very inspiring. There are a lot of laws and a lot of “begat-ing” . There are still hundreds and thousands of inspiring verses. Now look at the artwork. Hundreds or thousands of verses to choose from and most stores have maybe twenty different verses on different artwork. Most of the artwork doesn’t even make sense. For example, a coffee cup had the words “Strength-but for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. (It helped that the cup was made in China). I would associate that particular verse with family or possibly trust, but not necessarily “Strength”. Others may disagree, but I still thought it was weird. The same twenty verses in different formats, on different articles. And that is it.
Now we walk back to the clothing and we get nearer to my big problems with the stuff. Remember when Christians were some of the most imaginative and inspired artists in the world? Well, neither do I. Rome has a lot of examples of artistic innovation and with just a little effort, we can see some other examples. These days, the height of innovation seems to be taking other people’s artwork and putting a cross on it. For example, today I saw a Captain America shirt in the Christian store. I thought, “Well that is strange, a Captain America shirt in a Christian store”. When I got closer, I saw that instead of a star in the middle, there was a cross and some pithy statement. The questions that should enter your head at the moment you see things like this should be “Is this the best Christians can do?” or (more importantly) “How does wearing a modified corporate logo a)declare your faith or b)witness to others?” One of the other problems in the art area are the plethora of American Flag/Patriotic symbols. When people in other countries see this as an example, they are justifiably horrified. It is as if Americans are saying “God’s word only applies to Americans”. Americans are very patriotic as a culture. The problem is, most people are only members of their country because they were born in said country. To ignore the simple verse in John, “God loved the world” and say that verses apply only to a specific country is (and should be) insulting.
Now, we get to the big problem area. The books. Go to the books and look for deeply researched books or anything with controversial subject matter (for example, Baptism for or against). You may find one, but you probably won’t find any. What you will find are many biographies and books written by some evangelists. I am not discounting books by Billy Graham or the like. Most of their books fall under the “Inspirational category” and don’t delve in depth into the Bible. It is as if the very idea of in depth study of the Bible should be limited to famous people. (Personal note: I rarely find a sports star to be an in depth and detailed author and I usually question their faith more when they are trying to sell a book for forty dollars.)
After a few minutes of looking at this stuff, I start to get a sick feeling in my stomach. A song by a band Atomic Opera always goes through my head. I know, you have never heard of Atomic Opera. That is ok. The basic gist of the song is that you can tell someone is a Christian because they have a chrome fish on their car, a cross bumper sticker, or a Christian T-shirt. The song basically says “You can tell I am a Christian by my Jesus junk”.
After seeing all the Jesus junk in the Christian store today, I think most Christians should avoid them. I don’t really want a bunch of people to lose their jobs. (The one clerk who told me I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to get a book shipped to my house by myself can lose hers). I would rather buy from a secular website than encourage the behavior that I saw today.
Granted, I don’t really consider myself a great Christian. I can count on zero fingers the number of people that I have helped come to Christ. I just don’t think that the way to convert people to Christ is through deceptive art, pithy statements, or a cross symbol. Does that chrome fish on your car say that you are a Christian or do your actions?