Like everyone else I was shocked by the news that Hobby Lobby, a privately owned company whose owners successfully challenged the Affordable Care Act mandate that their health insurance cover birth control on grounds that they are a closely held owned company driven by Christian morality, got caught smuggling Iraqi antiquities into the United States.
In addition to the fine, Hobby Lobby will forfeit thousands of clay bullae, cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals that were falsely labeled and shipped to the company through the United Arab Emirates and Israel, according to a civil complaint and settlement agreement in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Think about it like this. While Hobby Lobby was spending thousands of dollars in an effort to fight the ACA requirement that they cover health care for women on moral grounds they were also spending millions of dollars acquiring, smuggling, and dealing with legal fallout from a federal investigation surrounding their owners purchase of antiquities with sketchy provenance.
They argued that covering certain types of birth control violated their constitutional right to have a corporate religious belief. To them it was black and white, no moral ambiguity.
Yet at the same time they embraced the possibility that they were stealing and smuggling what they felt were antiquities in danger of being destroyed.
“Hobby Lobby’s president and in-house lawyer spoke with an expert on cultural property law who warned them that antiquities from ancient Iraq may have been looted from archaeological sites.”
Hobby Lobby proceeded with the sale. Starting in late 2010, a United Arab Emirates-based dealer sent 10 packages to three different Hobby Lobby addresses in Oklahoma City, with shipping labels reading “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample),” according to the complaint. No formal entries were made for the shipments. Prosecutors said the use of multiple addresses was “consistent with methods used by cultural property smugglers to avoid scrutiny by Customs.”
So, to Hobby Lobby and their overtly public Christian ownership, morality is black and white when you need it to be but a grey area open to interpretation when you need it to be.
Friends, a morality of convenience is no morality at all.
Taking the moral high ground publicly while behind the scenes stealing what you want is hedonism in it’s purest form. In this action they were not guided by the Holy Spirit or God’s Word, they were guided by their own internal ambitions to collect whatever they wanted with whatever it took for their legacy project, the Museum of the Bible.
Evangelical Christian Witness is in Question
As an evangelical I think we’re at a crossroads. The world is watching as we, collectively, replace our traditional moral convictions with the convenience [and perceived power] hedonism provides. “The greater good” is our collective argument… but at what cost?
In the 2016 election we saw millions of evangelicals vote for a candidate that reflects none of our traditional evangelical values– 81% of white born-again evangelicals voted for a person who brags about infidelity, marries and divorces, encourages assault of his enemies, has been convicted of racist business practices, lacks generosity, lacks humility, lacks gentleness, kindness… lacks any and all of the Fruits of the Spirit.
[In fairness, we weren’t presented with great alternatives from any political party… it was an impossibly weak field. See this post for more on that.]
Let’s face it, Donald Trump is the epitome of what we, as Christian parents raise our kids not to be. I’ve never heard a church mom brag to her friends at small groups about her thrice divorced philandering son who once paid fines for keeping black people out of his apartment buildings. That’s the son you don’t talk about.
And yet 81% of those of us who voted walked into a voting booth and cast our lot with exactly that.
Think of Donald Trump as the swindler Harold Hill in The Music Man. Watch this video and you’ll see familiar tactics.
He’s trying to convince us, his River City, to buy into his Trouble. Just like the residents we are supposed to never mind the fact that his Trouble is created out of thin air for his own gain… Never mind that. All that matters is we’ve bought into his version of Trouble. How much do those 76 trombones cost? Well, it’s cheaper than Trouble! Right?
All the while the world awaits an evangelical voice to stand up and speak the truth: We’ve been swindled. This man doesn’t represent us. His values are not our values. What he wants is not what we want.
There’s nothing about the evangelical Christian faith that has changed my life that I see in Donald Trump.
We Got Trouble, Right Here at First Baptist
Just like it’s wrong to smuggle antiquities out of Iraq under the guise of preserving these biblical artifacts for a museum, it’s wrong to stand in silence while Professor Harold Hill sells River City musical instruments they don’t need.
I’m begging you– Christian witness is at stake. Stand up.
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Here’s the thing: Many people I know seem to acknowledge that the embrace of this new brand of pick-and-choose morality we are seeing within the GOP or Hobby Lobby is long-term trouble for evangelicalism.
They acknowledge this privately.
But few seems willing to say so publicly.
Stealing is wrong. Period. Duh. So why not condemn Hobby Lobby?
Adultery is wrong. Period. Duh.
Racism is wrong. Period. Duh.
So why the silence?
I’m afraid the core of the silence from evangelical leaders is two-fold.
First, it’s the only whiff of power they’ve had in a generation. Even though Trump reflects none of their values they feel like they’ve got a seat at the table and are being heard. Second, even if they don’t want this power they are afraid of their congregations. To stand up, to use their pulpit to speak of politics or morality instead of continuing on with their series is too risky. They are more worried about losing their platform or job than they are worried about the long-term impact of lost Christian witness for their church.
We Will Survive This
Here’s what I know. The faith that I know, the one that I’ve embraced, which has changed my life and provided such hope and restoration every direction I look… it’ll endure.
I think we’re in a dark moment. Hedonism, Trumpism, whatever you want to call it. It’s a dark moment.
It’s a moment where the world is rightfully asking us who we really are. I meet people all the time who were either raised as evangelicals or feel compelled to experience Jesus through evangelicalism that simply cannot reconcile what they see today against the evangelicalism they know and love. And so they are either opting out of church altogether or they are going out of obedience but not really engaged.
My encouragement to those people, what encourages me, what keeps my head up in this moment is knowing there is something better coming. One day the sleeper will awaken.
Until then I will hold onto hope that it’ll be sooner rather than later.
[Facebook friends. Please add the number “8” at the end of your Facebook comment so I know you read the actual post before commenting. Thanks.]