Yesterday we went to a local retail hobby store, and there was a “now hiring” stand with lots of employment applications folded like brochures stuck in it. Out of curiosity, The Wild One picked one up.
The amount of red tape required just to get employed at this store was daunting. Drug/alcohol testing, background checks, aptitude tests (none of which I am opposed to, BTW)…but then there were literally two pages of fine print about an “arbitration agreement”, where anyone who wanted to be employed there must sign a binding agreement to resolves disputes through arbitration (read: you can’t sue us). NO ONE gets employed unless they sign the agreement. I know; it says so about four different times on the application.
Now, bear in mind that none of this is inherently wrong. But this wasn’t an application to work at a law firm, or a coal mine, or a nuclear power plant, or to be an astrophysicist, or to work at Area 51. This was for a retail store. I moonlight in retail; I deliver flowers. I didn’t need to fill out more than a couple of pages to apply, and I didn’t need to agree to arbitration. At one flower shop, I called and said, “You guys need any help?” And they called back and said, “Yep. Come on in.” That was it; no butt-covering, no positioning, no self-protection.
Yet everything–everything–about this retail store’s application was designed to cover the company’s @$$. It was all about self-protection, like every potential applicant was poised to screw them over or something.
This is the part of the rant where I tell you that this is a Christian company–a large retail chain owned by a nationally known Christian businessman. They play instrumental hymns on the store soundtrack and are closed on Sundays. This businessman also recently made news when he effectively “rescued” a major Christian university in our town that had been rocked with scandal; he did this by donating millions of dollars and offering to reorganize the board.
The whole thing reminds me of someone else I know, who at one time attended a local mega-church. She asked someone about volunteering in the church in some capacity; she was handed an application to volunteer, requiring all kinds of information, including submitting to a background check. I’m surprised they didn’t draw blood right there on the spot.
Now, in some ways–and to be merciful–I can understand why this particular mega-church was so cautious. They had recently suffered scandal when one of the teachers in their school was found to be a pedophile and went to prison, and they were getting sued by multiple families for it. So obviously they wanted to be very careful about who was helping out.
Believe it or not, I can also understand why a Christian business wants to protect itself–because it seems like when you call yourself a Christian and you own a facility that’s open to the public, there are always some folks who want to hold you to a higher standard than the rest of the world, or who might sue you just because they figure you’re a Christian and won’t fight back.
But I guess for me, this begs the question: Is this need for self-protection just a by-product of our culture…or is it that we’ve created too much that needs protecting? Could it be that the very institutions we have built in the name of promoting the gospel–whether it be church organizations or businesses–are now getting in our own way?
Is it really our job to set up church buildings and label our businesses “Christian” and then set up huge amounts of red tape to make sure the wrong people don’t cause us damage? Is our number one priority in the world to make sure we don’t get hurt or stolen from? Or is it to engage the world with the love of Christ? It’s as if we are extending one hand to the world while using the other hand to block any punches we might receive. Can the world really take that love seriously if we are in such a defensive posture?
When Jesus sent out His disciples, He said He was sending them as sheep in the midst of wolves, and that they should be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves. Then He did something interesting: He told them not to carry extra clothes or money bags. Now, I’m not about to interpret that as a policy of poverty, as some have done; but I do think there’s an interesting principle here to uncover. Why would Jesus tell them that? I can think of two possible reasons. One is so that they would be inter-dependent with the communities that they were going to–that they would have to engage people and allow their needs to be met that way. The other possible reason, and the one I’m chewing on right now…is that by traveling light, they wouldn’t have anything to protect. They would be free to be “sheep among wolves” without worrying about what they had to lose.
I think that’s the opposite of what we have in our world today. Creating massive institutions and labeling them “Christian” has given us huge amounts to lose. We’re so busy trying to avoid exploitation that we cannot be nearly as effective. These institutions are essentially fortresses that we have built. Do these fortresses really keep us “safe”–or have they just become something we must defend? When you really think about it–which is protecting which?
I cannot help but think that this is just another way in which we’ve missed the point. I can’t help but think there must be a better way to engage our world. I can’t help but think that the church, while using buildings from time to time, was never meant to be contained in them. And I’m certainly not opposed to Christians owning and running successful businesses; but I can’t help but wonder if affixing the Christian label (instead of just being Christians) is doing us more harm than good.
Maybe we should take a cue from the disciples. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe we could learn how to stop worrying about how we might get hurt by the wolves. Maybe we would worry less if we learned how to travel light.
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