July 4th Musings – Separation of Church and Retail


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Fourth of July weekend is traditionally a time of parades, fireworks, cookouts and perhaps a little reflection on what the Founding Fathers intended when they decided to fight for our freedoms including speech and religion.

I guess the folks at Mardell Stores (operator of Hobby Lobby and Hemispheres) weren’t thinking about the “freedom” part of the “freedom of religion message” when they chose 4th of July weekend to run this full-page advertisement in newspapers across the country. Under a quote from Thomas Jefferson the ad goes on to quote Psalm 33:12 “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” and then provides a web site to download a free Bible for your phone and offers “IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO KNOW JESUS AS LORD AND SAVIOR, CALL NEED HIM MINISTRY AT 1-888-NEED-HIM.”

I know that Mardel Stores, like Chick-Fil-A is one of a growing group of retail establishments that touts its Christian values via its advertising, but as a public relations and marketing professional, I remain curious about the effectiveness of this approach. Does it lure in more customers than it alienates? My search about the effectiveness of this advertising/PR technique yielded as many detractors as proponents.

I did a little online research and found this exchange on The Consumerist web site between a consumer (Sarah) who wrote to Hobby Lobby after seeing on of their Easter ads that she found offensive. A Hobby Lobby representative answered that he was sorry that she was offended, but the company believes that it would conversely be “truly insensitive” not to share their religious message with all customers, Christian or not. Here is the verbatim response from Hobby Lobby:

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for your email. I am sorry that you felt our message was exclusive and insensitive. That is not our intention. We feel that we are being inclusive and very sensitive; let me explain why.

In John 14:6 Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” There is only one way to Heaven and that is Christ alone. We would love for everyone to come to a saving knowledge of Christ; we do not want anyone excluded. That is why we share the hope that Christ freely gives.

Since we know that Christ is the only way to heaven; it would truly be insensitive for us not to share Christ with the world.

I am sorry that you feel alienated.

Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

Jill Z. McBride
Jill founded JZMcBride & Associates in 1996 to provide marketing, public relations, social media and event planning services and consultation. More than a decade later, the firm serves an impressive roster of consumer, business-to-business and non-profit clients. Jill's contagious energy, personal involvement and extensive industry knowledge infuses every endeavor of the group in order to help her clients grow.


  1. Jill: thanks for sharing this. Every so often, a bit of religion trickles into business communication. For me, it’s a more than a major turnoff. And I don’t understand why companies feel compelled include a religious tidbit, such as mentioning god, on websites and Twitter descriptions. Of course, what you described is flat out proselytization, the motivation for which can only be attributed to spreading dogma.

    As for Jefferson, the author of Virginia’s Doctrine of Religious Freedom–he would be appalled.

  2. Personally, I don’t like religion mixed in with business either. But I have a bunch of other preferences too.

    That said, great business leaders are willing to put their brands “out there” to stand for something. Yes, they risk turning off some with their positioning and marketing messages. But if spreading the gospel is an authentic portrayal of their brand, then I say why not. Better to stand for something than to try to be all things to all people.

    Steve Jobs preaches at the Church of Insanely Great Technology. Doesn’t appeal to everyone, but he has built quite a following, most would agree. Mardel Stores and Chick-Fil-A choose to preach in a more literal way, but I think it’s their choice. And, of course, it’s our choice to frequent their establishments, or not.


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