The coronavirus challenged compassion-providing ministries in new ways
Ty Mosler walked away from his management position at the Family Christian Bookstore in Asheville, N.C., after eight years because of a quandary he never thought he'd face: A change in the Christian store's operating hours meant Mr. Mosler would have to miss going to church at least half of the year.
Family Christian Bookstores, the largest Christian retail chain in the country, announced a year ago that it would open its doors for business on Sundays for the first time in its history. President and CEO Dan Browne called the move a "ministry decision," saying in a press release that the company wanted to "reach people when ministry is at the forefront of their hearts and minds." Mr. Browne also said the company wanted to "meet the needs" of the growing number of Christians who shop on Sundays.
Now, each of the 326 stores in the Family Christian Bookstore (FCB) chain is open on Sundays from noon until five. FCB spokeswoman Tara Powers said the company has received "dozens and dozens" of letters and e-mails from customers pleased with the new hours, and that the number of complaints from customers and employees has been "very minimal."
And yet, Mr. Mosler said about a dozen other employees at his store quit because of the Sunday hours. Brian Hanley, a New Jersey resident and former FCB customer, started an online petition asking Family Christian Bookstores to "uphold the Fourth Commandment," and charged the company with "breaking God's law" by opening on the Sabbath. Christian business owners and Christian customers are in two camps: those who say Christian companies can legitimately remain open on the Sabbath, and those who say the commandment binds Christians to refrain from working on Sundays.
Mr. Mosler said he saw his job as bookstore manager as a ministry, but said helping customers at work didn't trump the need to be in church each Sunday morning. Mr. Mosler, 42, was on vacation with his wife and two teenage children last July when he received a call with the news that FCB would soon open on Sundays, and that managers would be required to work two Sundays each month. "I looked at my wife and told her that this was it," he said. Mr. Mosler said he knew the noon-to-five hours on Sunday would make it impossible for him to go to church in the morning and make it to work on time. "It just did not make sense to miss worship," he said. Mr. Mosler said his superiors were sympathetic to his predicament, but accepted his resignation. He left FCB in August of last year and now works at a local bank.
Ms. Powers said Family Christian Bookstores decided on the noon-to-five Sunday operating hours so employees wouldn't have to miss church, and that the company tried to honor employees' requests not to work on Sundays. She said she was not aware of Mr. Mosler's case or of the dozen other employees Mr. Mosler said left the store because of the Sunday hours.
Ms. Powers also hadn't heard about Mr. Hanley's online protest of FCB. Mr. Hanley is a seminary student and an elder at Grace Presbyterian Church in Danville, N.J. He said he recently noticed a sign in the window of the local Family Christian Bookstore that read "Now open on Sunday." "It really bothered me that a Christian store would stay open on the Christian Sabbath," he said. After writing a complaint letter, Mr. Hanley launched a website with a petition urging Family Christian Bookstores to close its doors on Sundays. "Christian bookstores are a business, not a church," he said. "They should be closed on Sunday." Two weeks after launching the website, Mr. Hanley said about 25 people had signed the petition.
Family Christian Bookstores is not the only Christian retailer open on Sundays. Berean Christian Stores, a small, Ohio-based retail chain with 19 stores in eight states, also opens its doors on Sundays. The company's VP of store operations, Greg Moore, said Berean began opening on Sundays three years ago because "customers indicated they needed to be served on Sundays." Mr. Moore said Berean views itself as a ministry with products people might need to buy on Sundays: "There is more value in saving a lost soul than in adhering to an Old Testament custom that later became a commandment."
Hundreds of independent Christian bookstores also operate in the United States, and at least some are open on Sundays, according to Nancy Guthrie, spokeswoman for the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA). Ms. Guthrie said the CBA, however, does not have statistics on the exact number of Christian bookstores open on Sundays.
John Cully is the owner of one of the largest independent Christian bookstores in the country. He has operated Evangelical Bible Bookstore in San Diego for 34 years, but has never opened his doors on a Sunday. "It's simply breaking God's law to be open on Sundays," Mr. Cully said. "I don't work on Sunday because God says not to in His Word. The Fourth Commandment says, 'Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall do no work.'"
Ms. Powers said the leadership of Family Christian Bookstores considered the commandment when deciding whether or not to open on Sundays. Since FCB leaders view the company as a ministry as well as a business, Ms. Powers said they felt justified in opening on Sundays, but said the potential for increased revenue was not a factor in the decision.
Lifeway Christian Stores, the second-largest Christian retail chain in the country, also views itself as a ministry, but has no plans to open on Sundays, according to Bill Nielsen, vice president of marketing: "Our conviction is that our employees and customers are better served by reserving Sunday as a day of worship and rest."
At least two large secular corporations have closed their doors on Sundays for biblical reasons as well. Chick-fil-A, the second-largest chicken fast-food restaurant in the country, has never opened on a Sunday. Chick-fil-A spokesman Jerry Johnston said Truett Cathy, the company's founder, decided to remain closed on Sundays because "he believes you can apply biblical principles in the workplace and be successful." Mr. Johnston said Chick-fil-A, with an estimated $1 billion in sales last year, does not calculate how much money it could make by opening on Sundays: "We don't view being closed on Sundays in terms of revenue loss; we view it as an investment in the business."
Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain with 335 stores in 27 states, does know how much it cost its corporation to begin closing its doors on Sundays six years ago. Spokesman Bill Hane said Hobby Lobby stores were open on Sundays until 1998 when the owner decided "it would be more pleasing to the Lord to close on Sundays." Since Sunday was the stores' second-biggest shopping day, closing meant big financial losses-about $100 million the first year, according to Mr. Hane. "On paper the decision was hard to justify, but we were convinced we were doing the right thing," he said. Mr. Hane said customers adjusted their shopping habits to the new schedule, the company continued to grow, and Hobby Lobby projects sales of $1.4 billion this year.
FCB President Dan Browne told the Associated Press that his company's decision on whether to remain open on Sundays was different than a chain like Chick-fil-A because FCB sells "ministry products." "No one's going to go to hell for not eating a chicken sandwich," Mr. Browne said.
Ms. Powers said Family Christian Bookstores polled its customer base before opening on Sundays. The results: Eighty percent said they shopped on Sundays, and 89 percent said they would shop in FCB if it were open on Sundays. Evangelical Bible Bookstore's Mr. Cully said there is nothing in his bookstore or any other Christian bookstore that can't wait until Monday, and that FCB's customer survey reveals "a weakness in the church."
Mr. Cully also said that Christian bookstores opening on Sundays "reflect the quality of the literature they are selling." A call to the Family Christian Bookstores national customer-service center revealed the number of books in its inventory specifically about the Sabbath-zero.