November 22, 2004
Martin E. Marty
“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.' … It's simply breaking God's law to be open on Sundays. … I don't work on Sunday because God says not to in His Word." So spake John Cully, owner of one of the largest independent Christian bookstores in the country. He gave voice to what, a half century ago, almost 100 percent of Protestant church people on the “values and morals” front insisted was God's law for themselves, the nation, all Christians.
Jamie Dean in World (November 13) fair-mindedly reports on the conscience-struggles of evangelical business owners and their employees over Sabbath observance in “Day of Retail." In contrast to Mr. Cully, owners of the Family Christian Bookstore (FCB), a chain of 326 stores, recently decided to open on Sundays, causing their store managers to regularly miss church.
How does FCB legitimate this choice to violate the Commandment? FCB's CEO Dan Browne called it a “ministry decision." Reminded that Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A keep the Sabbath on good evangelical grounds, Browne responded “No one's going to go to hell for not eating a chicken sandwich,” implying that not being able to buy a religious book on Sunday might mean going to hell. The Berean Christian Stores chain is also now open on Sunday. Its VP, Greg Moore, gave his “higher critical” defense: “There is more value in saving a lost soul than adhering to an Old Testament custom that later became a commandment."
Is there any outrage against this latest assault on God's Law? Pollsters found that 80 percent of FCB constituents shop on Sunday. Jamie Dean checked inventories of the FCB stores for books “specifically about the Sabbath,” a topic regularly addressed by Catholic and mainstream Protestant spiritual literature. How many titles did he find? “Zero."
Is this how values and morals change: when enough people engage in a new practice, the fight over the divine origin of “custom” or “Commandment” slips from view? Surveys show that something like this also happens on conservative Protestant fronts. Thus, calling divorce a sin and preaching against it, as evangelicals once did -- now it is a "tragedy" that is ministered to in “pastoral care” -- and, increasingly, preaching against gambling is largely off the evangelical screen. Birth control was preached and editorialized against decades ago, and the "born-again" now take it for granted.
What's next? Women identifying themselves as Protestant obtain 37.4 percent of abortions in the U.S. Catholic women? 31.3 percent, slightly above the general public average. Jewish women? 1.3 percent. As of now, nearly one-fifth of all abortions are performed on women who identify themselves as born-again/evangelical.
If the "born again" number grows, will anti-abortion continue to hold the place it now does on the “values and morals” front? Or will it too fade?
Religion abortion statistics: http://www.agi-usa.org/sections/abortion.html or http://www.abortionno.org/Resources/fastfacts.html.
A close-up, in this case of Oregon, on change in the “morals and values” practices front, see Benton Johnson's study:
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.