Shoppers Balance Beliefs, Business
Sunday, March 5, 2006
On Faith appears the first Sunday of each month.
When Linda Brown needs to get her car fixed, she takes it to an auto repair shop that she found in the Shepherd's Guide, a directory of local businesses owned by self-professed Christians.
She turned to the guide again when her mother died and she needed a lawyer to handle the estate.
For Brown, 47, who worships at Victory Gospel Church in Manassas, using the Christian equivalent of the Yellow Pages is an expression of her faith and a smart way to shop.
"That's where I go first for anything, really," said Brown, who lives in Manassas and has been using the guide for about eight years. "Usually, with Christians, they are honest people and they put God first, not money."
With many other Christian consumers adopting Brown's approach, the popularity of Christian business listings has surged. The Shepherd's Guide, which started in 1980 with 150 advertisers, now has 20,000 advertisers and publishes 4 million books in more than 100 markets, including cities in Canada and Mexico. The guide went online in 2004. Several smaller Christian business directories also have expanded in recent years.
Their growth reflects a steady increase in the number of Christian evangelicals, but it also can be seen as part of a broader trend in which people are striving to integrate their moral and political values into all aspects of life, some scholars said.
"People want to be who they are 24-7," said David W. Miller, executive director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School. The belief in "holistic living" applies not only to faith groups but also to people expressing their ethnic identity or sexual orientation, he said.
There also are business directories for Mormons, Jews and Muslims, but not on as large a scale as the Christian guides, which list businesses ranging from pest control companies to tax accountants. The books are typically distributed through churches and Christian bookstores.
To advertise as a Christian business in the Baltimore-based Shepherd's Guide, business owners must sign a statement saying they have received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and will follow "the highest Biblical code of ethics in my transactions." For Keener Communications, which publishes the San Diego-based Christian Examiner's Yellow Pages, a spoken statement of faith is enough.
Among Washington area vendors advertising in the Shepherd's Guide, the notion of what it means to be a Christian business varies widely.
Some said in interviews that they sought the listing because they sell Christian-specific products and services. Some said they offered lower prices or better service than competitors. Others said they treated customers honestly but did not operate any differently from other businesses.