A Hobby Lobby family profile that gets religion

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Before my teenage daughter left on our church’s annual spring break mission trip last week, we made one of our regular visits to Hobby Lobby. Kendall loves to knit and wanted to make sure she had plenty of yarn for the all-day van ride to the U.S.-Mexico border.

As regular customers of the arts and crafts retailer — which is based in Oklahoma City, where we live — my family has followed the national chain’s legal fight over Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

Much of the media coverage is, of course, filled with complicated legalese and robotic talking heads on the right and left.

Enter Religion News Service senior national correspondent Cathy Lynn Grossman with a refreshing profile of Hobby Lobby President Steve Green, whose stores are closed on Sundays to “allow employees time for family and worship”:

(RNS) Once Steve Green sets his path, there’s no turning back.

Not when he and his high school girlfriend, Jackie, totaled their cars playing chicken. “No one turned off,” he said, recalling how he aimed right at her and she just kept coming. A year later, she married him.

Not when he saw no point in college, going directly into his family’s Hobby Lobby craft store business. Green, now 50, rose up from assembling picture frames for “bubble gum money” at age 7 through every job, including cleaning toilets, to president of the $3.3 billion national chain, one of the nation’s largest private companies.

And certainly not now when, he says, the U.S. government is challenging his unshakeable Christian faith and his religious liberty.

Here’s what I like about Grossman’s 1,500-word profile of Green: It puts a real human face on a newsmaker at the center of a case headed to the Supreme Court.

At the same time, it cuts through the noise and rhetoric and describes the legal fight in terms that ordinary readers can understand:

Next week (March 25) Green’s path leads straight up the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to witness oral arguments in the case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.

That’s Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The department included all Food and Drug Administration-approved forms of contraception among services required for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Hobby Lobby has provided insurance with contraception coverage for years, paying for 16 of the FDA-approved forms, from barrier methods to pills that prevent fertilization. Not covered: intrauterine devices and morning-after pills such as Plan B. Those, the FDA acknowledges, could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.

Blocking implantation would “terminate life” says Green. “We won’t pay for any abortive products. We believe life begins at conception.”

RNS sprinkles personal anecdotes about Green throughout the piece and deftly steps back and allows him to describe his faith — and how it motivates Hobby Lobby’s stand on Obamacare — in his own words:

Lately, it’s the Book of Daniel that comes often to his mind. In Chapter 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would rather face a fiery furnace than bow to an idol at the command of King Nebuchadnezzar.

Green said, “They told the king ‘Our God is able to deliver us.’”

As he faces the white-hot spotlight of the Supreme Court case, Steve Green said, “God has allowed us to take this stand. I don’t want to be presumptuous to say this is God’s will.”

If the ruling goes against Hobby Lobby, “I don’t know what we will do but I am sure what we will not do,” he said. He will say as the three men told the king, “even if God does not deliver us, we still cannot do this.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

As much as I liked this profile, I felt it could have used a little tougher editing in a place or two.

For example, this statement seemed to drift into the realm of opinion:

He may be the ideal plaintiff “for such a time as this” — the line from the Book of Esther that believers often call on for courage when standing on faith.

Who said that? Is that how Green sees himself? Did he refer to that specific Scripture himself?

Or did the writer come up with that passage herself?

Also, while I much appreciated the tone of this piece, I wish RNS had found a way to include a voice on the other side — perhaps someone who knows and likes Green personally but disagrees with the position he and Hobby Lobby have taken on this particular issue.

But overall, this is an insightful piece of journalism that gets religion.

Kudos to Grossman and RNS.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Kodos

    Journalists commonly use this narrative approach when gay marriage stories are written: “Steve and his partner of 15 years spent several Saturdays shopping for matching tuxedos, finally deciding to wear traditional black for their wedding next month…”

    It’s nice to see a journalist use this stylistic approach for a group that doesn’t normally receive sympathetic — or at least humanizing — treatment by the press.

  • gregpiper

    Perhaps Cathy redeems herself after accusing Trail Life kids of making the Nazi salute.

  • James Stagg

    Great article, but, boy, did she release the trolls (read the comments to the article).

  • Darren

    Great post.

    Here’s hoping the Supreme Court ultimately does the right thing and finds that no person or corporate entity can justly be compelled to abide by a law violating his, her, or its convictions.


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