The LifeWay Rant… Uncensored!

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

The countdown to freedom is on… I only have four more days left as an employee of LifeWay Christian Stores. I think I’m keeping everything in perspective pretty well. I mean, the night that I found out that I was going to be able to give my two weeks notice the day, I only danced around the house for two or three hours (so much so that I accidentally ran smack into the doorframe.) Now, I only have to worry about one thing about LifeWay – exactly what I should include in my letter. The temptation is to simply say thank God that’s over and never finish my magnum opus against The Man (a.k.a. LifeWay). However, I think I almost have some kind of responsibility to look beyond myself and write this letter, maybe to improve LifeWay, maybe just to find out if they really care at all about a former employee (I love the way that sounds… former *sigh*). To help me keep focus, I’m watching Shaft and listening to Public Enemy. Fight the power! Even white kids like me have to fight The Man from time to time.

Just to get a little feedback, here’s what I have so far in my letter. Please leave some comments about what I can do to make it a little better. I know I’ll have to tone it down a little bit for it to be taken seriously, but here’s my unedited, uncut version. And now without further ado, I present…

The LifeWay Rant – Uncensored!

Dear sir or madam:

I recently quit my position as an employee at a LifeWay retail store after several months, and during that time, I have noticed several things about the chain that raise serious concerns. The first of these objections is over plus selling, the suggestion (read “pushing”) of particular products to all customers as they check out. At my store, this is talked about with utmost seriousness and almost worshipful reverence. We are repeatedly told that we should push the products selected by corporate to “every customer, every time.” We are constantly reminded that the money earned from selling these items goes to the cooperative program. We are frequently informed of the ministry that comes from one of these low-cost (and frequently low-quality) sales items. However, I believe that there are times when plus selling is, at best, morally suspicious or, at worst, just plain wrong. If an unchurched customer comes into the store grieving over the death of her only child, I will be there to minister to her. I will guide her to resources to help her deal with her loss, I will give her insights from the Bible, and I will pray with her. After all this, I absolutely REFUSE to pitch a Veggie Tales movie or a Bible cover to this person. To do so would be insensitive and irresponsible and possibly detrimental to the ministry we could have provided. The “every customer, every time” philosophy ignores the individual and his or her specific ministry needs. Despite these objections, plus selling no matter who the customer is or what they need is continually promoted in our store with a Pharisee-like rigidity. When I am on the sales floor, I am there to minister to the people in the store at the time. Some customers might genuinely benefit from our plus sell items, and to those I will suggest them; others neither need them, nor will they be forced upon them by me.

Additionally, I am disturbed to see that by mid-October, our store was already completely decorated for Christmas and much of our sales floor was filled with Christmas gift product. Christians are constantly noting that the secular world has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. We complain that our culture has over-commercialized the holiday and replaced the baby Jesus with Santa Claus and presents. At LifeWay, the baby Jesus is there in a variety of beautiful porcelain and stained glass gift items. We also have 344 small glass angels arranged in a Christmas tree shaped floor stack. We have two lighted Christmas trees, garland with bows, festive music, and even a special sales training meeting to prepare us for the Christmas rush – in October. Over-commercialized? Guilty! We have copied the world’s model for Christmas celebration, only we have justified all the gifts and decorations by taking on a cheap religious sentiment. I have heard the argument that we have to be ready this early because all the other stores have their Christmas product out and we don’t want to be left behind. Since when are we supposed to copy the world? Just because secular stores push secular Christmas with unrelenting eagerness doesn’t mean that we should do the same with a religious one. I am as festive and celebratory as anyone when it comes to Christmas – when the time is right. However, this year it seems that I won’t be able to celebrate very much of Christmas at all. With all our emphasis on Christmas and family for our customers, employs are forced by corporate into a schedule that forbids them from taking even one day off from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas day. Hypocritical? Guilty. I have been told that this is simply the way that retail works, but shouldn’t Christian retail be different?

If our primary goal, our only goal, is ministry, then why does LifeWay place such an emphasis on appearance and image? Would an associate be any less effective as a minister with tattooed arms or a pierced face? Can God’s word only be life changing when presented by clean-cut men and women in ironed button-down shirts and pressed khakis? LifeWay has become a bastion of conservatism in dress and appearance, and has effectively isolated those who do not fit that image. Conservatism of doctrine need not be linked with conservatism of appearance. I have seen applicants’ resumes be rejected because they didn’t wear a tie to drop off their application. At the same time, I rarely see teenagers in the store, especially those who would not fit into the mold that many Baptists believe we should all fit in. Though we stock CDs by artists like Disciple and Living Sacrifice (industrial heavy metal) and T-bone (West Coast rap), I believe that we would prefer that the people who would most benefit from this style of music not come into our store because it might upset the conservative older customers. God’s word is for all. Jesus’ appearance was never made to conform to a public perception of what a religious leader should be. He ate with tax collectors and conversed with prostitutes. He went into the streets, bringing His message of hope to those who could benefit from it most. LifeWay takes great care to uphold an image, but that image is one of church, not of Christ.

On the whole, what LifeWay says and what happens at the store level do not match. Is it about ministry or sales? Do we really believe that family should be a priority in our own lives even if it means that work becomes less important? Remember, Jesus himself spoke most harshly to those Pharisees who claimed one view but did not live it out in their lives. Having a corporate philosophy and goal of ministering to customers is admirable, but if it is not lived out, it is completely and utterly useless.

That’s it folks. Let me know what you think. Peace out, brothers. Don’t let The Man bring you down. Word.