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On avocado toast and Jesus

A side of scripture in a south Tulsa restaurant



Last month at a south Tulsa restaurant, on a small table across from the cash register, I saw the following sign:

PLEASE TAKE A BIBLE
WE PUT THEM HERE FOR YOU
ALREADY HAVE ONE?
GIVE ONE TO SOMEONE ELSE.

To the right of the placard was a stack of bibles for the taking, offered by a local Lutheran church.  

For the love of Two Corinthians, why does this evangelical elbowing come up every 35 minutes or so in Oklahoma? No matter how inadvertent and innocent this display (and I’m not convinced it was truly either), the Holy Scripture being pimped—more to the point, the New Testament Holy Scripture being pimped—was just another brick in the wall in the Jesusification of Oklahoma.

I should have let it go. I was going to let it go, but it kept gnawing at me.

Choose your battles, I kept hearing in mind. Choose your …

I’m choosing this one.

We’ll get to the larger problem in a moment, but let me reiterate the column’s first commandment: We’re not all Christian … nor want to be. The idea, then, that people who come into a restaurant because they have a hankering for avocado toast also have a yearning for salvation and are just waiting to be shown the way—by strangers, if need be—is a curious, maddening thing. I was not a guest at this restaurant; I was not a friend in trouble; I was not a family member who had lost his way—I was a customer, period, who wished to eat without the presumption that my spiritual DNA was so full of holes it needed to be filled by the loving hands of south Tulsa restaurateurs.

This was not a church, not a revival, not a Christian book store. This was a place with chicken breasts in the walk-in freezer and packets of Sweet ’N Low on the table. Would it have killed the owners to act like a restaurant? Would it have killed the owners to leave me alone?

Far from a sweet, unobtrusive gift to lost and unmoored Tulsans, this was a stack of presumption, smugness, and intrusiveness. Even if we customers were rudderless and in need of Christianity, or estranged children of God, lost in the hinterland, how is this the proprietors’ business? How do they know my religion, or lack of it, will fail me in this life and never get me to the next one—if there is one—but their faith will succeed? How lazy (and comical) of them to ask me to do their proselytizing for them by bringing bibles to my friends who are also destined for eternal damnation for not getting right with the Lord? The restaurant might as well have posted a sign out front which read, “All Welcome (But We Prefer Christians)”

I can hear many of you now, so let me say, I agree: The owners can put up a smiling, waving, life-sized papier-mâché Jesus by the salad bar if they so want, and of course it’s my choice not to patronize the place again—that is not the point, nor is the point that my thin-skinned political correctness (read: Jewishness) was offended. But imagine if all the Lebanese restaurants in town placed Qurans across from their cash register. What if their waiters greeted customers with As-salamu alaykum? How many customers would write letters to the editor and gripe on social media about how the “Mooslems” are taking over? How many customers would be deeply offended—we’re all snowflakes when our God is the one being gored, omitted, or mocked—at being a captive audience to the joy of Allah when all they wanted was a damn meal? And how many of these customers—and their friends and supporters—would accept the explanation it was an inoffensive greeting, not in anyway designed to highlight or promote Islam, but rather a simple wish that “Peace be upon you” or “Have a blessed day”—and why are they making such a fuss about it?

Fact is, we are uncomfortable with gods who are not our own, especially when told those gods will smite us for our inattention to them, which is why the public square—and this includes establishments that cater to the public—works better when these gods are left out of the set decorations. There are too many of us, too many faiths, and too many levels of intensity to please everyone; so, no, it’s not political correctness to acknowledge there are differences amongst peoples and that those differences demand respect and accommodation—it’s just basic, effortless decency.

Why should this matter? Because if such displays are not pelted with rhetorical fruits and vegetables now and then—if not, at least, called out—they metastasize and become the new norm. If “It’s my faith” gives you legal cover to not participate in a shared commonality, then why not offer bibles at restaurants? Why not allow bakers to refuse to make lesbians a wedding cake? Why not support private adoption agencies that won’t accept applications from Jews and married homosexuals? And why not applaud giant arts and craft conglomerates that refuse to supply basic reproductive health care to employees?

We’re Christians, and we run our business on Christian principles. I’ve always said that the first two goals of our business are to run our business in harmony with God’s laws, and to focus on people more than money. And that’s what we’ve tried to do. [...] We believe that it is by God’s grace that Hobby Lobby has endured, and he has blessed us and our employees. [...] But now, our government threatens to change all of that. A new government health care mandate says that our family business MUST provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance. Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs. It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one.

That’s a statement from the David Green of Hobby Lobby, suggesting it is God’s grace that has caused them to succeed—not their ability to undercut Michael’s prices on scrapbooking supplies. Fine. The Greens can spin their success any way they want. But to feign outrage, pout, and claim near-martyrdom because government has the temerity to ask them to play by the same rules as everyone else—in this case, to insure women and their bodies—is not only fatuous, it’s disingenuous. This is especially clear when you consider the company’s willingness in other instances to not only jettison their Christianity, but Christians, as well.

Watchdog groups say the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in China is at its most intense since the Cultural Revolution, as churches are shuttered, Bibles confiscated and believers arrested at rates not seen in decades.

Underscoring the hypocrisy of large arts and crafts stores that trumpet their faith except when it affects the bottom line, though always a pleasure, is not my point here—the company’s refusal to cover Yasmin for their female employees under religious grounds is.

Two last things:

1) Last month, Rep. Kevin Hern, Oklahoma’s First District congressman, posted a photo on Facebook, featuring three large crosses at sundown in a barren field with the following words:

“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each with all the wisdom He gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”—Colossians 3:16

On the photo was also the seal of the US House of Representatives.

2) This is what Governor Stitt and the first lady said at a church service in Moore:

“He is about to unleash Oklahoma. … We’re going to engage the nonprofits and the churches to really heal and solve some of these social issues, county by county, that the government can’t do, no law can do, but our Heavenly Father can do,” Stitt said at the event. Then, Oklahoma First Lady Sarah Stitt followed with similarly troublesome statements, telling Christians to use their position in elected office to convert people to Christianity: ‘We are God’s kingdom here on Earth. It is our call to go out into our state and save people and bring people to Him.’

It’s just a United States representative reminding me to praise and to sing to Jesus … just a newly elected governor asserting that God will free Oklahoma from the yoke of self-government … just a first lady promising to go door to door to ferret out sinners.

Just bibles on a table in a south Tulsa restaurant.

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