As the novel coronavirus slowly spreads across the nation—and world—citizens have taken care to voluntarily abide by the “social distancing” and “shelter in place” guidelines recommended by Centers for Disease Control.
When state governors elevated their response to the pandemic by ordering the closure of fitness centers, movie theaters, and trade show centers, along with prohibiting any gathering larger than 50 people, businesses obeyed. Here in New York State, when Governor Cuomo mandated that all companies must not have more than 25% of their employees on-site at one time, most CEOs and HR departments rearranged their operations in order to follow the new rule. This effort, which all of America is participating in, hasn’t been easy.
While the government has effectively shut down select operational aspects of businesses in certain industries—the restaurant industry has been reduced to delivery and take-out, for example—and while state authorities have ordered the closure of businesses that operate in industries that provide the highest risk of transmission, such as casinos, neither the federal nor state governing authorities have ordered—and legally enforced—the complete closure of all businesses across the nation.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations remain open. These kinds of stores are essential to the average Americans’ day to day life. Our government can’t stop us from buying food, because eating is necessary, and they wouldn’t want to. They also don’t want to literally shut down every company that exists just to slow the spread of the virus. Doing so would be detrimental to our entire financial system, in fact it might even be on par with mass economic suicide.
Companies that have retail stores and that primarily sell non-essential products and services have been advised—not ordered—to temporarily close.
Hobby Lobby is among the list of non-essential retail stores that has remained open and operational, though it is following the imposed restrictions regarding the on-site employee headcount to stay in compliance with the new ordinances on a state by state basis. Hobby Lobby, which has headquarters in Oklahoma, is the nation’s largest privately-owned arts and crafts store with over 900 locations across the country and roughly 43,000 employees.
Hobby Lobby is also Christian-owned.
Though this huge company sells arts and crafts supplies—not necessities—it has not voluntarily shut its doors for the duration of the pandemic. With 43,000 employees that depend on Hobby Lobby for their income, one could argue that owner David Green’s decision to stay operational was a good one. But if you’ve been anywhere near Twitter or Facebook recently, you would have already encountered a different reason for why Green has kept his chain of stores open; one that has little to do with the virtues of a corporation committed to paying employees throughout this pandemic.
A letter to employees that Green had written went viral on Twitter. In it, Green reassured store managers that all of them would get through this together and he shared with them an impression that his wife Barbara realized while praying.
“In her quiet prayer time this past week, the Lord put on Barbara’s heart three profound words to remind us that He’s in control. Guide, guard, and groom. We serve a God who will Guide us through this storm, who will Guard us as we travel to places never seen before, and who, as a result of this experience, will Groom us to be better than we could have ever thought possible before now.”
The main purpose of Green’s letter to employees was to convey that God is in control, God has blessed Hobby Lobby from the start, and God will provide even now. It should be clear to anyone reading the letter—and reading it in the context that this is an openly Christian company—that Green intended only to instill solidarity across every location. Remember, this is a massive retail chain. Hobby Lobby has an estimated net worth of $6 billion according to Forbes. All 43,000 aren’t going to fit under the same roof and they can’t all hop on a conference call to hear their CEO’s words of encouragement directly.
But when this letter hit the internet, most people who read—and then went on to attack—it were not willing to get sidetracked by Green’s Christian sentiment.
“Hobby Lobby owner David Green is telling store managers to stay open despite the pandemic because his wife had a vision from god,” ranted one Twitter user who calls herself Towanda the Avenger. Her account has a blue checkmark, which means she’s verified and—God, help us—is more likely to influence other users because of it.
First of all, Towanda’s synopsis is inaccurate. It’s also offensive, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Nowhere does the letter state that Barbara Green “had a vision from” God. But Towanda isn’t interested in accuracy. She knows that she can effortlessly discredit Green’s wife by characterizing her as “crazy”. Who, but a madwoman, would think she’s having a vision from God?
In the span of a single sentence, the scathing sarcasm that Towanda uses in her tweet did what she had designed it to do. The tweet mocked Barbara for her prayer life. It mocked Green for assuming his wife has a credible relationship with God and characterized him as foolish because of it. The tweet also painted both of the Greens as lunatics for heeding God’s role in the pandemic. Don’t the Greens get it? Voluntarily “shutting-down-and-shutting-in” is the only way to stop the virus from killing us all, and if you don’t shut down all 900 retail stores, then you’re a killer not a Christian!
But perhaps worst of all, Towanda’s tweet belittled those of the Christian faith, an added implication that she conflated with the intentional use of a lowercase “g” in the spelling of “God”.
In the tweet, Towanda went on to criticize Green for his net worth, which is its own evidence of criminality apparently, and other foaming-at-the-mouth Twitter users couldn’t wait to pounce either. The Volatile Mermaid wrote, “I’m sure Hobby Lobby employees will feel better about dying knowing the billionaire owner’s wife imagined that an invisible sky wizard told her it would be ok.” He included the lovely hashtag #COVIDIOT, which you can follow to an actual mob of people chomping at the bit to virtually tear the Greens apart. “Hobby Lobby, closed on Sundays to allow employees time for family and worship. Open during the pandemic because our morals aren’t really all that great,” wrote Neil Saunders, president of the morality brigade.
There’s literally a novel’s worth of attacks directed at the Greens and Hobby Lobby in response to Green’s letter. How dare David Green assume that any employee working under him wouldn’t be horrified at his use of offensive terms like “God”, “prayer”, and “faith”?
What’s so outrageous about the hostility that the Greens have received is that the mainstream media picked up on the story. Did journalists read Green’s original letter? Why, no, why would they? Newspaper, magazine, and other publications including the NY Daily News, Business Insider, and Esquire picked up the rumors—not the facts—and ran their own sensationalist stories, grabbing viewers with shocking headlines such as “God supposedly wants Hobby Lobby to remain open”, “Hobby Lobby reportedly leaving stores open based on a message from God”, and “Hobby Lobby Stays Open Because Owner’s Wife had Vision From God”.
There is a serious problem here and it isn’t that David and Barbara Green are delusional. They aren’t. The serious problem is that there are way too many news outlets that thrive on spreading hateful, hate-filled misinformation. When misinformation can be used to influence the masses to direct their own hate at a chosen target, that’s all the better for the media. People are easily controlled. Depending on the narrative the media wants to push, news organizations will incite the public’s anger towards our president, towards our faith, and towards God. What’s been happening to Hobby Lobby is evidence of that.
Hobby Lobby isn’t hurting or helping the battle against coronavirus any more or less than any given pharmacy that is also staying open. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that there are more people clustering inside pharmacies and therefore promoting the spread of COVID-19 than there are in your average Hobby Lobby. But the reason Green’s letter went viral, first on Twitter and then on Facebook, has nothing to do with the spread of coronavirus or this pandemic. It went viral on social media, because it isn’t hard to incite hatred against Christians and there are a lot of people out there who like doing that.
God is offensive to people like Towanda the Avenger, The Volatile Mermaid, and Neil—president of the morality brigade—Saunders. We should all know better than to mention Him.