|By Hilton, John|
In fact, the newly branded
"That's one of the things we're not about," McLaughlin said from the firm's
Originally known as Menges & McLaughlin, the
D i s c u s s i o n s about rebranding as a Christian law firm began last year with
"Through that process, he asked us what we're about," McLaughlin recalled. "He suggested to us that we might want to go to a name that would be a natural progression for the people we were already working with."
While Lewis said he knew it would "narrow the market" for the law firm, he sensed the connection with Christian clients would make the name change worth it.
"There's probably a lot of people who won't find it appealing that they're a Christian law firm," Lewis said, adding that dealing with sensitive issues such as divorce and estate planning often require a little faith.
"My strong feeling, and the partners of this firm share the opinion, is that Christian families would rather deal with Christian attorneys on these matters," he added.
Bringing faith beliefs into the business is seemingly becoming easier for owners. The national success of franchises such as
Both national chains hold a devoted customer base despite ownerships taking controversial stands on contraception and gay rights.
In the three years since, he has advised clients from
"Many times, really conservative clients are hesitant to share the fact that they're a Christ follower," Griffin said. "They're concerned about offending people. We've become so polarized by political correctness that we can't say who we are."
Griffin said he hopes to be "the Dave Ramsey of Christian resources."
There is no question local, small businesses are more willing to identify their faith in light of the national success of businesses such as
"From a business perspective, and this isn't why we do it, but Barna (research group) will tell you that the majority of people gravitate to Christianowned businesses for the perceived value that they have," he said. "There's an absolute value proposition to being able to say, 'We're a Christian-owned business.'"
The 2011 survey by Barna asked if people would be "more likely or less likely to buy a particular brand if they knew it was from a company that embraces and promotes the Christian faith, or wouldn't it make a difference."
One-third of all U.S. adults (37 percent) said they would be more likely to purchase from this type of business. Only 3 percent said such a faith connection would make them less likely to support this type of organization and its products, resulting in a favorable-to-unfavorable ratio of 12 to 1.
Founded in 1984,
From the beginning
"Cornerstone is a reference to a biblical verse, which talks about Christ being a cornerstone in our lives," Mershon explained.
The seven doctors on staffat Cornerstone perform a range of family medical services. But there are clear differences from a secular medical practice. The staffhas a morning prayer, Mershon said, and offers to pray with patients as well.
Medical procedures that are not consistent with the founders' Christian beliefs are not performed.
"We don't refer for abortions. Our feeling is the baby is a patient as well," Mershon said. "If you feel that's a patient as well, you don't send your patients to get killed."
Like Trinity Law Firm, the stance might cost Cornerstone some patients, but Mershon is willing to live with that. The health care provider does not turn patients away, he added.
"Obviously, we take care of patients regardless of their faiths," he said. "We occasionally get some grief, but in
Trinity has clients who see the Christian branding as adding a spiritual element to their legal services, McLaughlin said. For example, clients will sometimes ask for the Christian answer to a legal question, he said, and Trinity lawyers pray with clients at times.
"There are times when the client doesn't see it the same way," McLaughlin said. "What we'll do, and what we have done, is we'll ask them to talk to their pastor."
"Many of these folks are just trying to express who they are in their business," he said.
What they are encountering is "pushback from people who want to turn business into a religion-free zone," said Zigarelli, who has taught at several faith-based colleges.
He said the
In the current contentious environment, there remain potential downsides to the decision to embrace faith. Depending on the business type, identifying with a particular faith can bring out various biases on the part of potential customers.
Business owners need to be wary of appearing "holier than thou," Griffin said. He works with clients on crafting language to deflect those perceptions.
"Stating that you're a Christianowned business isn't a statement that you're perfect," he said.
Some customers may wonder if faith-adhering businesses are "too good" to perform the services needed. McLaughlin has experienced this at Trinity, where some potential customers have questioned, "Would we be too soft? Could we be sharks?" he said.
The lawyer said Trinity represents its clients "zealously," but with Christian principles. And that is the bottomline allure for most companies choosing the faith route.
"It's really not any different from how a secular company like Quaker Oats would take their values and incorporate them into the company," Griffin explained. "You can state where you're founded, or what you're based on, but from a legal perspective, or from a moral perspective, you don't want to force that on someone."
Have an opinion about this issue?
Email us at [email protected].
'There's a hesitation'
Southcentral Pennsylvania is heavily dominated by Christian faiths, according to data from the
"There's a hesitation" from business owners about being "too overt" in expressing their faith, he said. That reticence goes beyond the Affordable Care Act issues surrounding contraception, he added.
Zigarelli cited a
"There's an increasing number of those cases out there," he said.
"We've become so polarized by political correctness that we can't say who we are."
Employment-based health insurance and contraceptives have both been around for a long time, so why are employee-versus-business rights on this being hashed out only now?
But, he says, that requirement didn't spark the same response apparent now because it wasn't as widely publicized, and health care reform goes beyond that requirement by demanding coverage of what is known as the morning-after pill and similar contraceptives that some consider abortifacients.
The issue, however, isn't limited to contraception.
He notes that the law already contains an exemption for religious sects that object to
Of the impact of the pending decision, Athey says the issue weighs heavily on business owners who object to contraceptives on religious grounds but won't have much direct short-term impact on employers who don't share those objections. The long-term impact of the ruling, he says, will be on the scope of future legislation and the extent to which it must accommodate religious objections.
LEGAL EYE: BEWARE DISCRIMINATION
There's no law against expressing faith in business, attorneys say, unless that expression constitutes discrimination.
"When you're an employer, you have to comply with nondiscrimination laws, regardless of your religious beliefs," says
Under Title 7, Rose says, business owners can't refuse to hire people of different or no faith. They also can't require people to pray or engage in any other kind of religious practice at work. That doesn't expressly prohibit activities like organized prayer in the workplace; it just means that employees can't be required to participate.
"It's not, per se, a violation to do that, but I think it's a dangerous area when you start promoting your business that way," Bowser said.
On the customer side, the issue of the moment is whether business owners may deny service to the LGBT community. Currently, Rose and Bowser say, federal law does not specifically protect LGBT customers, and
One-third of all U.S. adults (37 percent) said they would be more likely to purchase from (a company that embraces and promotes the Christian faith).
IN POLLS, SUPPORTERS HAVE AN EDGE
The case is new but the general question is not, and public opinion polling on it has been happening for years. Many of those polls have shown a majority saying businesses should not be granted religious exemptions. Here are two examples.
Early in March, an
"Under the new health care law, health insurance plans are required to cover preventive health services, including prescription birth control. Religious organizations are exempt from the requirement that their health plans cover prescription birth control. Do you think other employers who object to birth control and other contraceptives on religious grounds should or should not be exempt from the requirement that their health plans cover prescription birth control?"
"There is currently a debate over what kinds of health care plans employers, including religiously affiliated employers, should be required to provide. Do you think ____ should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost, or not?"
"Most people respect our beliefs. ... For us, it's showing Christ's love in a practical way in terms of taking care of our patients."
Picking a position
There are many ways to make faith part of your company's image, from name and policies to statements on your website and where and how you advertise. But is doing so a wise business move?
That depends on the business, says
"If you felt yourself to be a religious person, you might be a little more likely to be uneasy with online dating," Taylor says. "Right away they say, 'These are the people that share your values, this is not a hookup community.'"
In other markets, though, faith may not be a key consideration that most people use when determining who to patronize. Introducing faith into that equation is a gamble and, as with politics, Taylor says, neutral is generally the safest place for a business to be.
"From a business perspective, I will almost always recommend that you keep faith out of your public brand," says
"The larger the organization, the less likely they are to pull religion into any part of their brand communication," he said.
However, balancing that consideration is the need to know your target audience and the rewards of engaging with it deeply.
"The best brands are very true to who they are. If you have a faith-based brand, it's important that you stay true to that," he says. Potentially divisive emphases may well narrow the field of potential customers, but it can also inspire stronger loyalty with those customers who identify with what the company stands for.
Narrowing a company's focus can be scary, Trout says, but he often encourages clients to do it, because, in the end, "the opportunities you receive are much better suited for what you will deliver."
"Many of these folks are just trying to express who they are in their business."
FINDING A GUIDE
To be in business is to hear, repeatedly, of the value of mentors.
But for business people of faith, finding a mentor may require more than just identifying someone with experience in the industry.
"We do see more businesses that really are making faith practice a part of what they do," says
"For some people, the Bible is a business manual," Bucek says. Asking about faith isn't a formal part of the chamber's mentorship matchmaking process, but it tends to come up in the screening conversations.
Just being of the same faith, however, is no guarantee that people will agree on how that faith should be expressed. Some may see an imperative to use the marketplace to explicitly exercise their religion, publicly encouraging righteousness and fighting evil, while others may believe that a subtler approach is wiser.
According to LBC's website, the program's mission is, "To educate Christian students with the necessary business knowledge and skills that they may proclaim
"When Jesus tells us, 'You have to love God and you have to love others,' in your business you have to love others. To me, that means if a person walks in my front door that I don't like and is not living in a way that I'm not comfortable with or happy with, that makes me uncomfortable, it doesn't matter," Sauer says. "I have to serve them, and I have to do so in a loving and gracious manner."
Those questions aren't always distinctively religious. They can be as elemental as how to respond, as a person of faith, if a company pulls your franchise agreement or someone steals from you, Schin says.
|Copyright:||(c) 2014 Journal Publications Inc.|