Christian Owner

I was in Niagara Falls recently, and saw a big sign in a store window that proclaimed “Christian Owner”.  I’ve written on the topic before, but I found it unbelievable that someone would even CONSIDER putting up such a sign.

The most charitable interpretation of this sign would be that it somehow relates to the store’s purpose and serves to warn customers before they enter.  If I ran a store selling holy symbols, it might be worth letting customers know which religious denomination they’re for, before they come in (if someone is looking for a new crucifix and I only sell Stars of David, I’m not going to be able to help them).  This store was a general gift store, so while they may have had angels on some of their goods, they sold other non-religious items, so I really didn’t think this was the purpose.

Less charitably, and probably more accurately, their purpose may have been to tell Christians “Hey, I’m the same as you.  You should shop at my store instead of patronizing some atheist or Muslim!”.

The least charitable, and hopefully inaccurate, interpretation is that the owner is warning others away.  They’re posting the sign to say they only want to conduct business with Christians, and if you’re not one, they don’t want you in their store.

Penn and Teller have a proposal for world peace.  They suggest all barriers to trade be removed, and that as many different groups and people are encouraged to do business together as possible.  Their belief, and I think they’re on to something, is that if people are making money together, they’re going to do what they can to get along.  I read a quote from an Indian businessman who said that he’s too busy making money to want to fight with Pakistan.

When people start segregating and only doing business with people who believe the same things they do, we’re on a path for some real trouble.  The way to reconcile differing opinions is discussion and at a political / legal level through democracy.  Economic warfare where we don’t do business with people who don’t believe what we do is one step up from physical violence and can be just as harmful (talk to a small business owner who has gone bankrupt – he probably would have prefered a punch in the nose to losing his savings and livelihood).

Some people may say “well, I’d never boycott a business because of someone’s race or religion, I’m a good guy”.  I think what they’re doing is just as ugly if they do it to try and force their political beliefs on a person or company.  If you’re pro-life and you boycott a local cafe owner you know is pro-choice (or vice-versa) it’s just as bad.  The abortion debate has NOTHING to do with lattes.

In case it isn’t clear from the post, I would have found it just as offensive if there had been a sign in the window saying “Hindu Owner” or “Atheist Owner”.

46 replies on “Christian Owner”

Very strange. Advertising that you are from a certain segment of the population is definitely offensive in this situation (unlike personal ads): “black owner”, “white owner”, “female owner”, “dog owner owner”, “(insert religion) owner” are clearly not acceptable.

Too bad it wasn’t in Quebec – the language police would have burned that sign – for a different reason but still… 🙂

Although it’s hard for me to admit, as I’d probably avoid the shop, I guess I don’t have a problem with this at all. A “christian owner” sign is a bit flashy and low class, but you see the subtler rainbow flag, xtian fish and stuff all the time.

“White owner” would definitely be bizarre (and likely backfire) but do you consider this any different to an Irish flag hanging off a pub? Every other storefront in my neighbourhood tells you where the owner comes from in one way or another. And honestly, if I walk into a strange town and am looking for salt and vinegar crisps I’ll go to the bodega called “O’Reillys” over the one called “Singhs” or whatever every time, and it’s not because I hate Indian people, so I guess it works. Until I figure out the paddies are charging me more anyway!


The Irish owner argument agrees with the post, since advertising your heritage has something to do with what you are trying to sell, the Irish do have the best pubs…

Mr. Cheap! Think of the positives!

Signs like that ensure the business will never really excel and therefore they won’t gain any real riches/influence.

Works for me.

In this situation we’re talking about a a particular company, do you feel the same way if we apply this to a particular country like China where human rights and environmental abuses are well documented.

“When people start segregating and only doing business with people who believe the same things they do, we?re on a path for some real trouble. ”

Personally, I agree with you. I think as a country, we’d have more dialogue and influence to persuade changes by encouraging trade with a country like China then by trying to isolate, exclude or ostricize them.

Sonny: Yes, I feel the same way about particular countries. As you say, we have more opportunity for dialogue and influence with trading partners than with people trade sanctions are imposed on. Contrast Cuba with China.

Guinness: I have just as much problem with rainbow flags and xtian fish. I find “Darwin Fish” quite funny, but I wouldn’t think of hanging one in a business I ran. A number of real estate agents and other service providers make it known that they’re gay, and basically say to the Toronto gay community “you should use my services, since I’m a part of the queer community”. That’s just as ugly as a real estate agent saying “you should do business with me since I’m not a homosexual.”

As Matt say, I’m ok with the Irish pub indicating that its an irish pub (especially since it probably isn’t even owned / opporated by an Irish person). They’re telling you about their drink selection and atmosphere rather than encourage you to only do business with a specific nationality.

If it was a dollar store and the owner wanted everyone to know that he was Iranian by hanging a flag outside, I’d question that (and be much more bothered by it than an Irish pub).

DividendMan: Truth be told, that’s one of the reasons I don’t really support legislative solutions to discriminatory hiring practices. Companies without such practices will be able to pick from a larger pool of applicants, will have a better work force, and should therefore be more competitive and outperform the company with the discriminatory hiring practices.

To me it just sounds like the store owner is expecting a breakout of a christian riot/sectarian violence in niagara falls, and is just trying to keep his store from getting f’ed up by rampaging christians. Makes sense to me, NF is a rough spot, a riot just waiting for a trigger.

I don’t find it offensive. I just wouldn’t shop there. In Canada, religion is a very personal thing. It almost sounds like insecurity. “I’m insecure in my beliefs, so I want to surround myself with other believers”

Hanging a flag outside an irish pub is completely different. You’re going to the pub to feel the atmosphere (and drinks/food) of Ireland. Just like an italian flag on an Italian restaurant.

The fact that they’re christian has nothing to do with the trinkets they sell. In effect, it’s a kind of subtle segregation.

Someone brought up Cuba. When you think about it, the embargo makes no sense whatsoever.

Guess I sidetracked things mentioning a pub. Rather than speaking to atmosphere I was trying to give an example of a business with the national flag (or language) of the proprietor somewhere on the storefront, like a lot of the businesses in the area we live in have whether framing stores or coffee shops. Some are subtle too.

I have definitely (and almost unconsciously) patronized Irish pubs, groceries, etc before others close by. Not so much here in TO but certainly living in NYC where Irish-owned businesses are more common. I don’t think that is too uncommon amongst us immigrants. In my mind that’s the same thing as the fishes and rainbow flags so it doesn’t upset me or unnerve me at all.

Interesting question. Where I live, in NYC (and I love a good Irish pub!), there are a lot of Asian stores with signs in the country of origin. On the one hand it could alienate those not of Asian heritage but on the other hand it’s smart marketing as there is a high Asian population.

So long as the sign doesn’t specifically exclude a group then they have a right to display what they want just as we have a right to not shop there.

Now a smart marketer might advertise that they welcome all people near a store that advertises to only one. As I said I love a good Irish pub but tell me you have beer from around the world and you might win my drink!

I really don’t have a problem with this at all. It’s a free country. If your offended just take your business elsewhere. Why would you WANT to give your money to someone who dislikes you anyways? I think people on this blog-site are naive. It is very common in many American cities to see stores saying BLACK OWNED. This is sometimes accompanied with pictures of two arms with broken chains. Hispanics are also not shy about having external store murals that make it very clear who OWNS the stores and who is / is not welcome there.

Just to clarify, a few commentors seem to think I’m proposing a LAW to forbid signs of this kind. I’m not suggesting anything of the sort (I’d be the last person to try to criminilize everything I disagree with). I just think we’re heading down a pretty dark path if we think this is an acceptable way to conduct business. I’d love it if the Christian, Queer, African-American and Hispanic communities could engage in discussion with business owners who are trying to barter their religious / sexual / cultural identity for marketting purposes and let them know that its not having the desired impact.

Andy: In terms of not doing business with them because of these signs, that would be pretty hypocritical of me given this post, wouldn’t it?

Paul Graham has suggested that smart people often protect their naivete to be able to tackle problems from a fresh perspective ( so we’ll take it as a compliment if you find us naive. Plus, as nobleea said, we’re Canadian, eh!

I think there’s a more likely explanation which isn’t mentioned here yet. When that store owner puts up a sign saying he’s Christian, what he’s saying is that he’s going to run his store according to Christian values.

That assures his clientele that he won’t use sex to sell his products or be afraid to say Merry Christmas etc.

If his motivation is to assure his clients of a certain shopping atmosphere, I think there’s nothing wrong with using a sign to point out what set of values he holds.

@ David- I’m not entirely clear what a Christian “shopping atmosphere” would be. I worked for over 18 months in a cookstore, the owner was a gay atheist Chinese-Canadian. None of which would be evident to the casual shopper, and despite not running the store with Christian values we didn’t have Bikini Tuesdays or have to stroke the saucepans suggestively.
I really don’t think that religion has any part in retail unless you are selling bibles.
Of course there is another option- perhaps the guy’s name was Christian Owner?!

Well, to give more concrete examples:

A restaurant owner would have a modest dress code, as opposed to what’s commonly seen at Earl’s etc.

A retail store won’t put up posters which use scantily clad women to advertise their products.

It’s almost like you’re saying “Family Friendly” I guess.

But I guess also clients would take comfort in the fact that certain types of customers would be driven away by that sign, for example drunk people at a restaurant or easily annoyed and foul mouthed customers at a store. Of course there’s no guarantee but it definitely makes it easier for Mom’s to take their kids along. Again, very similar to *Family Friendly”

If you’re classless (or drunk, or teenage) enough to be effing and blinding at people in a store, a sign probably ain’t going to stop you. I appreciate David and Andy’s lateral thinking, but I seriously doubt this sign is to signal atmosphere or drive off those “not welcome” (wtf? ), it’s just to attract the attention of fundies on vacation as they walk or bus by. Somehting our proprietor thinks will give him a bit of an advantage in an area that probably isn’t doing too well at the moment. And hey, more power to him, I say, if it works.

(And I’m all for anything that keeps your average Niagara falls tourist away from any bikini tuesdays, thanks very much. Shudder.)

I repeat again, Canadians are probably the most naive people in the world when it comes to racial and cultural matters. I have travelled all over the world and I know what I’m talking about here. Try walking alone at night in downtown Detroit for an experience in “diversity”. Spend some time in Haiti or any black-majority country. Anyways people are always free to vote with their wallets. Maybe it is unwise of that particular storeowner to POTENTIALLY be risking losing some business with his sign but that’s his choice. Again Canadians, that is to say except for the somewhat more ethnocentric Francophones are very naive about race issues just as the British were say before 1948.

I have travelled all over the world as well. I had no problem walking along at night in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, and Venezuela. And I disagree with you. Our ‘experiment’ up here in Canada with a multicultural society isn’t doing so bad. The american ‘melting pot’ has created the fear and racial intolerance that you’re showing.

You’re very clearly saying (though trying to be subtle) that your personal safety is at stake if you’re walking alone at night in a black-majority area. And comparing Haiti to detroit because they both have black people.

If you’re saying we’re naive because we haven’t built up the racist walls in our minds that you have, then so be it. We don’t have preconceived notions that other races are out to get us. I ges that makes us naive.

Spare us Andy. While nobleea (that’s really hard to type ….) has covered your, uh, not-so-sub text, I’m not Canadian, neither is Looby, Mr Cheap has lived abroad etc etc. And while I’ve never been in Detroit, I was the only white person on my street in Queens for years. Somehow I lived to tell the tale (and patronize the bodegas), even. I’m guessing you haven’t spent much time in the GWN either though, eh?

I don’t think Andy has ever been to Toronto. I don’t know of the exact stats but there is pretty good representation here from just about every race/country/language that I know of.

Andy, do you think that all Canucks are white?

I believe the UN declared Toronto as the most multi-cultural city in the world.

I think Andy believes every other race is out to get white people.

I have no problem with this. As a Christian, if I have the choice to support a fellow Christian over someone else that offers and equal value that isn’t, I’ll do so. Does that mean I don’t shop at others (atheist, Muslim, etc.) no.

It just baffles me that because someone is making you aware of the faith that you wouldn’t shop at their store? Why not? Not shopping their because they say they are Christian is called being prejudice.

I see stores everyday that say women owned, Asian owned, Latino owned. I could care less. It’s just information.

I think David hit it pretty well too, it’s about values.

I do find it pretty entertaining to see how discussions of someone’s faith always gets everyone all in a wad. I’ve never really understood why it’s such a big deal.

Glblguy: I never said I’d boycott the store (and I wouldn’t). That’s kinda whole point of this post :-).

Clearly you *could* care less who the owner of a store is since you’ll preferentially shop at stores owned by Christians. Why do you feel its ok to preferentially shop at stores owned by someone who shares your religious beliefs, but not at stores owned by someone who shares your gender or ethnicity?

Mr. Cheap,
My site is called Christian Personal Finance – so, I can’t help but laugh when I think that you probably feel the same way about my site 😉 That said, a lot of what I write is geared towards things Christians would be interested in that Buddhists may not – so it is a little bit different.

Anyway, as a Christian, I see businesses doing what you are talking about in the post a whole lot. The reasoning, I believe, is because they likely think that by saying that the business is “christian owned” it will draw more Christians into the door than it will keep potential customers out by offending them.

It would be foolish of the business owner to ONLY want business from Christians, I think he was just trying to get MORE business from Christians…

You mentioned…

“Less charitably, and probably more accurately, their purpose may have been to tell Christians ?Hey, I?m the same as you. You should shop at my store instead of patronizing some atheist or Muslim!?.”

Just like a fraternity, a soccer team, a division of the armed forces, a men’s club, or any other group – people often like to support someone who is in the same group as them. I would rather do business with someone who lives in my town than someone on the other side of the world – not because I don’t like other people, it is just that I want to support my town and see it thrive. I think (I can’t be sure of anyone’s intentions) this was the motivation of the business owner you mention.

To me, it is not much different than if it said, owned by a firefighter, or by a veteran, or by a mother of 10 kids.

Well, this is how I see it. Canada and the US are different in many ways. One of them is religion. In Canada, it’s a very private thing. You’ll never see a politician or leader discuss it and won’t see any soundbite on tv with them coming out of church service. That’s quite the opposite in the states, where there is are very vocal religious groups and the topic of a leader’s religion is high on a lot of voters’ minds.

So when people here say they wouldn’t shop at a store that says ‘Christian owner’ or ‘Buddhist owner’ it’s not because they have a beef with the religion, it’s because they’re slightly offended that they would bring their religion in to the public. It’s just not something that’s brought up. And the same thing with race, gender, sexual orientation. You’re human.

Christian PF – good point about the blog name – I never thought of that.

I have to admit that I can’t ever recall seeing a store that had any kind of “owner” sign in the window. Maybe I’m not that observant?

I can’t say I’ve every seen a sign either. Maybe we’re not observant enough. Or naive, some might say.

Putting in my two cents, I think that the person is hoping that people will consider this store/storekeeper most honest, principled, etc, than another random storekeeper. If a) he’s Christian then b) he should have ethics (in theory).

Like those places that advertise that they give away X% of what you spend there.

But as a Christian I simply don’t trust that. I’ve known plenty of Christians who will brag about being Christian and also see nothing wrong with cheating, treating people badly, whatnot whatnot.

So I’d trust it as much as any self-advertised ethics…not at all.

I can see other places where it would be relevant–a gay financial planner who can give couples advice on how to handle their finances since they can’t have the legal protections that straight couples enjoy. Or a Christian bookstore owner who caters to, well, Christians. Or a Muslim butcher who sells halal meat. But for generic shops, dentists, restaurants, I wouldn’t use it as a basis for patronizing or not.

ChristianPF: Well, I’m not sure how to respond to your comment without repeating my post and previous comments, but suffice it to say, I *DO* find PF blogs with religious sentiment as part of their title somewhat perplexing (especially when they don’t keep the blog focused tightly on issues of finance as it pertains to their religious beliefs). Religion, gender and politics have popped up in our blog, but we don’t feel the need to embed our personal beliefs in the blog’s title…

Mrs. Micah: Unfortunately that has been my experience too. People who make a big deal about how you should trust them (regardless of the why) have consistently disappointed me.

@David — “When that store owner puts up a sign saying he?s Christian, what he?s saying is that he?s going to run his store according to Christian values.”

My experience is that Christian values manifest themselves in how someone actually acts, not in what sign is in the front window. I think I should have been from Missouri, because whenever I see something like this I think: “Show, don’t tell.’

@Glbl: “As a Christian, if I have the choice to support a fellow Christian over someone else that offers and equal value that isn?t, I?ll do so. ”

That doesn’t sound very Christian!

@Christian PF: How is Christian Personal Finance different from everyone elses’?

@MITBeta – The sign isn’t supposed to be a manifestation of values in the first place.. it’s a promise that those values will manifest inside the store. Don’t criticize a sign for not “showing”… that’s not what signs are for. Would you say the same thing to a store with a sign saying “Half Price for Seniors on Tuesdays”?

I get where you’re coming from, but the issue of being hypocritical is irrelevant to this situation.

@Glbl: I don’t think that Jesus would have opted for Christian stores if given the chance. In fact, I think he would have avoided them intentionally to interact with those not professing to be Christian.

@David: The “Half Price…” sign is much more deterministic than a “Christian” sign. The “Christian” sign leaves a lot more to wonder about in its meaning (hence this whole discussion) than a “Half Price…” sign.

@David: I don’t know. What does that mean? What does it indicate or suggest? I’m sure it means something to you, just as it does to me. But are those the same things? You have to be careful what you say in a message like this.

Some might think: Higher prices because they can’t compete.

A great example from my sales training: Never pre-suppose that you know what the customer wants.

Customer: “Does it come in red?”

Salesman: “Yes, we’ve got several in stock!”

Customer: “Well I hate red.”

Excellent post, interesting topic!

Bad human that I may be, I in fact DO boycott businesses that advertise that they are “Christian.” In my generation — this little trick has been around for a long time — what it meant is “we’re not Jews.” And in my generation and in my parents’, that factoid unfortunately had meaning. I will not do business with enterprises that advertise in this manner.

These days, of course, the meaning is somewhat subtler. Now it means “we are of the anointed few who know the Real Truth of Life, the Universe, and All That, and we’ll be seeing you in heaven (assuming you’re one of us), so you might as well start buying our tchochkies now so and start building an eternal customer relationship, free of those ignorant damned fools who, as you and I know, are doomed to spend eternity elsewhere.” That, IMHO, is darned near as offensive as the prior meaning.

Another sense resides in the message: “Because we subscribe to particular religious persuasion, we must be more likely to treat customers better and be less likely to rip them off than those who are not of our faith.” This, experience shows, is a variety of flaming hypocrisy, not to say “a lie.” A plumber I once called, for example, showed up in a truck advertising his “Christianity” and proposed to charge me $250 to replace a 50-cent part; one of his apostate competitors did the job for a few bucks.

The proprietor’s religion is none of my business, just as my religion is none of his or her business. This applies, too, to the religious beliefs of those who run for public office. Religion should be kept out of the marketplace and out of the public sphere. It belongs in church and in the home, and that’s where it should stay. I highly resent having people’s “Christianity” shoved in my face.

I agree with Mrs. Micah (although I’m not Christian). The ones that talk loudest about their belief system in non-relevant places are always the most obnoxious.

I’m sure that Canada has fairly robust laws on what is and is not permissible to display in public, with much of the emphasis being placed on freedom of speech as most/all modern democracies do. But just because someone is allowed to do something, doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to like or approve of it.

I would prefer it if this person didn’t advertise the Christianity in this manner. I wouldn’t legislate against it though.

Fascinating comments! I have exactly the same problem with “Christian owned” that I do with “black owned” or “white owned” (wouldn’t THAT be offensive) or “atheist owned” (and THAT one would generate some howls, I’m sure).

They are all STUPID for a commercial endeavor. Why even vaguely risk scaring off some customers, unless you are positive the increase from your targeted sign makes sense. Just seems like you’re taking too much of a chance with the clientele any way you look at it. And if a Christian owner thinks he’ll attract more Christians with a sign like that, try selling the same widget for $1 more than the non-Christian-logo’ed store across the street. See where people shop then.

And as far as Penn and Teller go, that’s a nice idea but a little bit overly optimistic. Nazi Germany’s biggest trading partner before World War II was France. And the Union and the Confederacy during the American Civil War had certainly been doing more than a little business between them before they lit each other up.

But great article & great conversation along with it!

Unfortunately Steve you appear to assume that trying to use your religion to sell things is a very unwise business venture, and that charging more for products will be its downfall. This is exactly opposite the case with Christian music. It’s often more expensive, but over a million Christians buy the stuff. Now why would that be, when you can get better non-Christian music for cheaper?

Granted there’s the phenomena of identity. However, many people underestimate religion; it’s not just religion. Religion is tied to culture. Now any business person knows how well culture sells. I think there’s a key there to why announcing your religion would work, and why business owners would have an incentive to do it.

As a side note, it’s interesting how despite my description of a possibly positive motive behind the sign (see comment 19), many people still interpret it with very negative connotations (see comment 42 & 44). People’s interpretation obviously rely heavily on past experience which influence their assumptions. Like MITBeta inferred in comment 41, you never know what people will think when they read your signs, even if you mean it well.

David, you use the example of selling Christian music – to Christians. Granted, a halal vendor can sell more easily to Muslims. Mr. Cheap seems to be implying this was not a “religious” store. Let’s say they were selling pencils. What motive does the pencil store owner seek to gain (and we assume he seeks to gain something, being a capitalist business owner) from advertising his Christian-ness? If you’re using the example of “family friendly” wouldn’t “family friendly” be a more appropriate and inclusive sign than “Christian owned”? Would “Christian family friendly” be OK?

I know that the owner is probably just bumper-sticker-ing his establishment in a quest for identity like many of us. I wear Jets t-shirts to say certain things about myself – I’m not a Giants fan, I’m from NY, etc. I’m sure the shop owner is not consciously malicious, and I don’t think they are intentionally negative when posting such a sign. I do think they are being stupid in the commercial sense, and I think there are plenty of ways to demonstrate a store is Christian owned – maybe by the way you treat customers, or show inclusiveness, or open your arms to anyone seeking to enter, no matter what their circumstances, than putting a sign on your door.

And for the record, I don’t think of the Christian-owned thing as any more or less offensive than black-owned or Heffalump-owned. All of them are equally short-sighted UNLESS they are specifically aimed at that group – as Mr. Cheap pointed out in para. 2. If you’re selling crucifixes, put up the sign. If you’re selling pencils, it’s just not good business.


Good point. I guess I was thinking of Christian artists who write non-Christian albums and Christians buy it… but granted that’s because they’ve written Christian music in the past. Though hehe that reminds me of when Evanescence came out and everybody thought they were Christian for some reason and they made it into the Christian bookstores… =P anyways.

So yeah I agree that it’s a bit weird for an owner of a business who sells generic products to do so but I still think it lets him say something that other signs wouldn’t say altogether, which is basically: “There is a Christian Inside”

So yeah to me that wouldn’t be any different than saying black owned, white owned, American owned, Midget owned etc. The sign isn’t exclusive. It’s not saying “Non Christians keep out”. It’s not selective either, saying “Christians only”, not even “Christians preferred”. All it’s saying that there is a Christian inside who runs this establishment. If customers have a problem with that, that’s too bad, but why should they?

We shouldn’t get along in business because we hide our personal beliefs. We should get along in business because we accept each other for who we are. (Doesn’t mean we have to approve of each other’s deeds or beliefs, just that we’re going to treat each other as human beings and fellow citizens despite differences of opinion and origin)

This is really an atricle that has generated a very balanced and civilized conversation.

I am a Muslim and we do have some restrictions on issues that are halal or otherwise. Other than this, I would have no problems shopping at any shop.

But a shop that says Muslim owner or Christian owner, will not be the key issue in my shopping. It would be price and service.

And I would also think that their advertsing could do with a makeover.

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