December 6, 2004

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND LIFE?:

Bank fuses faith and finance (Jon Tevlin, December 6, 2004, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

There are two paintings in the offices of Riverview Community Bank in Otsego that underscore this is a small town bank with a difference.

One that hangs in President Duane Kropuenske's office shows two businessmen in an office; one is shaking hands with Christ, as though closing a deal. The other painting is a scene of what appears to be Eden. Tucked into the background of that painting is a small representation of Riverview.

The artworks appear to offer an answer to the question: Where would Jesus bank?

Not far away, in the small office of the Rev. Trish Greeves of the Union Congregational Church, a painting of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus shows a different version of Christianity's face: They have dark skin and ambiguous foreign features. Comparing her picture of Jesus to the one at the bank, Greeves says, "We all shape our own image of God."

Not to mention God's role in the workplace and the community.

At the heart of the debate is Riverview, where the bank's "pastor," Chuck Ripka, and his staff pray with customers in his office and even at the drive-through window. A copy of the Ten Commandments hangs in the foyer and a Bible is buried in the foundation.

Call it faith-based financing.

Ripka has gotten national attention for his ambitious plan to win souls while competing with other financial institutions for the almighty dollar. The bank has had unquestionable success, going from about $5 million in deposits 17 months ago to $75 million today; Ripka says it is the fastest start-up bank in the state.

But some worry about the uneasy marriage of religion, money and even politics in the fast-growing area where Hennepin, Wright and Sherburne counties converge.


And they won't be happy until they've driven religion entirely out of public life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 6, 2004 8:41 AM
Comments

Yes, Jesus saves at this bank too!

Posted by: afhebert at December 6, 2004 9:42 AM

There apparently is a market for this sort of thing so why not let the guy go forward with this? If some people don't like it they can bank some place else, but if it makes some people more comfortable, then it isn't anyone else's business to say that Riverview can't be a 'Christian' bank.

Posted by: Bart at December 6, 2004 9:52 AM

Two Comments:

1) It's not like there aren't a zillion Wells Fargo and USBank branches around. People do have options if they are offended.

2) The old leftist response to the right, especially the Christian right was that if we didn't like the options available (newspapers, TV, radio, universities, etc.) go start our own. OK, we've followed their suggestion, why then does it bother them so much?

Posted by: jeff at December 6, 2004 10:23 AM

"One (painting) that hangs in President Duane Kropuenske's office shows two businessmen in an office; one is shaking hands with Christ, as though closing a deal. The other painting is a scene of what appears to be Eden. Tucked into the background of that painting is a small representation of Riverview."

So if sex doesn't sell it, maybe Jesus will?

Maybe this is not a cynical attempt by a bunch of shysters to get as many hellfire-fearing folk as possible to part with their cash, but it certainly looks a lot like one.

Unless they're not-for-profit, I vote for "driving religion entirely out".

(Note to self. New business idea: Where would Jesus play paintball?)

Posted by: Brit at December 6, 2004 10:30 AM

"But some worry about the uneasy marriage of religion, money and even politics in the fast-growing area where Hennepin, Wright and Sherburne counties converge."

Who are these "some"? And why do they worry so much? This bank will serve a very specific clentele, and they have every right to. If there are some people who want Jesus surrounding them every minute of the day, then let there be Jesus based auto body shops, nail salons, gas stations and coffee shops. Let 1000 Jesus-marts bloom!

Posted by: Robert Duquette at December 6, 2004 10:35 AM

Robert:

It's ok to be a Christian and run a business. And it's ok to tell customers that you're a Christian.

But when you start selling a product on the grounds that 'it's the one Jesus would use', a line has been crossed.

If I were a Christian I would probably find the exploitation of a 'Jesus brand' obscene.

But even as a non-Christian I would object for the same reason that I would object to Holy Relic-sellers, TV evangelists who live in golden palaces and other assorted con-artists.

Posted by: Brit at December 6, 2004 10:48 AM

Brit:

Y'all have--it's why your continent is a laughingstock.

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 10:49 AM

OJ:

An ad-continentem attack is a sure sign of a bankrupt argument.

And do you really think there's nobody laughing back at you? This story is pure South Park.

Posted by: Brit at December 6, 2004 10:58 AM

Brit:

Sure sign of a bankrupt continent. You'll laugh til next time you need us to save you from yourselves.

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 12:05 PM

But when you start selling a product on the grounds that 'it's the one Jesus would use', a line has been crossed.

If I were a Christian I would probably find the exploitation of a 'Jesus brand' obscene.

I'm trying real hard to find where Brit showed a bankrupt continent in that statement.

Like Robert, I think this is just fine; in fact, I would be exremely hard pressed to care less.

However, I'll bet Brit has shown insight unique for an areligionist into serious misgivings some devoted Christians might have at seeing Jesus' image used for merchandising.

BTW, a roughly 1918 headline in the Times of London proclaimed: "Heavy fog in Channel, Continent Cut Off" underscores a geography lesson here: Britain is not a continent.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 6, 2004 12:21 PM

Brit, you have it right. This is the stuff of parody, except it is self-parody. I'm sure that many Christians do see this as sacrilegious, if not downright idolatrous and blasphemous.

I wonder if anyone has copywrighted 'WWJB', or 'What Would Jesus Buy'? Ground floor opportunity here.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at December 6, 2004 12:24 PM

Jeff:

They think they're European, so they are.

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 12:26 PM

Robert:

Why wouldn't a Christian prefer to patronize Christian businesses rather than those that work against his beliefs?

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 12:30 PM

How does secular banking work against Christian beliefs?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at December 6, 2004 12:34 PM

what do they do with the money?

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 12:43 PM

Jeff:

Thank you. I love that headline. Reminds me of a certain song.

After all, it's not our fault that the frogs, the krauts, and all the other unwashed garlic-munchers parked themselves so close to us...

Posted by: Brit at December 6, 2004 12:53 PM

Brit:

The best of the lot moved to a better neighborhood.

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 1:02 PM

Christian Yellow Pages have been attempted but, so faf as I know, purchasers have rejected them everywhere.

The CYP quietly bombed in my community.

Left to themselves, most Americans do not go out of their way to act like bigots.

Trouble is, there's a big industry involved in not leaving them to themselves.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 6, 2004 1:15 PM

Chick-Filet is doing well enough. Indeed, I recall a bigot vowing he'd not patronize them because of their Christian principles:

http://www.brothersjudd.com/blog/archives/011376.html

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 1:21 PM

Jeff:

"If I were a Christian I would probably find the exploitation of a 'Jesus brand' obscene."

But, being a good modern secularist, you'll just settle for finding Christianity obscene, right?

Brit:

Are you sure your objections aren't really just issues of taste and cultural familiarity? Look at all the pap everyone is fed in advertising about "research has shown..." and other so-called scientific assurances. Do you wail about the corruption of science when you see a modern merchant tout the "proven" benefits of his products?

Like television evangelism, this is simply an expression of faith that fits in some places, preferably homogeneous, and not in others. There is nothing inherently offensive or dicey about it, and I doubt you believe that the Christians who respond to it are any more gullible than those who don't like it. Just about every seller of medicines and health tonics in the 19th century sought endorsements from ministers and vicars.


Posted by: Peter B at December 6, 2004 2:04 PM

This seems more like moneychangers in the temple than religion in public square. And we all know what Jesus did to the moneychangers in the temple. Full disclosure: I'm Catholic and attend mass as required.

But it is a free country. Somebody in our neighborhood was giving out Bible Bars for halloween ("Contsins the Seven Foods of Deuteronomy 8:8"). Kinda tacky, but harmless enough. As long as the Christian bank and the Bible Bars otherwise follow the law, there's no prohibition on tackiness.

Such a marketing strategy would make me less likely to bank at such an establishment. In my experience, aggressive Protestant evangelicals have a strong strain of anti-Catholic bias. I don't want my investment dollars going towards Jack Chick tracts.

Posted by: Ted Welter at December 6, 2004 2:16 PM

This seems more like moneychangers in the temple than religion in public square. And we all know what Jesus did to the moneychangers in the temple. Full disclosure: I'm Catholic and attend mass as required.

But it is a free country. Somebody in our neighborhood was giving out Bible Bars for halloween ("Contsins the Seven Foods of Deuteronomy 8:8"). Kinda tacky, but harmless enough. As long as the Christian bank and the Bible Bars otherwise follow the law, there's no prohibition on tackiness.

Such a marketing strategy would make me less likely to bank at such an establishment. In my experience, aggressive Protestant evangelicals have a strong strain of anti-Catholic bias. I don't want my investment dollars going towards Jack Chick tracts.

Posted by: Ted Welter at December 6, 2004 2:16 PM

Look at all the pap everyone is fed in advertising about "research has shown..." and other so-called scientific assurances. Do you wail about the corruption of science when you see a modern merchant tout the "proven" benefits of his products?

There's a difference Peter. Science purports to be an authority about how the material world operates. There is no conflict between the material world and materialism.

Christ's kingdom is not of this world. To turn to Christ is, ideally, to turn away from this world, to be in this world, but not of this world. There is a conflict between Christianity and materialism.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at December 6, 2004 2:34 PM

Peter:

I don't "wail about the corruption of science" when I see a shampoo commercial claiming that the "super-hydro-vitamins will revitalise the ultra-nutrients in your hair" and so forth, but I do often emit a snigger, then a sigh, at the blatant baloney and conmanship.

It's the grifting I object to, whether the medium is science or religion.

But anyway, are you really saying that you wouldn't mind if the next Coke commercial ran with the slogan: "Coke - the drink Jesus would choose!" alongside a clip of the Messiah enjoying a deep draught of the stuff?

Posted by: Brit at December 6, 2004 2:38 PM

Robert--

Who are these "some"?

That would be the Strib editorial staff.

And why do they worry so much?

Same reason they don't want Norm Coleman sniffing around the UN. They fear and hate all competitive religions.

Posted by: Brian (MN) at December 6, 2004 2:51 PM

Well it looks like this is just one more "essential service" that will be denied to Harry, Jeff and company on Sundays.

Posted by: jefferson park at December 6, 2004 3:05 PM

They think they're European, so they are.

The Brits think they are European in just the same way you think you are Canadian.


Peter:

But, being a good modern secularist, you'll just settle for finding Christianity obscene, right?

No, I'm just fine so long as the Gerry Falwells of this world stick to pestering their own.

Also, so far as I can tell, none of the materialists have had a bad word to say about it.

Jefferson:
No more so than the other days of the week, although technically that would have to be self-denial.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 6, 2004 3:18 PM

Jeff:

Canadians are European.

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 3:23 PM

Smells of STrib spin.

I found two hits on Google from Christian publications. Neither seems to have a problem with it. I couldn't find anything that smells of 'moneytables' or using His name in vain. Just lots of good old fashioned evangelism.

Posted by: Gideon at December 6, 2004 3:53 PM

Not all ostentatious religion is the work of scam artists, but much of it is.

Matthew 6:5-6

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Posted by: Mike Earl at December 6, 2004 4:06 PM

Where'd you hear that, Mike?

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 4:18 PM

Jeff,

Self-denial works in airports too.

Posted by: jefferson park at December 6, 2004 4:47 PM

Jeff/Robert/Brit

What is it with you guys that you get so antsy when your purist image of religion or Christianity is sullied or tainted in some way? Are you trying to keep the faithful on track or simply keep the target from moving out of your sights?

Posted by: Peter B at December 6, 2004 5:13 PM

Peter:

Target? I'm unreligious, not anti-religious.

Posted by: Brit at December 6, 2004 6:05 PM

Brit:

You're neither.

Posted by: oj at December 6, 2004 6:08 PM

Peter:

You seem mighty touchy on this; I thought suggesting that overt usage of Jesus for merchandising just might not be a good thing to be as uncontroversial as it comes.

The bigger question is, this. Does this overtly Christian bank charge interest? According to the Bible, that is one of those bad things. And, to pre-empt OJ's hand waving, usury has nothing to do with it. Creation is something for God only; to create money from money is to make a presumption of Godliness.

Heck, if it is OK on account of the Bible to say, stone gays, or consider women to be worth 3/5 of men, then surely it is OK to stone a presumptuous, heretical, interest charging banker, is it not?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 6, 2004 9:01 PM

Jeff:

Touchy? If I were touchy, I'd be accusing you of "shameless circular logic", "tendentious reasoning" and "blatant displays of prevarication". Now, that would be touchy.

But to get to your point, I confess to regular overwhelming urges to stone bankers. However, I think it has nothing to do with faith. I've been hard-wired by evolution to feel this way.

Posted by: Peter B at December 7, 2004 6:26 AM

Peter:

Was I touchy when I wrote those things, or accurate?

The question wasn't whether you want to stone bankers, but rather whether it is just a little risible to proclaim a Christian bank that charges interest.

Jefferson:
That's right. Haven't spent a dime in one of those chicken places yet.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 7, 2004 7:14 AM

That's all right Jeff, I spend enough money there for the both of us. Fried chicken, pickle slices, bread ... its a heavenly combination.

Posted by: jefferson park at December 7, 2004 9:46 AM

Peter isn't tochy, he's principled.

Peter, for me it's all about keeping the faithful on track, or at least honest. You have to admit this story just itches for such treatment. Don't you get the irony of using this world's leading anti-materialist to hawk financial services? I'm not being antsy, I'm trying to control my urge to have fun with it, like this:

"Bank at Jesus-bank, for not of this world savings!" (Jesus is not affiliated with FDIC, SIPC, or FSLIC)

Posted by: Robert Duquette at December 8, 2004 5:38 AM

This is too funny. If they offered heavenly interest rates, would more people deposit? How much of a spread would it take for the non-believers here to sign up?

But then, how long could the bank remain solvent?

There is a limited market for this sort of thing, so I don't think anyone needs to worry about seeing Jesus bread and wine in the grocery store. Even among pious Christians, most are going to stick with tried and true businesses.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 8, 2004 12:02 PM

Robert:

I wonder whether your fun is based on theological rectitude or good old fashioned-snobbery. Would you feel the same delight and disdain if the bank had copies of Summa Theologica all over the place instead of the cheesey pictures?

Christianity has always wrestled with how to make a difficult and in some ways inscrutable theology accessible to all regardless of intelligence or education. Catholics especially have tried many ways to integrate faith with the comings and goings of everyday life, which accounts at least in part for saints, relics, icons and rosaries in every room, (including the bathroom) (!!!), financial and business cooperatives, Catholic unions and those little shrines on the roadside that keep you safe on European hairpin curves. As I understand it, Judaism focus'on the Sabbath and High Holidays for religious celebration and leaves the mundane to be governed by a series of simple ethical rules. Serious Christians are forever trying to make their faith a 24/7 deal, which is why they provide so much fodder for saccharine excess and irreverent jokes, and why their proselytizing can be so tedious. Occasionally it gets so excessive as to underpin full-blown corruption, but that's ok, in that case we just have a Protestant revolution, kill a few million in religious wars and then start afresh.

You secularists can be called to account for the full scientific proof and rigour for all your beliefs, because those are the rules you set for yourself. In this area, the religious don't have to be held to such strict account. I know, that's unfair, but who said life was fair? But, don't worry, Jim is right, these kinds of excesses tend to be self-correcting. I respect the guys at the bank for wrestling with the issue of how their religion should affect their business lives, but I gotta admit, this kind of story brings out the Judeo in my Judeo-Christian heritage.

Posted by: Peter B at December 9, 2004 4:42 AM

Peter,
Believe it or not, as a former Christian I actually have respect for the kinds of struggles that you describe religious people dealing with. And that self-correcting mechanism that you mention includes people like me who, being outside the faith, are not constrained from offering a public reality check to such excesses.

The problem with trying to integrate faith with everyday life is that, more often than not, everyday life wins. Faith, in my opinion, works best as a source of refuge from the world, rather than as a method to engage in the world.

Luke 14: 34 Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at December 9, 2004 2:55 PM

Robert:

Agreed.

Posted by: Peter B at December 9, 2004 8:17 PM

Robert:

No, on second thought, not agreed at all. An over-focus on aesthetics and two glasses of Burgundy led me to reply too quickly. It's actually more that the exigencies of the world are a necessary and unavoidable distraction.

Would you say the Cathredral at Chartres is an expression of a refuge from the world?

Posted by: Peter B at December 9, 2004 8:40 PM

Peter:

Yes, but. Perhaps a little too materialistic for something so spiritual?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 9, 2004 9:22 PM

Peter,
The Cathedral at Chartres is an indication that at one time people took their refuge from the world more seriously than they do today. Refuge doesn't mean just an ascetic withdrawal into solitude and contemplation. It is the mental orientation that is important, not the material content. I'm sure that the cathedral gave the city of Chartres some economic benefit over time, as people would come from all over, and would end up spending money in the inns and markets. But those who undertook the task of building it had no expectation of profitting from it in their lifetimes, it was an investment in transcendence, if you will.

Does this make any sense? I'm not faulting the profit motive, or material pursuits. These are all necessary. It is necessary to bring spiritual truths to one's involvement in the world, but not to confuse them. Keep the salt cellar away from the food, bring salt to the food, but don't contaminate the source of the salt with the food.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at December 10, 2004 11:37 PM

Jeff,
I disagree, being a former Catholic, I found the attention to beauty and grandeur in the churches and cathedrals that I went to as a source of spiritual inspiration. Such places are like no other buildings that you will enter in your daily routine. I would be totally against the puritanical emphasis on sparseness followed by protestant sects in their meeting houses - the lack of any "graven images", so that the mind can focus solely on the Word. I'm a humanist at heart, and felt that the religious humanism of the Church as embodied in the great art and architecture of the cathedral period and the Renaissance were its greatest achievements.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at December 10, 2004 11:45 PM

Robert:

My question was not entirely rhetorical.

Your explanation is very convincing.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 12, 2004 5:32 PM
« BAD MONEY AFTER BAD: | Main | SACRIFICING THE SISTERS TO A HIGHER GOAL »