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Billionaire Builds Christian Empire from Hobby Store Fortune

Billionaire Builds an Evangelical Christian Empire from Hobby Store Fortune

Bill Berkowitz
August 9, 2011

Over the past nearly forty years, David Green has turned Hobby Lobby, the privately held arts and crafts supply business he founded, from a small retail shop located in North Oklahoma City to more than 475 stores operating in 40 states that employ nearly 20,000 people. These days, its headquarters is a 3.4 million square foot manufacturing, distribution and office complex in Oklahoma City. As of March 2011, Green was listed at #440 in Forbes' World's Billionaires list (#147 in the United States) with a net worth of some $2.5 billion.

Not that the Green family is trying to keep it a secret, but probably unbeknownst to many of the tens of thousands of shoppers that go through the doors at Hobby Lobby shops around the country each day in search of a myriad of arts and crafts supplies, is that founder David Green, and his son Mart, are major donors to, stakeholders in, and benefactors of a number of Christian evangelical organizations and institutions.

When the Green family rides in to the rescue - as it has done frequently over the past two decades - it often comes with strings attached.

Rescuing Oral Roberts University from Oral Roberts' son's personal spending spree

Take the situation at Oral Roberts University:

A few years back, when Oral Roberts University's very existence was threatened by charges of excessive spending by Oral Roberts' son Richard and his wife Lindsay, Mart Green, the founder and CEO of Mardel Christian and Educational Supply and of Every Tribe Entertainment, and an heir to the Hobby Lobby family of companies, gave between $70 and 100 million to rescue the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based University founded by televangelist Oral Roberts.

According to a September, 3, 2008 report in Christianity Today, "In October 2007, the tragic unwinding of ORU's trust, reputation, and spirit began as three whistle-blowing professors filed a wrongful termination suit. They charged that Richard Roberts, president and son of founder Oral Roberts, and his board-member wife, Lindsay, misspent school funds, including $39,000 for a shopping spree for Lindsay, a $29,411 trip to the Bahamas aboard a university jet for one of the couple's daughters, and a stable of horses for their three daughters, among many other accusations."

According to OCRegister.com, "Hobby Lobby now runs the Tulsa-based University after putting $100 million into it," and Mart Green is chair of the ORU Board of Trustees.

At the time, Mart Green reportedly said: "When Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart had their situations, a lot of people suffered. When the Catholic priests had their situation, a lot of people suffered. If ORU goes down it affects all the Christian colleges."

A recent ORU News Release pointed out "the debt at Oral Roberts University has been reduced to just under $720,000. This new total is being announced along with a preliminary summary of the Renewing the Vision Matching Campaign that raised over $22 million from 15,796 donors.

"I am incredibly excited about the debt being reduced by such a significant amount. Debt is one of the dragons that ORU needed to slay to ensure economic sustainability, and we are almost there," said Mart Green. "I want to thank all of the alumni and friends of the university who graciously gave to support the new ORU."

Mart Green's Every Tribe Entertainment has produced two films, "Beyond the Gates of Splendor," a 2002 documentary, and "End of the Spear," an 2005 adventure drama, "both of which focus on the religious conversion of the Waorani people of Ecuador," according to a post at Daily Kos. (As of this writing, the last entry in the "News" section of ETE's website is dated April 30, 2007. However, for an interesting interview with Bill Ewing, President of ETE, see http://whenmagazine.com/2010/06/02/conversation-with-bill-ewing-president-of-every-tribe-entertainment/.)

Supporting Rick Warren's Saddleback enterprise & hunting for the Crystal Cathedral

Earlier this month, the $3 billion a year company, "donated a 170-acre ranch in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., to" Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. "...Warren, his staff and the church's congregation have contributed to the Lord's work on this property and we couldn't be more excited to donate this property to them," said Green.

The land was initially a gift to Robert H. Schuller's Crystal Cathedral Ministries "from Donna Crean and her late husband, John, founders of Fleetwood Enterprises," according to Charisma News Online. "Hobby Lobby purchased the property in 2010 from the financially burdened Crystal Cathedral Ministries. An announcement was made on May 11, 2010, that the crafting retailer would lease the Rancho Capistrano property to Warren's Saddleback Church so that the ranch's initial ministry vision would be carried on."

Interestingly enough, one day after announcing its gift to Saddleback, Hobby Lobby "made an offer to the bankrupt Crystal Cathedral," Charisma News Online reported. "Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. offered the Crystal Cathedral Board of Directors $47.5 million to purchase the Crystal Cathedral property," said Mart Green, the vice chairman of the board for the retailer. "Although Hobby Lobby believes its offer is adequate to pay in full all secured, priority and trade creditors, such an allocation of sale proceeds is not a closing condition. Our offer is in cash, which allows for creditors to be paid back as soon as a sale is completed."

"For years, Crystal Cathedral Ministries helped people grow in a loving relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe we have a plan involving other entities that would continue that legacy. These entities have missions that are consistent with the Biblical principles on which we run our company," David Green pointed out.

According to Charisma News Online, "the Times, [reported that] the younger Green said the faith-based company would lease the Crystal Cathedral property to the King's University, which Jack Hayford is chancellor of. The Pentecostal bible college and seminary, based in Van Nuys, Calif., could sublease any portion of the property under the proposed plan, the Times reports." Hayford, a longtime Pentecostal leader in Southern California, is founder of The Church On The Way in Van Nuys.

Hobby Lobby's credo

According to its website, "Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., can no longer be considered just an arts and crafts store. With departments ranging from crafts, hobbies, picture framing, jewelry making, fashion fabrics, floral, cards & party, baskets, wearable art, home accents, and holiday supplies, Hobby Lobby is the place to shop with Super Selection, Super Savings . . . Everyday!"

First amongst Hobby Lobby's five-point "State of Purpose" is "Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles." The company also is "committed to": "Offering our customers an exceptional selection and value"; "Serving our employees and their families by establishing a work environment and company policies that build character, strengthen individuals, and nurture families"; "Providing a return on the owners' investment, sharing the Lord's blessings with our employees, and investing in our community";

And it "believe[s] that it is by God's grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured. He has been faithful in the past, we trust Him for our future."

The Fayetteville Observer recently reported that Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. announced that it "is raising its minimum hourly salary for all full-time positions by $1, to $12. The new wage is 66 percent higher than the federally mandated wage of $7.25. Part-timers will earn at least $8.50, up from $8. Employees already earning above the minimum are getting smaller boosts."

Cause Marketing ("Dedicated to Highlighting and Dissecting the Best and the Worst Cause Marketing Promotions and Campaigns") has run several articles about the Christian-themed cause-related marketing by Hobby Lobby (seen below).

The author of "Easter Cause Marketing," (posted at the Cause Marketing website), believes that Hobby Lobby could engage in Cause Marketing, "but they'd have to be very careful about what the promoted products are and who their charity partners are. Otherwise there could be some denominational problems. As for prospective charity partners it seems to me that their best bet might be international relief and organizations, since Christian relief has such a strong and well-known record abroad. That said, Hobby Lobby does not have a history of relationships with relief organizations, Christian or not.

"But should they? My answer is yes again, if it's right. Hobby Lobby's statement of purpose includes operating on Biblical principles like charity and strengthening employee's lives. The right cause marketing campaign could do both."

Green explained the Easter ads by telling the American Family Association that, "We just need people to know what this season is about. "It is about the death and resurrection of Christ and we just feel we need to proclaim that and not lose this season to the Easter bunnies."

In the past, Hobby Lobby has joined with pseudo-historian David Barton's Wallbuilders to publish "full-page ads in newspapers around the country celebrating their understanding of America as a 'Christian Nation,'" Dr. Bruce Prescott, author of the blog Mainstream Baptist, has reported.

ENDS

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