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Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby

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An excerpt from Candida Moss and Joel Baden’s investigation of the expanding religious and political scope of the popular retail chain

By Charlotte Salley

October 12, 2017


 

When it opens in November, the Museum of the Bible will educate visitors on the history and cultural reverberations of the Good Word in a brand-new building three blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Paid for by the Green family, the owners of Hobby Lobby, the museum is the next step for the faith-based family business. In 2014, the Greens won a Supreme Court case granting them the right to exclude contraception from employee health coverage. Beyond religious freedom, the Green family has also been amassing an immense collection of biblical antiquities, some of which will be on display in the new museum. Other pieces, however, including ancient cuneiform tablets smuggled into the United States from Iraq, will have to be returned in accordance with a federal settlement. Candida Moss and Joel Baden’s new book illustrates how, with a net worth of nearly $4 billion, the family behind Hobby Lobby is stepping outside the corporate sphere and showing how faith and prosperity can powerfully influence the American public.

On a sweltering afternoon in June 2015, we traveled to Washington, D.C., to tour the Museum of the Bible construction site and meet with Cary Summers, the president of Museum of the Bible, Inc. The museum itself was in development, so we met Summers at 409 3rd Street, the building that abuts the construction site, where the museum’s offices were located. …

We were greeted by Shannon Bennett, Director of Community Relations for Museum of the Bible, and, we later learned, a Bible student herself. She ushered us into an inconspicuous conference room in the basement for our meeting with Summers. Over the course of the next five hours, Summers generously provided us with a tour of the site and a lengthy interview about the Museum’s mission and purpose. He was friendly and charismatic; his charm and personality are convincing and congenial. He is clear and believable; he’s the kind of man you want to represent your organization.

Wearing Museum of the Bible–branded hardhats, we made our way through the construction site. It would become an eight-story, 430,000-square-foot museum, but at the time it was like any other building zone: in the heat, nondescript liquid was pooling on the floors of the lower levels. Summers chatted enthusiastically, detailing the plans for the forty-foot bronze doors at the entryway, the replica of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel inside the doors, and the exhibits, theater, and lecture hall on the floors above. As we climbed the ladder to the roof of the building, he told us about the rooftop garden and biblically themed restaurant on the top floor. The highest floor had yet to be constructed, but off in the distance we could see the dome of the Capitol. The Museum of the Bible was facing down the highest levels of government. The arrangement was deliberate, as Steve Green would later tell us: one purpose of the museum is to educate legislators about the biblical foundations of American government. The museum has come a long way from its roots in America’s religious heartland.

Excerpted from BIBLE NATION: The United States of Hobby Lobby by Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden. Copyright © 2017 by Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden. Reprinted by permission.


Charlotte Salley is the assistant editor of the Scholar.


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