Thursday, September 24, 2009

We Thank Thee, Oh God, For A Profit - Part 1

One of my pet peeves, among many like “Thank-imonies” and “burying” one’s testimony, is when people use the church to sell something. Even when the church gets involved in a worthy capital venture I get uneasy, but am very willing to give it deference because there is usually always a good explanation.

And then there are situations where church relationships or positions are abused. Other times it is rather harmless but comes across as not really appropriate. Fast forward to this past Sunday when I was walking through the halls because my son wanted to play basketball in the EQ overflow hall (nothing makes Joseph Smith’s teachings more inspiring than looking at the basketball net over my head or sitting on the 3-pt line). As I walked by the RS room, I noticed a few tables set out with various goods. By the goods there were small price tags next to each item. See pictures below (I apologize if they are fuzzy, but the light in the corridor isn’t really designed for a smart phone camera. But I did get them, didn’t I?).






I do not know what this was for, whether as part of an activity or a charitable enterprise. But I came away with a feeling that it was completely inappropriate. I do believe that there are some situations where goods may be sold at church meetings, but they should be very limited to things like Bishop’s Storehouse items. Even that makes me feel uncomfortable, but I can live with it. However, birthday signs (you can see the bottom of the sign in picture #2), metallic clipboards, crafty-creepy-Texas-Ranger-wooden tombstone imitations, and doilies (?) while appropriate for the Quilted Bear, are not appropriate to be sold at church. Perhaps I will try to sell tools or DVDs in Elder’s Quorum? Perhaps a stuffed elk?

I don’t think I really need to add some verses without people thinking about it, but think about Jesus and the money changers:

14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

John 2:14-15


My question to the reader is whether it is appropriate to sell items like this in church? Part 2 will follow, hopefully it won’t take me too long to post.

15 comments:

Nate said...

I'm not so bugged because it is just a table in the middle of the hall. If someone was standing at that table and pushing merchandise, that would be different.

With this stuff, it is just as likely that some RS women would see it/like it and ask how to make it...leading to a good girls-night activity or something.

I would be bugged if it detracts from the point of being at church, i.e. to learn and feel the spirit. Not sure if this does.

There definitely is a line though that shouldn't be crossed. Where to draw it is the issue.

Jeremy said...

I bet most Jackie Chan DVD's would sell fairly well at a table conveniently located in your Elder's Quorum class. You'd probably have better luck with food, though.

If anyone has access to a Bishop's handbook, I'd like to know what the regulation on selling stuff during Sunday services is. There has to be something in there about this.

Di said...

I ran across this post on the Mormon Archipelago. I wouldn't normally comment but I wanted to put your mind at ease about this display. Most likely this is for a Relief Society Enrichment activity, either a Super Saturday, or Fabulous Friday, or Terrific Tuesday . . . you get the picture. At this super, fabulous, terrific activity the ladies will have the opportunity to make one of the displayed crafts. The price tags are probably showing the cost of the materials. I've participated in several of these activities and two of the wards that use our building have had similar displays in the halls the past few Sundays.

Evgenii said...

Di,

Thanks for commenting. I believe that this is something rather benign and not intended to be an LDS-style Ponzi scheme or anything, but doesn't it look a bit questionable? Would we feel comfortable doing this with a first time investigator. Perhaps it is more the presentation than what is actually being sold. Or perhaps it is the appearance of impropriety?

I agree with Jeremy that I would be interested to see what the Handbook of Instructions says on this. It seems ironic that we won't hang a picture of Jesus in the chapel but are willing to set up booths to sell materials just down the hall.

Ian said...

I think it's clearly against the rules in the CHOI.

Page 181.

"Church buildings and other property are to be used for worship, religious instruction, and other Church-related activities. Church propery should not be used for commercial or political purposes, which would violate laws that permit it's tax exemption. Nor may property be used for other purposes that would violate these laws. Examples of uses that are not approved are listed below.

1. Renting or leasing Church facilities for commercial purposes.

2. Promoting business ventures or investment enterprises, including posting commercial advertising or sponsoring commercial entertainment.

3. Buying selling or promoting products, services, publications, or creative works or demonstrating wares.

4. Holding unauthorized fund-raising projects.

..."

Jeremy said...

Ian, you rock. Thanks for the citation to the Handbook. In knew there had to be something in there about that.

M said...

An Enrichment display does not violate anything in the portion of the handbook you just read, although if you're unfamiliar with them it may seem otherwise. No one's making any money off those crafts. They're just telling the sisters how much it will cost to buy the supplies to make them. That's all. Nothing sinister, no profit, no MLM or selling stuff involved. On the contrary--it's evidence that there is a dedicated Enrichment leader at work trying to make a fun activity for the women. Those things are beasts to plan and carry off well.

I think it wouldn't be too hard to explain this to any reasonable, non-suspicious investigator.

To respond specifically to the handbook, an Enrichment display does not:

1. Renting or leasing Church facilities for commercial purposes. (Enrichment is an authorized event)

2. Promoting business ventures or investment enterprises, including posting commercial advertising or sponsoring commercial entertainment.
(no one's making any profit off of these crafts)

3. Buying selling or promoting products, services, publications, or creative works or demonstrating wares.
(these creative works are for the sister to make; they are not commercial; no one affiliated with the ward is making a profit from them)

4. Holding unauthorized fund-raising projects. (it's possible, I suppose, that what you saw was a fundraiser, but most Enrichment events are not fundraisers.)

I am bugged by people using Church connections for profit, too, but Enrichment display tables just don't qualify as something to stress over. Except for the poor overworked Enrichment leader who is pulling it together.

lindaR said...

I am with Di. In the Relief Society, Enrichment activities often include making "crafty" items at discount prices. It is an opportunity for a woman to make something for her home for a reasonable price (always cost only..not for profit) most of the time with donated time cutting wood to gathering supplies to keep items affordable. The money is collected like any other donation through the "other" category on tithing donation slips. That is totally appropriate, to me.
I would, however, agree that IF this was someone using RS for a "boutique" type of situation that would be wrong.
Likewise, once during RS, I was handed a flier for an art sale showcasing a lady in our ward. This same woman has used RS as an opportunity to promote her Real Estate business. I believe not only does that show poor taste but lack of good judgment.
I too am bothered by inappropriate testimonies. My most "favorite" is when people choose to use the pulpit to update the ward on family business. It is a running joke with my family "I'd like to bear my testimony, I know sister Smith is true..." Probably not my finest moment :)

BTW, the pumpkins are cute....can anyone order? lol

Ian said...

M,

No where in the original post does it say that this was an enrichment table to show how much each would cost to make. The impression that was given (and apparently received) by evengii is that these things were for sale.j

If this is as you said, then obviously is not against the handbook. I would suggest to them that they make that more obvious to the casual passerby.

Evgenii said...

What Ian said is right, it was a little ambiguous. I wasn't aware that it may be for an enrichment activity. After reading your comments, this certainly makes sense. However, to the casual passer-by, it looks fishy, even if there was no intent to make a profit.

This does lead to an interesting hypothetical question: Is it appropriate to buy materials during your Sunday meetings for a later activity? Can one do this and still keep the Sabbath holy? I would think so, but I am curious to see what other readers think.

Ardis said...

I'm not sure anything could be done to make the concept of an enrichment activity -- and this display certainly was just that -- compehensible to a stranger catching a quick glimpse through an open classroom door. I mean, even a sign saying "ENRICHMENT PROJECTS" would be instantly misunderstood in the spirit of this post!

Ian said...

evengii,

I have seen several times people ask to be paid for this sort of thing at other times than the sabbath. I don't have a problem with it really, especially if it isn't really a "business" transaction and more of an activity.

Evgenii said...

Fair enough. I'll admit when I am wrong. However, it wasn't clear to me what these were for. Perhaps because I am not involved with RS I am less familar with this. But I still maintain that when I saw it, and it was brief, it appeared to me that they were for sale.

In any case, the actual occurence was designed to lead into the hypothetical question about whether it is appropriate to sell things at church.

My last question on this is whether we would deem the selling of temple clothing or scriptures at church as acceptable. Ignoring the sacred nature of temple clothing but focusing on the non-commercial purpose of selling them, would it be different or a similar situation?

Jeremy said...

The Church "sells" (e.g., rents) temple clothing, including garments, at the temple everyday. They also sell food in the cafeteria. You can't pick a more sacred place to conduct business.

I think it all comes down to the purpose of the transaction. Clearly, renting clothing at the temple serves a valuable (and needed) purpose, as does providing food for its patrons. Without adequate clothing and nutrition for its patrons, performance of temple ordinances would ultimately cease.

Can the same be said of those selling a triple combo in the foyer after Sacrament meeting? Probably not. Church can still go on for everyone without a set of scriptures. People will still be able to take the sacrament and listen to talks/lessons. Thus, there is a time and a place to conduct such business, and during our 3-hour block is not such a time.

On a related note, in the past I have had Ward members solicit subscriptions to the Ensign during opening exercises of Priesthood. Money changes hands, usually in the form of a check. Is that wrong? It may be simply for convenience. Now, however, most renew their subscriptions online.

Ian said...

Good point with the Temple and the Ensigns Jeremy.