Chick-fil-A is not the only company that puts its faith first

7:46 PM, Jul 25, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- The continuing debate over family values comments from Chick-fil-A head Dan Cathy has raised the ire of many on both sides of the discussion, and put a highlight on companies that put their faith first.

While the religious foundation of some companies is well-known - retailer Hobby Lobby and West Coast fast food giant In-N-Out Burger are well known for their religious focus, but others - including Alaska Airlines and outdoor gear manufacturer Timberland may surprise many.

PHOTOS | Companies with faith-based philosophies

Forever 21 -- The young women's clothing company may be best known for its skimpier and saucier offerings, but it also exudes subtle piety. The words John 3:16 - a citation of a biblical verse popular among evangelical Christians - appears at the bottom of its stores' shopping bags. A spokeswoman for the company told The New York Sun that the message is a "demonstration of the owners' faith."

Whole Foods -- John Mackey, the organic food chain's co-founder and CEO, is a Buddhist who has worked to incorporate the eastern tradition's ideals into his company.

"A lot of it has to do with caring for stakeholders and having a wider consciousness that it's not just about profit but about sustainability," says Judi Neal, Director of the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the University of Arkansas. "It's affected what's being sold in grocery stores around the country."

Tom's of Maine -- After launching the natural home products company in 1970 with his wife Kate, CEO Tom Chappell nearly left it to pursue full-time Christian ministry. While receiving a master's at Harvard Divinity School, however, a professor advised him to just treat his business as ministry.

"He began bringing in different spiritual leaders to talk to the board about how they could use spiritual principles to run the company," says the Tyson Center's Neal. Beyond environmentalism, the company seeks to "create a better world by exchanging our faith, experience, and hope."

Tyson Foods, Inc. -- The world's largest chicken company employs a team of chaplains who minister to employees at production facilities and corporate offices. Other corporations contract out such services, but it's rare for a company to keep chaplains on the payroll.

"The chaplains provide compassionate pastoral care and ministry to team members and their families," according to Tyson's website, "regardless of their religious or spiritual affiliation or beliefs."

Tyson recently gave money to launch the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the University of Arkansas, one of the first academic centers of its kind.

Hobby Lobby -- The privately held chain of more than 450 arts and crafts stories isn't shy about its Christian orientation. "Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles," reads the company's mission statement. "We believe that it is by God's grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured."

The company supports a slate of Christian interests, from Oral Roberts University to the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, and is known for taking out overtly religious newspaper ads around the holidays.

ServiceMaster -- Never heard of this corporation? Perhaps some of the residential services companies it owns, like Terminix, TruGreen and American Home Shield, will ring a bell.

The company was founded in 1929 by Marion E. Wade, who "had a strong personal faith and a desire to honor God in all he did," according to ServiceMaster's website. "Translating this into the marketplace, he viewed each individual employee and customer as being made in God's image - worthy of dignity and respect."

The company, formerly public but recently taken over by a private equity firm, still consciously tries to "do the right thing in the way that employees treat customers," says Theodore Malloch, who leads Yale University's Spiritual Capital Initiative. "It's a theological statement about servant leadership - think of the picture of Christ washing the feet of his disciples."

Herman Miller -- The Michigan-based furniture manufacturer's founders were steeped in the Reformed Protestant tradition. "It retains a lot of that in practices that revolve around a notion of respecting the dignity of the human person and a strong environmental ethic that grew out of the religious responsibility," says Yale's Malloch. Indeed, Herman Miller - perhaps most famous for its Aeron chair - prides itself on environmental philanthropy and on regularly appearing on Fortune's annual list of best companies to work for.

Interstate Batteries -- The car battery giant has a "self-avowed religious identity and is very open in their God talk" in internal training and communication, saysLake Lambert III, author of Spirituality, Inc. Former company president Norm Miller moved to the role of chairman to allow more time to address Christian audiences. Miller talks to those "interested in how he found the truth of Christianity," the company's website says, "and how he learned to effectively apply biblical principles to create a more successful business." Interstate employs its own chaplain.

In-N-Out Burger -- Chick-fil-A is hardly the only fast-food outfit to make its founders' religious leanings part of its recipe. Western U.S. burger chain In-N-Out has printed citations of Bible passages on cups, wrappers and other pieces of packaging since at least the late 1980s. For instance, "John 3:16" appears on the bottom of soft drink cups, a reference to the Bible passage, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Walmart -- Lambert says the Walton family, which founded the company and still own a major stake in it, has used Christian servant leadership models in building the world's largest retailer.

And the company's Arkansas roots helped sensitize it to the shopping habits of churchgoers. It helps explain why Walmart long carries the kind of Christian books that were once the exclusive province of Christian bookstores. "You don't find those kinds of things in J.C. Penney," Lambert says. But Walmart has been so successful with such material that it's now become a business threat to Christian booksellers.

Mary Kay - In a 1997 interview with Religion News Service, founder Mary Kay Ash attributed the cosmetics giant's success to a decision to "take God as our partner." The success is nothing to sneeze at. In 2011, Mary Kay - the sixth largest direct sales firm in the world - had global sales of more than $2.9 billion. The company's strong religious culture has prompted many critics to label the company a cult.

Timberland - Company CEO Jeff Swartz is well known in corporate circles for a commitment to social responsibility on a corporate level. Swartz says his commitment is directly tied to his Jewish faith. In an 2008 Fast Company interview, Swartz pointed out, "It says in the Hebrew Bible one time that you should love your neighbor as yourself, but it says dozens of times that you shall treat the stranger with dignity."

Alaska Airlines - After a number of complaints, Alaska Airlines discontinued passing out prayer cards with meals. The cards included an excerpt from the book of Psalms on a card with a scenic photograph. The tradition for the airline goes back several decades.

When challenged by Salon columnist Patrick Smith in 2004, the airline responded with a statement that said, in part, "Alaska Airlines is an international carrier with very diverse customers, and we have no intentions of offending anyone or their beliefs. An overwhelming majority of our customers have indicated they appreciate the gesture, and those who don't are not forced to read it."

Marriott International - John Willard Marriott, founder of the international hotel conglomerate was a devout Mormon who held positions of leadership while building the empire bearing his name. In 2011, the chain made headlines when they announced they would no longer offer pornography among the pay-per-view in-room movie selections. The chain also has a history of sometimes placing the Book of Mormon in hotel rooms alongside the Gideon's Bible.

JetBlue - Founder and CEO David Neelman is a devout Mormon who says his faith has led him to make certain he serves his customers, much in the same way he learned to serve others as a full-time Mormon missionary at the age of 19. Neelman says in Jeff Benedict's book, "The Mormon Way of Doing Business," that at least once a month, he works as a flight attendant on a JetBlue flight to get in touch directly with his customers and workers and to receive feedback that he uses to make his business better. 

Trijicon - According to a 2010 ABC News report, the Michigan-based weapons-sight maker inscribed "coded" references to New Testament Bible passages on the sights, which have been used by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. US military rules prohibit the promotion of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The company promotes its adherence to Biblical values and standards on its website: "We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on Biblical standards throughout our history, and we will strive to follow those morals."

Trijicon officials say the markings, which refer to specific passages, are not illegal. The company said the practice began under its founder, Glyn Bindon, who was killed in a 2003 plane crash.

George Foreman Cooking - The former heavyweight boxer became an ordained minister after a religious experience in 1977 and continues to share his religious experiences in the media and on Christian television today. His product empire has grown from the George Foreman Grill into other products, including cookbooks, home and car cleaning products, vitamins and supplements, and personal care products.

H.E.B. - Founder of Texas and Mexico supermarket chain H.E.B., Howard E. Butt Jr., is the voice of "The High Calling of Our Daily Work," a 60-second series of religious radio spots that airs on more than 2,000 radio stations across the nation. Butt, an early board member of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, is also the author of several Christian books including "Renewing America's Soul." Until 1976, H.E.B. stores notably remained closed on Sundays and prohibited the sales of alcohol.

Curves - Curves founder Gary Heavin is a born-again Christian who's staunch political conservatism and support of anti-abortion causes has cost the women's fitness chain some memberships, according to a 2004 interview with the Houston Chronicle.

(CNN contributed to this article.)

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