This is NOT about this Sunday's church visit. I will write about that separately.
This is just a little something that has been bothering me, and I've seen it several times in my church visits over the years. I wanted to make this a separate blog post because I don't want it getting mixed in with the otherwise positive messages and sermons from the churches I've visited.
Gift shops, Bible supply store, church memorabilia (bumper stickers?)...whatever you want to call it, it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Has anyone ever heard of the cleansing of the Temple? It's mentioned in all four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and twice in the book of John). Jesus goes up to the Temple and they are selling any number of things in the courtyard. In fact, they're selling so much stuff and dealing in so much money, that it blocks the entry for those who want to simply come to worship.
I'm not saying that the gift shops at the churches I've attended have in any way kept me (or anyone else) from reaching the sanctuary for worship. I understand that the churches have to fund their programs and services (and lights and mortgages) somehow. At least one of these shops has had an ATM in it (for tithing too?), adding to my unease.
The Temple cleansing is the only time, as far as I know, where Jesus uses physical force. He makes a "whip of cords," driving them out, and knocks over the tables. Obviously, this seriously bothered him.
Jesus Cleanses the Temple13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.”
I've looked around at different Bible studies and sermons online about this, and the general feeling is that it isn't wrong for there to have been these sales-- the worshipers needed the animals for sacrifice (glad we don't do that now!) and the other things were also not "unholy". The problem is that the sales blocked the way to the Temple. I think, then, my issue is that there is a feeling of shopping extravagance, versus a feeling of continued learning, in the shops I've seen. Yes, there are Bibles. And they also sell the sermons on CD and sometimes DVD for sharing or for further studies. But there are also bumper stickers, posters, pens, t-shirts....
My daughter, who visited Italy on a school trip, says that there is a gift shop at the Vatican. She said that there are post cards, amazing works of art, and other items to show that the faithful (and the tourist) have indeed been at that holy place. I've seen a teeny shop at the amazing St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, where they sell rosaries and ask for donations for the candles to be lit. So maybe it's just a way to further connect the parishioners/congregants with the church and with the message.
Or...maybe they're money changers.
What do you think?