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Wal-Mart store asks man not to pass out church tracts

CONROE, Texas (BP)–Steve Barrett can’t help it. Everywhere he goes, he befriends people and invites them to church. As a pastor and as a Christian, he sees it as a mandate from God straight out of Luke 14:23, “And the lord said unto the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.'”

But recently while shopping at his local Wal-Mart store in Conroe, Texas, Barrett was told he could not invite people to church inside the store because it was against Wal-Mart’s solicitation policy, he said.

Barrett, pastor of Northridge Baptist Church in Conroe, was speaking with one of the store managers whom he had developed a relationship with and had invited to church several times. He glanced over and saw another store manager watching them as if he wondered what they were doing, so he handed the man a card with information about the church on it and said, “You’re invited too.”

The pastor continued with his shopping and was approached by the second manager, Barrett said, as he proceeded to the check out line. The manager told Barrett he could not invite people to church at the store, Barrett said.

“This statement totally shocked me and I was at a loss as to how to respond,” Barrett wrote in a Feb. 7 e-mail to Wal-Mart’s nationwide customer service department. “I asked him for clarification and he confirmed that he was telling me that I could not invite people to church at this store.”

Sharon Weber, a Wal-Mart spokesperson in the corporate communications office, told Baptist Press Barrett had received a response to his e-mail from both the Conroe store manager and the district manager. She said the key in Barrett’s case is that he was passing out tracts.

“Obviously when you’re shopping and you run into friends and ask them to come to church, that’s one thing,” Weber said. “But to pass out tracts inside the store is against our solicitation policy. Any organization is prohibited from doing that. It comes down to a fairness issue, and unfortunately he just won’t be able to do that inside the store.”

Barrett said the cards he passed out read, “You are invited to church this Sunday,” and include the service times as well as the name, address, phone number and website of the church. The cards also say, “Are you a good person? Have you broken any of God’s laws?” and list the Ten Commandments.

The pastor told Baptist Press he had received a phone call from the district manager’s assistant but had not heard from anyone at the Conroe store. He said he can understand the store’s right to enforce such a policy, but he doesn’t see how his situation fits that policy.

“It’s perfectly within their right to enact a policy like this, but it’s disappointing that an invitation to church can be considered offensive,” Barrett said. “It’s almost like they want Christians to spend their hard-earned money there by giving an appearance of being family friendly, but then if Christians follow the Lord’s command …, then they don’t want Christians to practice their belief. It’s not like I’m standing at the door bombarding everybody. I’m trying to make new friends.”

The district assistant sent Barrett a copy of Wal-Mart’s solicitation policy for his review, and he said it is a general form and the generic word solicitation is used broadly with no specific mention of inviting people to church. He also has not heard of anyone who actually reported being offended by his actions.

Baptist Press asked the district assistant whether someone who struck up a conversation with another person in the store and handed that person a business card would be within the bounds of the solicitation policy.

“No, it wouldn’t,” Ann Collier, district assistant for District 450, said. “We just try to be a place where people can go and feel comfortable, where people are not going to be asking them to buy their product or to do anything while they’re in the store. It’s just one of those things where there’s a fine line and we just had to put a stop to all of it. Some people are offended and some are not.”

But Barrett said he for one would not be offended by an invitation to a religious service.

“I wouldn’t consider a Muslim inviting me to a mosque offensive,” Barrett said. “I would actually be complimented that he thought enough of me to invite me. I wouldn’t go, necessarily, but it wouldn’t offend me. It wouldn’t even offend me if a Satanist asked me to go to his church. It would just open up dialogue.

“Our society has become overly politically correct. Also, Wal-Mart seems to have no concern of offending Christians because it offends me to tell me I can’t practice my religion, that they want my money as long as I keep my mouth shut,” Barrett said.

Though Wal-Mart has not prohibited Barrett from shopping at the Conroe store, he said he can no longer shop there because inviting people to church is such an integral part of his Christian walk that the only way he can comply with their request is to stay away.

Even so, Barrett said he does not believe Wal-Mart means harm with its request for him to refrain from inviting people to church.

“I think Wal-Mart just hasn’t thought this through,” he said. “I don’t think they have any malice. I think they just haven’t thought about the ramifications.”

Now the sign in front of Barrett’s church reads, “Wal-Mart employees, you’re invited to church.”

“If I can’t invite them at the store, I’ll invite them at the church,” Barrett said.

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  • Erin Curry