Has proselytizing run so amok that its even in babies diapers

It was an innocent tweet from a customer of Kelly’s Closet, an online cloth diaper store: “Was surprised & happy to find a James 4:8 card stapled to my Fuzzibunz order delivered today!”

A Bible passage card sent out by a retailer? When I read that in my Twitter feed, I groaned. Not you too, Kelly’s Closet!

Maybe it’s the bad economy, maybe it’s the growing apocalyptic frenzy as we near 2012, but proselytizing seems to be everywhere these days. It bugs me. But nothing bugs me more than getting hit over the head by religion when I’m doing something as innocuous as buying diaper rash cream.

I’ve had a few run-ins with oddly placed Bible verses in my time. While flying on Alaska Airlines in 2004, a little card with a verse from Psalms was included with my free in-flight meal (remember those?). Back when I used to shop at Forever 21, I would often find “John 3:16” printed at the bottom of the store’s trademark yellow bags. And even this pescetarian knows that In-N-Out Burger prints different Bible notations on a variety of its cups and wrappers.

Why do these kinds of things bother me so much? Maybe it’s my Jewish upbringing — Jews don’t proselytize, or we’re not supposed to. I wasn’t raised with the belief that non-Jews were going to Hell or that I needed to “save” them from anything.

Maybe it’s that I’m proud of my faith and my heritage, and I’m insulted when people basically tell me that everything I believe in is wrong, or that they do so wish I were something different.

Whatever the reason, I’ve always had this visceral reaction to being preached to. It’s always felt like a bit of a violation, to be normally attending to my life and then bam: Hi, your faith is wrong, you’re going to Hell and we need to save you. Thanks for flying with us!

I have no problem with people who have beliefs different from my own. But I’ve never understood why the Bible can’t be left where it belongs: in homes, churches and parochial schools. Not shoved in the face of people who just aren’t interested, and if they were, they’d be Christians already. And certainly not on shopping bags.

When I saw the tweet about Kelly’s Closet, I instantly went on the offensive. I fired off an e-mail to KC customer service, innocently telling them that I was doing a story about “finding Bible verses in unexpected places” and wanted to talk with someone about the tweet. It wasn’t completely a lie.

While I waited for a reply, I started to write and turned to Google to check my facts for this column. One forum cited many examples of proselytizing companies — perfect. But as I read the posts, I was surprised at what I found.

Here were people passionate about their faith and excited to support companies that shared it. To them, a Bible quote on a bag or a fish symbol on a company’s letterhead wasn’t necessarily a way of “spreading the Good News.” It was a message to other Christians that this was a company that shared their faith and values.

The words these people used reminded of ones I had used when talking about how I wanted to support a Jewish- or Israeli-owned company. Was this really so different from me buying Metropolis Bakery bread at my local market largely because I know it’s owned by a Jew? And don’t I feel just a little more comfortable buying something that has a kosher symbol on it?

In other words, maybe I was being hypocritical. Would I feel this way about an overtly Jewish message?

The following day, I got a message from a woman named Bobbi-Jean at Kelly’s Closet.

“Unfortunately the Bible verse that was received by a customer remains a mystery to us as well as the manufacturer,” she wrote. “Neither of us knows how it got in her package.”

I was a little disappointed. Now that I’d reached this stage of enlightenment, I’d been hoping to test out my theories. But it seemed this was as far as the story went.

Still, I like to think the next time I find a Bible verse tucked into my cloth diaper order, or my animal-style fries, I won’t automatically go on the defensive. Instead, I’ll think about how I’d feel if the shoe were on the other foot.

Can I get an amen?


Rachel Leibold
is a copy editor at j. She can be reached at rachel@jweekly.com.