Valentine's Day: vendors, consumerism evaluated

NASHVILLE (BP) -- As a Christian watchdog group released its evaluation of which Valentine's Day-related companies are most and least friendly to consumers motivated by faith, a seminary counseling professor cautioned that consumerism should not be the focus of believers' Valentine's Day weekend.

John Babler, professor of counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press that he views celebrating Valentine's Day as optional for married couples as long as they focus on communication and honoring God in their relationships. Singles should "use the cultural emphasis on romantic love as a springboard to focus on deepening their love for God," he said, and parents would do well to ensure their children both give and receive Valentine's Day treats.

Babler's recommendations came as Faith Driven Consumer's Faith Equality Index (FEI) published its Valentine's Day Shopping Guide, which uses a 100-point scale to evaluate companies' engagement with faith-driven consumers.

According to the FEI website, evaluation criteria included "actions that demonstrate a company-wide public commitment to the Faith Driven Consumer community," "actions that demonstrate ... compatibility with biblically orthodox teachings" and "actions that create a safe harbor of inclusive religious freedom."

According to the FEI, the most "faith-friendly companies" in various industries associated with Valentine's Day are:

-- Dating sites: Christian Mingle (58)

-- Jewelry: Zale Corporation (42)

-- Flowers: Teleflora (37)

-- Greeting cards: DaySpring (57)

-- Fine restaurants: Ruth's Chris and Fleming's (37)

-- Clothing: Altar'd State (50)

-- Beauty: Revlon (37)

-- Department stores: Dillard's (42)

-- Craft stores: Hobby Lobby (62)

-- Theaters: Regal Entertainment (40)

-- Candy: See's (37)

"Valentine's Day has been celebrated by Christians for many centuries," Faith Driven Consumer founder Chris Stone said in a Feb. 11 news release. "Its emphasis on love makes this special day a natural fit for the Faith Driven Consumer community. As brands scramble to earn our business this year, the new data we are releasing empowers our community to clearly understand who they should shop with."

From the perspective of church history, celebrating romantic love on Valentine's Day is a relatively recent phenomenon, said Michael Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The holiday originated as a Christian feast to honor a third-century martyr known as St. Valentine of Rome.

"Virtually nothing certain is known about St. Valentine of Rome," Haykin told BP in written comments. "... In fact, St. Valentine may well be the conflation of two martyrs by the same name of Valentine. The association of this martyr with romantic love comes in the Middle Ages. It appears to have been the remarkable author Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400), the so-called father of English literature, who linked St. Valentine with romance -- at least between birds -- in his allegory 'The Parliament of Fowls.'

"By the Victorian era," Haykin continued, "lovers were in the habit of sending each other hand-made cards on St. Valentine's Day. Romantic love in Christian thought is primarily rooted, interestingly enough, in the Puritans [believers who sought to purify the Church of England in the 16th-18th centuries]. It was some Puritan authors who first maintained in Christian history that marriage should only be contracted on the basis of love and that parents should not compel children to marry where there was no love."

Babler said the celebration of Valentine's Day should not be viewed as obligatory. He offered counsel for married couples, singles and parents of young children to help navigate the holiday weekend:

Married couples: "Like most situations in marriage, the key to navigating the waters of Valentine's Day is communication based on a commitment to follow God's Word and honor God," Babler said in written comments. "In my marriage, for example, we do not celebrate Valentine's Day in any significant way. This is not based on a conviction, but rather the fact that it is not important to my wife or me. We express our love and romance in other ways.

"I have a friend who knows that if he doesn't make a big deal out of Valentine's Day, his wife will be extremely disappointed, so Valentine's Day is celebrated in his home," he said. "1 Peter 3:7 challenges husbands to 'live with your wives in an understanding way...' and Ephesians 5:33 teaches, 'the wife is to respect her husband.' Based on these and other Scriptures, it is important that spouses listen to each other and agree to celebrate or not celebrate Valentine's Day accordingly."

Singles: "The emphasis on love and romance surrounding Valentine's Day can be disconcerting to singles," Babler said. "If you are single, you can use this time of the year to focus on deepening your relationship with God. Jesus said that, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind' (Matthew 22:37) is the most important commandment."

Parents: "Children give and receive Valentine's Day cards and gifts in school classes, Sunday school classes and other situations," Babler said. "We recognize that children are sometimes inadvertently left out of some of these card exchanges and can feel hurt. As parents, we make it a point to make sure each of our kids receive a Valentine's Day card and a gift as well as being supplied with cards to give to others during various card exchanges. 'Children are a gift of the Lord ... ' (Psalm 127:3), and as we steward these gifts and shepherd them through our culture, we need to take the opportunity to not only encourage them with cards and gifts, but teach them about biblical love."

The National Retail Federation estimates 55 percent of Americans will celebrate Valentine's Day this year, spending an average of $142.31 per person for a total of nearly $19 billion.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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