Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Gloria's empty cup

I don't support businesses that run against my principles, nor ones that actively work against me. Fortunately, I don’t often have to put this into action, but I do now.

The coffee chain Gloria Jean's International (which operates all stores outside of the US and Puerto Rico) is a corporate sponsor of a fundamentalist christianist organisation called Mercy Ministries. The group claims to help young women with things such as eating disorders, unplanned pregnancy, self-harm, addictions, depression, etc. However, the Sydney Morning Herald recently published a story claiming that in Australia the ministry "has been deceiving troubled young women into signing over months of their lives to a program that offers scant medical or psychiatric care, instead using Bible studies and exorcisms to treat mental illness."

The US parent organisation has actively steered lesbians into "ex-gay" programmes. While there is as yet no evidence that they've done that in Australia or New Zealand, the US organisation—which the Australasian Mercy Ministry is based on—is certainly both anti-abortion and anti-gay, so it’s probable that the local version is at least sympathetic to that viewpoint. Certainly abortion is never an option for clients.

The Australasian version of Mercy Ministry was started by a leader of Hillsong Church, part of the Australian branch of the pentacostal Assembly of God. The chairman of Gloria Jean's International is Nabi Saleh, who's also involved with Hillsong. Peter Irvine, until recently the managing director of Gloria Jean's, is also a director of Mercy Ministries. He, too, is part of Hillsong. There are plenty of intertwining linkages between and among Mercy Ministry, Hillsong and Gloria Jean’s.

In a statement (available as a PDF), Gloria Jeans said that it was “deeply concerned with the recent media coverage related to our sponsorship of Mercy Ministries and association with the Hillsong Church.” They go on to assert: “We are not religiously affiliated, or affiliated to any other beliefs or preferences. We are non-discriminatory and accept staff, franchise partners and guests from all walks of life.” Well of course they do: In New Zealand, for example, discrimination on the basis of religion or sexual orientation would be illegal. So what?

Gloria Jeans goes on, “We have been in direct discussion with Mercy Ministries and we will be working with them to understand what elements of their program could have given rise to these very concerning claims.” Put another way, they want to know how to soft sell the fundamentalism. They urge readers to visit Mercy Ministry’s website, but that group’s media statement doesn’t directly counter any of the charges levelled against it, including that it’s anti-gay. Instead they call themselves “Christian based” and a “faith based organisation”.

Gloria Jeans states “We have no relationship with the Hillsong Church. Gloria Jean’s Coffees is an Australian-owned private company and there are no financial or legal ties between Gloria Jean’s Coffees and Hillsong Church. This remains unchanged.” Legal ties? Maybe not. Financial ties? Depends on what you mean. The two founding executives are part of Hillsong Church, and Gloria Jeans is the top corporate sponsor of Mercy Ministries (which describes Gloria Jean’s International as “Our Major Corporate Partner”), and that group also has ties to Hillsong. There clearly is a financial relationship, however unofficial it may be.

They are most disingenuous when they say, “The religious affiliation of our management, staff, Franchise Partners, charity partners has absolutely no relevance to how we operate our company.” It has every relevance because people may not want to do business with people with extreme religious views. In the US, Domino’s Pizza was under boycott for many years because it’s founder, Tom Monaghan, contributed millions to anti-abortion, anti-gay and other far-right religious causes. The boycott ended only when Monaghan was no longer involved in the company. In New Zealand, the far right religious group Exclusive Brethren funnelled around two million dollars in money from their business activities into a smear campaign against the Labour and Green Parties in an attempt to get the National Party elected.

I’ve seen no evidence that the Australasian version of Mercy Ministries is engaged in anti-gay activity, even if its US parent is. But I don’t want any of my money going to support far-right christianist programmes that run a political agenda counter to my values. So, I won’t be patronising Gloria Jeans anymore, and I’ll tell my friends that fact and why.

If Gloria Jeans is really “deeply concerned”, they might want to reassess their financial support for a group whose activities run counter the beliefs of many of their customers. Until they do, they won’t get any of my money so that Mercy Ministries and Hillsong Church don’t, either.

The Gloria Jeans stores in the USA and Puerto Rico are separate.


Dawn said...

Thanks for letting me know. I don't frequent Gloria Jean's, but now I know to choose another place if I need a snack.

Anonymous said...

I won't be going there either. Their excuse-for-coffee is overpriced anyway.