- The Washington Times - Monday, November 2, 2015

Taking a page out of numerous groups’ playbooks, a marketing company has issued its first annual index on how welcoming more than 100 companies are to the 41 million-strong consumer base of devout Christians.

Seven companies received the highest scores in the new Faith Equality Index, issued Monday by Faith Driven Consumer, although none came close to a perfect score on the survey’s 100-point scale.

The new rating tool uses that scale to measure businesses’ outreach and welcoming treatment of the massive consumer base of people who use their biblical worldview when they shop.

Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, Interstate Batteries and Thrivent Financial are the 2016 leading companies in the first Faith Equality Index, said Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer and a certified brand strategist.

“The [Faith-Driven Consumer] community has been asking, really clamoring, for this [index]. … They are actively seeking a brand that will welcome, embrace and celebrate them,” Mr. Stone said in an interview.

The Faith Equality Index ratings are based on publicly available information and corporate answers to the survey in four areas: public commitment to faith-driven consumers (35 points), faith-compatible corporate actions (30 points), equal application of equal protections (15 points) and corporate competency in the faith-driven consumer market segment (20 points).

Some 140 companies, representing 334 brands, were covered in the debut survey.

Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby — both of which close on Sundays to honor the Sabbath and give their employees a day of rest — received the highest points of 63 and 62 points, respectively.

They and other high-ranking companies typically received high marks for such things as using the word “Christmas” in seasonal advertising, using “faith-compatible, wholesome” advertising and offering philanthropic support for religious groups or events.

Companies’ support for pro-life positions and traditional marriage were also measured, as well as their workplace hiring practices and nondiscrimination policies that expressly covered religious people.

Neither Chick-fil-A or Hobby Lobby had an immediate comment about their rankings in the new index on Monday. But both are well known for standing up for religious freedom and Christian values.

Chick-fil-A has long supported traditional marriage, and is expanding despite boycotts by supporters of gay marriage. Its corporate purpose is, in part, “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.”

Hobby Lobby in 2014 successfully won at the Supreme Court to block the federal government from forcing it and other closely held companies run by religious families to offer health insurance that includes birth control that can end a pregnancy.

The popular arts and crafts retail chain’s mission statement says that it will honor the Lord “in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles,” and trust in God “for our future.”

At the other end, a number of brand names ranked in the low double digits, according to the Faith Equality Index.

These included Bank of America, Microsoft, DirecTV and Unilever, which makes such products as Lipton Tea and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Low scores were sometimes due to a lack of response to the survey even though outreach was made to company executives, especially those in marketing and corporate-diversity offices, Mr. Stone said.

He added that the index is not intended to be subjective but be based on quantifiable actions and statements.

Several companies, once notified about their preliminarily low scores, were able to provide documentation that substantially boosted their ratings, he said.

Elsewhere, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has been issuing a Corporate Equality Index since 2002 to rate companies on their policies and outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In this year’s HRC index, a record 366 businesses scored “100 percent” and recognition as one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

The new Faith Equality Index includes ratings by the HRC index, as well as ratings from the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, DiversityInc and Black Enterprise’s “40 Best Companies for Diversity” for a fuller picture of a company’s efforts on diversity, noted Mr. Stone.

A requested comment from HRC about the new religion-based index was not immediately provided.

The Faith Driven Consumer community is a subset of the larger Christian market and represents 41 million Christians of all ages who spend $2 trillion a year based on their biblical worldviews, according to his organization.

It is also an underserved community in the diversity arena — a status that the new index hopes to help remedy, Mr. Stone said.

The Faith Equality Index is expected to be issued annually every November.

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