Christian Value

Money, bible, cross AP / CBS

In some communities, a trip to the store can really be a religious experience.

Conservative Christians are getting into everything these days, from restaurants to theme parks. And, as CBS News Correspondent Tracy Smith reports, the emphasis on ethics is paying off for many of these businesses.

On a Florida day suitable for building an ark, it's the noontime rush at the Taste Of Heaven cafe.

Owner Laverne Pine serves up lunch with a side of scripture. Her restaurant is one of several hundred Christian businesses in West Palm Beach. Pine says she was surprised by how well her business has done.

"I'm surprised by being in an 85 percent Jewish community … it's not hurting me," she said.

The Christian entrepreneur says she and her husband, Lou, opened the business after getting a clear message from God.

Across town, it's the same idea but different clientele: Christian dog grooming. There are bible references on the walls, but the dogs don't seem to mind, and the owners aren't complaining, either.

Rachele Karpiuk said she feels more secure at the Christian dog salon because of better services and a financial trust with the owner.

"I know she's not going to take me for a ride or overcharge me or be cruel to my animals," Karpiuk explained.

And that kind of reputation can be money in the bank. Christian business owners are experiencing new popularity in non-traditional fields.

There's a Christian-based theme park in Orlando with shows and theme park food. Plus, there is "The Lord's Gymnasium," which is filled with statues.

"So many people are looking and going back to the religions, especially since 9-11," Lord's Gym owner Patricia Steppans said. "9-11 was a really big boost for Christian type businesses."

And because life needs a little laughter, nightclubs like the Improv now feature Christian comedy nights.

"It actually says in the bible that the meek shall inherit the earth," comedian John Branyan joked. "And the first time I heard the minister say that, I was in the front row and I went, 'Yeah.'"

Branyan's comedy material is clean, family oriented, profanity free and he looks funny.

But some Christians say that the faithful could be in danger of retreating too far from mainstream society and isolating themselves from the rest of the community.

"Any group, any religious group or interest group can become very insular and can become ghettoized and can begin to see itself as standing apart from culture so much that it doesn't have any interaction with culture," Christian Today's editor Mark Galli said.

With that in mind, the Lord's Gym is open to everyone regardless of faith. But you can still tell it's a Christian business because of its modesty rules: no leotards allowed, and definitely no thongs.

Steppans says the dress code eliminates uncomfortable situations.

"To make it feel like it's not a meat market like the typical gym is when you walk in and see these musclemen and girls in these thongs," she said.

Christian business or not, religion may be the last thing on customers' minds there.

Weightlifter Jim Morris said he strives to look at the religious pictures on the wall.

"Working out is a religious experience," he explained.

None of the business owners Smith interviewed are getting rich from their businesses, but the potential is there. In the past 18 months, paid membership at the Lord's Gym has grown from 300 to well over 1,000.
  • Rome Neal

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