Business owners openly express Christianity
The drive-through backs up alongside the familiar red barnlike home of Melvin’s Legendary Bar-B-Q, where you can get an unapologetic Big D’s Triple Bacon Cheeseburger, Carolina pork ribs and an onion ring.
Your sweet tea comes in a foam cup with Melvin’s logo, a grinning pig with fork in hand, printed on one side and the 10 Commandments on the other. A catchy praise tune pipes in over butcher-block booths and a friendly staff.
Jesus, I’ll love You with all of my heart.
Jesus, I’ll love You with all of my mind ...
And don’t bother ordering a beer. Melvin’s doesn’t sell alcohol. It’s also closed on Sundays.
Melvin’s isn’t alone. In a town dubbed the Holy City, with a predominantly Christian population, many business owners have expressed their faith overtly for years — and not just at church and Bible study — although it recently turned controversial for one national fast-food chain.
Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy ignited a firestorm last month when he told a religious publication that the company backed “the biblical definition of a family” and had made donations to groups that work to block same-sex marriage.
Although David Bessinger, Melvin’s president and co-owner, believes the Bible supports marriage between a man and a woman, he adds that it’s his personal belief. Expressing a general Christian faith in his restaurants shouldn’t make anyone feel unwelcome.
“We have to accept everyone’s way of thinking and their beliefs. If you are Muslim, Jewish or Christian and you want a good sandwich or ribs, I want to serve you,” Bessinger says. “But as a small businessman, I have First Amendment rights. We all do.”
Praise the Lord
“Praise the Lord, Van Atkins!”
You know you’ve reached Van’s Tree Service when the phone call starts this way. To Atkins, it’s a way to start a conversation.
Many people who hire him are new to town or going through some transition in their housing, often after a birth, divorce or job change. He often asks if they have found a church yet and will suggest ones near their homes.
Sometimes, he reaches out more personally. One recent customer told him she has a brain tumor. Atkins prayed with her. It’s something he offers “as the spirit moves me.”
And when the spirit moves him, he’s not shy to mix a little business with a whole lot of faith.
“The main thing is that people accept Christ,” Atkins says.
He’s in good company.
In Ladson, Woodboys features an Ichthys, or “Jesus fish,” on its website and includes testimonials about how the owner’s faith helped him operate the hardwood floor business and make practical decisions, such as to advertise on Christian and then secular radio.
In Mount Pleasant, Cox Tree Service owner Gregg Cox long has been public about his faith, including his support of his church and the nondenominational youth ministry Young Life, which he, too, includes on his website.
And in West Ashley, cups and bags at the drive-through restaurant chain Cook-Out come with Scripture and phrases such as, “Thank you God for America” and Psalms 119:165.
However, some in the Christian flock worry that the Chick-fil-A controversy has made it so that expressions of Christianity are construed as supporting underlying discrimination against gay and lesbian customers and that it has erroneously painted all Christians as opposing same-sex marriage.
“What bothers me is when people say Christianity means only this or only that,” says Jeremy Rutledge, senior pastor of the progressive Circular Congregational Church and a strong supporter of same-sex marriage. “Everyone has a right to free speech, and that can lead to healthy discussion. But my expectation is that all of us would work hard to protect space for people of other faiths and without faith.”
Space for faith
As a boy, David Bessinger didn’t see his father much on weekends, not even Sundays, despite his family’s Southern Baptist roots. It was one of many sacrifices required to run a family-owned restaurant, and Sundays were some of his dad’s most hectic days.
His father, Melvin, eventually carved out time to join the family for morning worship services before heading to the restaurant. For good or bad, Melvin did some great business on Sundays.
But as David Bessinger grew up and took on more responsibility, he burned out from working almost every day. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t in keeping with his Christian faith.
“I would go to church but was always getting paged.”
So he and his mother allied to persuade the elder Bessinger to close on Sundays, no easy feat given Melvin is a World War II vet with a strong work ethic and determination that the business founded by his own father in 1939 would thrive. However, in 1996, they persuaded him.
If they couldn’t make it being open six days, they wouldn’t make it in seven.
“We never looked back,” David Bessinger says. “The Lord has definitely blessed us. It’s not all about the almighty dollar.”
A good person
Mehdi Rahimi is a Muslim who came to the U.S. from Iran nearly four decades ago. He graduated from The Citadel in 1979 and has been working for the Bessingers since. David Bessinger calls Rahimi a right-hand man who is like a brother to him.
Rahimi, who runs the Mount Pleasant Melvin’s, could not recall getting negative feedback in the restaurant’s comment cards or otherwise regarding its Christian messages.
And despite any differences in faith, Rahimi says the overtones don’t bother him either. In fact, he finds the Christian music uplifting and notes that the Ten Commandments carry universal messages of honesty and integrity.
“To me, it doesn’t really matter what religion I am,” Rahimi says. “I just want to be a good person.”
Melvin’s cups and music only remind him of that when he needs it, and he hopes they remind others as well.