A number of religious groups are creating their own versions of the Yellow Pages telephone directories that exclude business owners who don't belong to the faith, arousing complaints of discrimination.
The Christian Pages, for example, looks like a slimmer version of the commercial advertising directories published by the regional phone companies and other publishers. It follows the usual format of yellow newsprint and black-and-red type."The Christian Pages directory is designed to assist born-again Christians in locating members of the Body of Christ should you desire to do business with one another," the guide's introduction says.
The welcome invokes Galatians 6:10, a New Testament verse that reads: "As we therefore have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially those who are of the household of faith."
"There's definitely a demand and a need for it," said Bob Hover, who has published the 75,000-circulation phone book for 300 Michigan churches since 1980. "For me, this is a ministry. It's a way for me to serve the Lord and be a blessing to the Christian community."
Advertisers are required to sign a statement of faith in Christ, Hover said. Business owners professing other faiths are refused space.
"Anybody who's truly a Christian obviously has very high standards," he said, adding that recent scandals involving evangelists haven't hurt business. "There's an advantage to doing business with a person who truly believes."
But others see such directories as a way of shutting out those who aren't seen as believers.
"There's no doubt that anything that's an exclusive listing is divisive to the public," said Elliot Wright, senior vice president for programs at the National Conference of Christians and Jews in New York. "I happen to be a Methodist and we put out a catalog. But it's stuff that Methodist churches need.
"Other than those kinds of approaches, our position is it's just not a neighborly thing to do."
The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith views Hover's work more as a curse than a blessing, said Jill Kahn, assistant legal affairs director at the Jewish group's Washington, D.C., headquarters.
"We think that simply by advertising in that grouping, they're sending a very powerful `Buy Christian' message - and that we find unacceptable," she said.
A Christian directory in Los Angeles went bankrupt in 1977 after a judge awarded damages to two Jewish businessmen who sued after being denied advertising space, Kahn said.
That guide violated California's civil rights act, which bans religious-based trade conspiracies, Kahn said. Michigan and most other states lack such specific laws, she said.
Owners of some Jewish business directories have been warned against overstepping their bounds, Kahn said. Most advertise only items used in religious observances.
Richard Lobenthal, the Anti-Defamation League's Michin director, said he objects to "an innuendo in this sort of advertising that nobody is honest or reputable unless they are born-again Christians."
"Some of the solicitations are absurd," Lobenthal said. "No one's ever been able to persuade me that the's anything religious about a tune-up."
The National Council of Churches hasn't grappled with the issue of religious business directories, said Carol Fouke, a spokeswoman for the New York-based group.
Baltimore-based Shepherd's Guide, which publishes Christian directories from Maine to Florida, is the Christian Pages' latest competition in the battle for believers' profits.
Other religious organizations target buyers instead of sellers. Michigan-based Christian Consumers Association promises its 14,000 members "Christian buying power."
Churches and families pay $586 for a 20-year membership, President Jerry Amster said. In exchange, the organization hunts for the lowest price on everything from mattresses to marriage counseling.
"As a group, we can negotiate better prices," Amster said. "I think it's very demeaning for a minister to go into a furniture showroom and ggle."
In 1988, the group served as a go-between for more than $6 million worth of transactions, he said.
"We're treated differently," Amster said. "It's not because we're Christians. It's because we spend $6 million a year."