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Making the Christian connection

Richard Tiny Robertson says he is proud to display the Christianfish symbol on his towing and rental truck business in Medford. The symbolcomes from Christianity's earliest years, when persecuted Christians usedthe symbol secretly to indicate a gathering.

A number of Rogue Valley businesses make their religious affiliationa matter of record, saying it helps guarantee honesty, but even some Christiansquestion the practice's appropriateness

When Richard Tiny Robertson decided to put a big Christianfish symbol on the side of his towing and rental truck business in Medford,some people warned him he would lose customers. He ignored the advice --the sign meant too much, he said.

It hasn't hurt my business any, Robertson said. Sure,there's some people who don't like it, they'll say something, but they stillcome to my business.

Robertson is one of many Rogue Valley business owners who advertise themselvesas Christian. Flip through the yellow pages and you'll see a number of adsthat include the fish symbol.

The symbol dates back to the days of early Christians, who gathered forsecret meetings in Rome and used the sign of the fish to let fellow believersknow a meeting was nearby.

There's also the Christian Business Directory, which lists more than100 local businesses, from accountants and computer consultants to floristsand physicians. It even lists a bagel shop.

Those who publicize their faith along with their business say they simplywant others to know they're Christian. Some say it helps draw business.

But some Christians question whether their religion has any place inpromoting a business, and say actions -- not symbols -- are what's key.

For John Blanchard, including the fish symbol to advertise his pump servicein the yellow pages is a way to assure customers they'll get honest service.

It's to let people know my beliefs and to let them know I'm responsibleto a higher power, he said.

Basically, I'm trustworthy and they don't have to worry about beingripped off. I'm responsible to God and that's basically what that littlesymbol in my ad means.

The symbol draws about 10 percent of his business, Blanchard estimates.The symbol also turns away some customers, he added.

Part of being a Christian is sharing your faith and that's basicallymy way of doing it, he added.

Ray Miller, owner of Assured Pest Control, also said the symbol attractscustomers. He said it draws him to a business.

Other Christians respect that symbol (the fish) and expect thekind of service that it should entail, he said.

Chip Wright, who owns a karate instruction and health gym in downtownMedford, said he includes the fish in his ads because he wants people toknow he's a Christian, not because it will draw a lot of clients.

The goal was to make a statement for myself and my business,he said.

The symbol does draw some fellow Christians, though, because it tellsthem they share a bond with the business owner, he said.

For Robertson, the fish sign is an important reminder.

The reason I have it up is it's a reminder to me of what I standfor ... I feel it's an encouragement to other Christians and it might remindthem of the way we're supposed to live, he said.

James Smith, a Medford attorney whose family publishes the ChristianBusiness Directory, said the general purpose of the specialized directoryis to help Christian businesses and customers find each other.

He said the booklet is a small version of Christian business yellow pagesavailable in big cities such as Seattle. The local directory is distributedto more than 7,000 homes through the mail and churches.

Curt Bennett, an investment executive and Medford city councilman, saidputting his ad in the Christian Business Directory was another avenueof exposure that I certainly felt comfortable with.

Gary Nelson of Medford, who advertises his photography service in theChristian Business Directory, said he uses the directory himself becausehe believes it assures him honest service.

It's a guarantee, he said.

But others question the purpose of advertising one's faith in business.

Ed Miller of Ed's Tire Factory in Medford said he has mixed feelingsabout his advertising in the directory. He did it so as not to offend fellowchurch members.

Faith shouldn't be used to promote a business, he said. Miller won'tuse the fish symbol in his ads.

Your actions speak louder than words, he said. I don'tthink you have to say you are (Christian) or put a fish on your ad. It hasnothing to do with if you're honest or not.

Another business owner, who requested anonymity, said the symbol is sometimesmisused by people who aren't Christians but think it will give them an edge.The symbol shouldn't be trusted on blind faith that a businessis honest, he said.

Medford Mayor Jerry Lausmann said the symbol gives him second thoughts.

If you have to advertise that you're a Christian, I wonder aboutit, he said.

A Christian witness is more of a personal thing and should be evidencedmore by the actions of an individual.

Perry Atkinson, president and general manager of Medford radio stationKDOV, said there's been a sharp decline in the number of businesses usingthe fish symbol during in the past six years since key Christian leadersraised concern about its possible misuse.

They wanted to make sure that the demeanor lined up with the slogan,said Atkinson, whose station emphasizes Christian programming. Youhave to be a person of integrity in everything you do and that's a biggerwitness than putting a fish on the side of your business.

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Making the Christian connection