Last week, I was intrigued when RELEVANT magazine published an article about how Christian boycotts are seldom successful and often unhelpful.
From time to time, Christians (individually or collectively) will go on crusade-esque boycotts when they hear a store or brand supports something they don’t agree with. We “take a stand” and refuse to give them business, like when Starbucks “came out” along with a few others in support of same-sex marriage a while back. A minority of Christians attempted a coup d’etat but Starbucks didn’t really care. In fact, I’m not sure the multi-billion (with a “b”) dollar coffee giant even noticed. There is still a Starbucks every twelve feet, brewing and steaming and whipped-creaming like nothing ever happened. Because, well, nothing did happen.
[Image via Yann Gar/Flickr]
The article cited other scenarios where a Christian boycott had little-to-no effect and discussed the social ramifications of carrying on such a boycott. The alternative? Engage—like Paul did in Athens in Acts 17. Instead of condemning and ostracizing, Paul engages with the Athenians. The result? The conversion Dionysius, Damaris, and others left unnamed.
The article, albeit somewhat snarky, is worthy of your time: “Christians Need To Stop Boycotting Stuff.”
Acts 17 is a helpful example. But did you know there’s another passage in Scripture which actually instructs us in this very thing? It’s one that is overlooked, because it seems to be just a passing comment. But there’s a whole lot more there than you think.
I Corinthians 5—Church vs. City
The city of Corinth was basically a first-century Vegas, from what I understand. But, interestingly enough, Paul’s message to the church there wasn’t one of condemnation for the culture or the city of Corinth.
Rumor had it that in the Corinthian church there was a man who was doing some not-so-good things with his father’s wife. Ew. Just…ew. Paul had written previously* to not associate with this guy—who called himself a Christian but was continually, unrepentantly, flagrantly participating in sexual immorality.
Apparently there was some confusion regarding this instruction. He had instructed the church to not associate with sexually immoral people within the church, like that gross dude. But they misunderstood it to mean they shouldn’t associate with any sexually immoral people.
Paul wasn’t telling them to dissociate from all sexually immoral people everywhere—just the ones who wear the name of Jesus. In effect, Paul is prescribing a Christian boycott—of another Christian.
Take a look at what Paul says in I Corinthians 5:6
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world… For what have I to do with judging outsiders?”
Let me break this down for you: Paul says the only way to not associate with sinners is to actually not be here. So if you really want to pull the boycott off consistently (another major problem with the boycott mentality), then you need to actually just take your own life and leave this world. Then you would successfully not support anything you don’t agree with.
Or here’s an idea. Go sell everything you have, build a small log cabin. Get good at building fires. Learn how to hunt, plant food, and live off the land. But—be careful who you buy that land from. He might spend the money unwisely, to go get drunk that night or pay for a prostitute the next night. Or—gasp!—go to Starbucks with it. Oh, the humanity!
Bottom line: it is literally impossible to not associate with sinners (read: people) as long as you live on earth.
What Would Jesus Do? (Yes, I’m Going There)
Let’s be honest. We can find just about anything to disagree with (or boycott) inside any business, organization, or even church. I’m not at all saying you should ditch your convictions (a la Romans 14). But unless it is implicitly and immovably tied to the Gospel, it might not be worth burning at the stake for. Jesus, yes. But where you buy your coffee? Probably not.
You can keep your convictions but still engage the culture. Even Jesus ate with the “tax collectors and sinners.” He did not shun, condemn**, or spew hatred on unbelievers who acted like unbelievers. He loved them to Himself.
With that, I ask you (and myself^):
Are we known for what we’re against? Or Who we’re for?
Is our goal the furthering of the Gospel? Or conservatism?
Are we sharing the love of Jesus? Or the values we think everyone else should have?
Your barista at Starbucks needs Jesus; is your relationship with him less important than the message you want to send to “the man?” The lady at Meijer’s—who so kindly stopped you to make sure you had your purse after you accidentally left it at the self-check out—she needs Jesus more than Meijer’s needs your clear and unabashed protest. And the cashier you scolded for saying “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas?” It might just be making us look angry instead of loving.
You might be the only Jesus they ever see. But what if they don’t see you, because you’re “taking a stand?” (Tweet that!)
That’s a problem.
Stop boycotting. Start engaging. And love them like Jesus.