Earlier this week, according to a viral photo, the CEO of Starbucks reportedly told Christian customers he does not want their business. More reputable sources showed a very different picture, the CEO was merely offering a concerned stockholder freedom to sell stocks. While the story was strongly overblown and mischaracterized, Starbucks does affirm an unwavering commitment to promoting what they call “marriage equality.” I have lived through many proposed boycotts of Starbucks, none of which have ever amounted to anything, and now we see yet another wave of the boycott rage. Should you participate? What should a Christian stance be? To help you think about it, imagine that Starbucks did not begin at Pike Place, but Jerusalem Plaza many years ago. Would Jesus, on a mission to seek the lost, drink coffee at Starbucks with a sinner? Or would the Creator hold signs to boycott Starbucks and other similar companies? Many people have talked about their personal convictions, but the question is about God, does He want us to “dump Starbucks”?
IS CHRIST ANGRY OR KIND?
We see two radically different pictures of Jesus in the Bible. One is a Warrior Jesus who is angry and ready to judge people for their sin. The second is a merciful Shepherd Jesus who loves people in spite of their sin. Some point to the first version to try to initiate boycotts, while others point to the second to avoid them. So is Jesus a kind God who loves sinners (Mat 9:10-13) or an angry God who is furious at sinners (Mat 21:12; 21:27; 21:33)?
Why the difference?
Is God bi-polar? Or is there a reasons why Jesus treats two types of sinners differently? Yes, I believe it has to do with where a person is, in relation to the people of God. We should note that Jesus is angry at His people, (not the Romans for example) but the Jews who claim know the truth, especially the religious leadership. He judges first his household for being sinners, self-righteous, and vindicating themselves (1 Peter 4:17). And then he is merciful to those are far off from Him and are blind to the truth. He is kind to those who are so lost they don’t even dare claim to be his people or to be righteous. Likewise the church is called to discipline and even excommunicate those among its ranks who proudly persist in sin and ultimately refuse to repent. At the same time, the church is called to go out and love those who are far off, as lost sinners to Christ. When a Christian is sinful, heretical, repeatedly and purposely refuses to repent, the church ought to push away or “boycott” that person (because that act may cause him/her to repent). On the other hand, when a nonbeliever is sinful, doesn’t care or believe in any of it, the church ought to try and pull them near in kindness (because that act may cause him/her to repent), Christ often pushed away the self-righteous, religious people (Bible-quoting Pharisees), and pulled near the brokenhearted sinner (prostitutes). So first off we should not that there are two separate strategies for dealing with unrepentant sinners who are part of the church and those who are lost in the world. Very often our attitude towards the prostitutes is what Jesus reserved for the Pharisees.
“CHRISTIAN” BOYCOTTS ARE UNWISE
Do make wise purchases
Now on to purchasing power. You are not only welcome, but strongly encouraged to think critically about how and where you spend your money. If you have a choice to buy coffee at a local coffee shop that promotes fair trade and local economy vs a large corporation that encourages slave labor and etc, you are right in choosing the former. This is not a formal church issue, instead everyone ought to spend their money in a way that maximizes the ultimate good. If you use your economic “vote” to finance a restaurant that hosts strippers, rather than a restaurant that often donates money to charity, you are doing bad. It’s far better that the owners profit will go to help the needy rather than promulgating the sexual objectification of women! However, don’t ridicule and scorn the restaurant or the strippers. Being careful about where you spend it is not merely an option, it is a part of stewarding your money properly. I, for example, would rather buy coffee at a local shop, to support the local economy. Unless the local shop is “bikini barista” flavored, in which case, I would definitely pick Starbucks. It’s good to think through such choices. You should definitely avoid goods that are made using slave labor and the exploitation of others. You should probably avoid some large corporations that are ruining the economy. You can even avoid places with bad customer service and etc.
Don’t make a Christian “anti” movement
All of those personal choices are smart, yet they should never become a “Christian” boycott like we often see against Starbucks. Especially because the crusade against Starbucks is not in an effort to help exploited child slaves, but about imposing a Christian morality on others. I wish all of us Christians would instead privately boycott the “Guess?” brand because it was cited “for federal labor law violations. 40 percent of its manufacturing was moved to Mexico and South America to escape union organizers and US Department of labor oversight.” Why do we not care about children working long hours for a miniscule salary, while we spend so much time to making sure we reject someone from sinning with their life as they please? Most boycotts are not about helping someone who is needy and hurt, they are about rejecting someone that chooses to sin. (And guess what, we all choose to sin, just in different ways). Whenever you go beyond your own personal choices to buy stuff, and involve Christianity as a massive force of rejecting a specific group as “worse sinners,” you are damaging Christianity more than atheists who write scornful books. Whenever you proliferate photos, comments, and ideas that ask all Christians to boycott “homosexuals” or others, you bastardize Christianity into something it’s not. You cause that clean bright city on a hill to become a dark gestapo state. You cause the salt, that preserves meat and adds delicious flavor, to become an acid that corrodes and causes bitterness.
If you feel personally compelled to buy elsewhere, then do so with love, but don’t try to make an “anti-something” movement. It is unwise to organize a “Christian boycott” against things like homosexuality, because of the following:
1. A boycott never changes hearts. Seriously, have you heard a story like this before: “I used to watch porn and when people found out, they stopped shopping at my cupcake bakery. I realized that my habits were destructive and that I was a sinner. I believed in Jesus, repented, joined a church, got married, and started raising a happy family. Now we all bake wonderful porn-free cupcakes for Jesus.” Christianity is about a heart change, boycotting is a political and economic change.
2. A boycott redefines our message. Today you don’t have to go overseas to preach the Gospel, there are hundreds of thousands of people around you that have never heard it. They have definitely heard of a thing called Christianity, to be sure, but most of them have only seen a corrupt, legalistic, republican, politicized version. They haven’t seen the body of Jesus loving of Jesus. By making more “dump Starbucks” and others boycotts, you will ensure they never see it. All people will associate Christianity with is “hating gay people.” That is definitely not the point of Christianity. The more you “boycott” the more you lose what really defines Christianity.
3. A boycott closes doors to evangelism. Tell me, please, which of these two options is more likely to win a person to Jesus. Take a picture of yourself, looking smug and arrogant, while pouring out coffee in a Starbucks parking lot and post it to Facebook, with a caption like “no homo”? Or taking out a gay friend to Starbucks, buying him a coffee, and praying for him? Holding rude signs in front of the Starbucks baristas? Or offering to buy coffees for them?
4. A boycott has no real objective. Might I ask, what is the point? If every single “Christian-leaning” person in the USA gets behind you and ultimately reduces Starbucks profits by 90% what then? Starbucks will close down a few stores, fire a ton of employees, and close contracts with coffee farmers. The CEO and the corporate level people will still be filthy rich, and the poor folks that work for them, will become even poorer (though everyone who previously bought coffee will instantly become rich from saving all the money they spend at SB). Then what? Will anything have been accomplished? Will it make people Christian? Will it make people un-gay, un-adulterers, un-rude, un-liars, un-greedy, un-anything? Nope.
5. A boycott is majority enforced morality. Christians agree to obey what God says in the Bible because we submit to his authority, secular culture doesn’t recognize it. As Christians, our mission is to lead people to our God so they can submit to Him. As boycotters, our mission becomes to force people to submit us, through the use of our large movement. If there are enough of us, and we can boycott strongly enough, then we can force people to live their lives differently because of us as a movement. We would enforce morality by the authority of a large crowd, not a large God. The only reason people would make “good choices” is because of the greedy fear of losing money, not because of a new heart that wants to. Christianity is not this, instead Christianity is a life and morality that is true because of God’s authority, not our majority.