When I was a kid Disney was the devil. Not literally, of course, but it was believed (at least by many of the adults I knew) that everything the Mouse produced was evil, likely containing hidden messages or overt and perverted sexuality. Perhaps even signs of the occult. That was when I learned about boycotts.
I didn’t learn about boycotts from history, but from experience. I didn’t learn it from freedom fighters or those seeking to expand rights, but from those judging and seeking to limit rights. I learned quickly that boycotts were a form of punishing people we didn’t know for positions we didn’t agree with. All this came dressed as a Crusade-like battle defending righteousness and pursuing revival.
It seems boycotts are pretty popular within fundamentalist Christianity. Within the past few years, the rally cry has grown deafening. We’ve boycotted Hollywood, The Muppets, Apple, Starbucks … most recently Target. I have to say I’m perplexed by this.
I simply cannot get on board, and I want to tell you why. I expect many to disagree with me on this. That’s okay. Take it or leave it as you will.
1. Boycotts provide negative enforcement rather than positive encouragement.
Call me “Polyanna” if you must, but I’m a positive, glass-half-full, attract-more-bees-with-honey kinda gal. If I want to get my point across, my go-to M.O. is reward rather than punishment. It’s invitation rather than exclusion.
Rather than boycott the place/practice/politician/business promoting something I don’t like, I support the place/practice/politician/business promoting something I DO like.
Some believe punishment is a biblical method of communication and that the only way to get people to hear your message is to let them know what you don’t like. After all, “spare the rod, spoil the child.” That’s in the Bible, isn’t it? Well, the Bible actually says that “whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Prov. 13:24) The Bible also says: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6)
Let’s forget for a moment that both of these verses are about parenting and not social influence. We can take them completely out of context (highly discouraged!) and still see something true: Influence can be positive or negative and achieve (roughly) the same goal. Negative reinforcement deters bad things while positive reinforcement encourages good things. Which is better?
Consider your job. What incentivizes you more: the threat of being fired or the promise of a raise or bonus? Which would make you work harder?
2. Boycotts invite excessive scrutiny.
Personally, I’d rather not invite people to start looking for my inconsistencies or hidden and private offenses. I know they’re there. Others do, too. But most people are happy to leave those dark corners undisturbed … until someone starts poking around their dark corners.
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” — Matthew 7:1–5 (The Message)
Perhaps there exists a large group of Christian people who revel in judgment and criticism. I think of Angela Martin from “The Office.” I am not one of those. I don’t enjoy having a spotlight on my life. In fact, I’m usually on the other side watching for consistency. And that’s exactly what people are doing when they see Christians boycott. They inspect our arguments and see if our lives support them.
Have you thoroughly vetted every business you frequent?
Do you know with confidence that all of them affirm your personal beliefs and politics?
If you’re against this, are you also against this other thing over here?
How are you living in a way that matches what you demand of others?
The problem with most religious boycotts is that they aggressively condemn public or visible “sins” while ignoring the invisible yet known sins.
Do we believe sins are only offensive when visible?
We all know that most Christians have sex before marriage, but it seems only those that get pregnant are shunned. But the baby isn’t sin; the baby is a miracle (planned or not). Condemnation of it or the mother broadcasts that extramarital sex is okay, but unwed pregnancy is not. That’s backwards. It’s ignoring the sin but condemning the symptoms. If this is how we show the world God, we don’t understand God.
3. Boycotts highlight hypocrisy.
A friend posted this image (right) last week in response to the #BoycottTarget movement.
Now, I don’t want to get into a discussion over child predators, the Duggar scandal, fluid genders, bathroom rights, or everything that might possibly be wrong with this meme.
My point is that scrutiny is what boycotts invite and hypocrisy is what they’ll highlight.
This is never more true than with religious boycotts. People already think Christians are hypocrites. Let’s not prove them right with public displays!
People want to see consistency. I can respect someone who is completely, out-of-his-mind wrong if he’s consistent with his arguments and application. I suspect most people are that way. We don’t object to disagreement as much as discord. Contradict me all you want, but don’t contradict yourself.
It’s ugly and it weakens your position.
4. Boycotts are not biblical.
Whoah. Everybody back up. I did not say that boycotts are UN-biblical, just that they are not biblical. I see a subtle yet major distinction between the two.
BIBLICAL means it is taught in the Bible as something (an action, truth, or example) that honors God.
UN-BIBLICAL means it is taught in the Bible as being against God or against His desires for His people.
Boycotts are not in the Bible so they can be neither biblical nor unbiblical.
Does that mean Christians should never boycott? No. It just means we need to be very, very careful about staging boycotts for religious reasons. We need to think twice before making boycotts our default method of spiritual influence.
Are there other methods — approaches that are biblical — that might be more effective? I’m so glad you asked. YES! Consider these:
PRAY for those who offend you. LOVE your enemies. Walk in HUMILITY. Spread GRACE.
But wait — How will the world know what we think of them if we aren’t vocally oppositional? Um … maybe they’ll know us by our love? Perhaps they’ll see a supernatural power to forgive and generously show grace?
Here’s another thing: Christian standards do not apply to non-believers nor to businesses.
We need to stop expecting people who do not hold the same belief system to live as if they do.
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” — 1 Corinthians 5:12 (NIV)
If we want to hold believers accountable, great. In fact, we’re called to do just that! But it is foolish, ungracious, and illogical — and based on the verse above: unbiblical — to hold non-believers to a standard they never chose nor claimed as their own.
Perhaps because America’s founders were Christians many believe that America is a Christian nation. They claim that fighting for a culture that enforces biblical standards promotes national preservation. No. I’m sorry. The United States was founded by men who believed in God, but men like Roger Williams fought to separate church and state long before the Constitution was drafted. They desired a nation of people free from religious oppression.
When Jesus came, He didn’t save the world through politics. He didn’t pursue huge cultural change on a national level, but on a personal level. He appealed to the hearts of people through grace and mercy, not through law and guilt. He ate with the worst of sinners; He didn’t cross the street and wave angry signs at them. No one comes to faith through oppression and anger.
You do what you want.
Please understand: I’m not telling anyone what to do or think. I’m simply sharing my thoughts on the movement and I invite (civil, respectful) discussion. Ultimately, your stance — just like mine — comes down to conscience.
Maybe your conscience dictates that boycotts are your tangible obedience, your visible worship. Okay. Just be sure that your motives are pure and that your actions align with your moral and religious convictions. In other words, let us be consistent in word and deed.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
— 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)
Here are two posts with related thoughts.
- Christians: You have one job.
- 3 Missional Truths to Consider Before Boycotting Target
- The Transgendered Target