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7 Reasons Christian Boycotts Cannot (Really) Work

Image: Dave Hogg

Image: Dave Hogg

Harry Potter: Satanic! Chick-fil-A: unloving bigots! Lowes: modern jihadists! Starbucks: overpriced bathwater used for gay wedding toasts! Stay the heck away from these guys and think of the children!

These statements can rack up retweets and “amens” online, but do they—can they—work, really? And if not, why are they so popular?

I think the urge to boycott is hard-wired into some of us. If you don’t believe me, try this next time you get the chance to watch kids playing any sort of playground game: observe how they deal with getting tagged, “shot,” or otherwise ousted. You’ll hear all about “no tagging zones,” “extra lives,” and “everything-proof shields.” But you’ll also hear that one kid declare, “Fine! I’m not playing.” He leaves, other miffed children follow suit, and the game is done. His platform: if it doesn’t go my way, it’s no good. Boycott successful.

Some take this and run with it, discouraging business with some entity because of its leaders’/spokespeople’s beliefs, lifestyles, lingo, and spending decisions.

But when we give boycotts a spiritual charge, is there any spiritually successful outcome in sight? I don’t think so, and here’s why.

1. You can’t stop people from spending money on sin.

It’s human nature to serve self; it’s the way of the world (1 John 2:15–16). Whether a CEO is donating millions to support partial-birth abortion or a retail worker is taking another man’s wife out to dinner, the money comes from a paycheck (or dividend—you get it). People have spent, are spending, and will continue to spend “your” money to disobey and dishonor God, or they’ll pass it along to someone else who will.

2. Boycott logic doesn’t end anywhere you want to be.

If everyone’s going to use “your” money on something displeasing to God, how can you justly boycott one vendor and not all others? If the issue really is about someone else using “your” money on ungodly things, how can you buy from anyone? Unless you’re qualified to rank sins according to boycottability—and you’re not (James 2:10)—you’re in a rough spot. But you won’t be in that spot for long; you’ll starve to death soon enough.

3. Godly biblical figures traded with pagans.

Solomon’s a good example, establishing trade with the surrounding (heathen) nations. Check out 2 Chronicles 1:14-17:

Solomon amassed chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, and he stationed them in the chariot cities and with the king at Jerusalem. The king made silver and gold as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones, and he made cedars as plentiful as sycamores in the lowland. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue; the king’s traders procured them from Kue for a price. They imported chariots from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver apiece and horses for 150 apiece, and by the same means they exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Aram.

That’s a lot of trade with idol-worshippers, and this wasn’t happening at the time Solomon’s heart had turned from God. In fact, this is an example of God’s blessing on Solomon. The wise king doesn’t fret about how the other countries will use the money/goods he gives them.

4. Boycotts dehumanize workers.

I cringed when “Dump Starbucks” started. I worked at Starbucks for three years, and no manager, supervisor, or barista I know puts on the Green Apron at 5 a.m. to wage “a culture war on all people of faith.” In fact, a good amount of fellow coffee-brewers were seminary students just trying to finish school and start a family with a little less debt hanging over them. Should they be lumped into the evil Starbucks agenda? As Mitt Romney says, “corporations are [made up of] people, my friend.” OK, I helped him out a little.

5. Boycotts aren’t ideal ways to identify with Christ.

Remember the kid on the playground? It’s great to identify with the Word of God. I myself have lots in common with the boycott bands when it comes to what the Bible says is wrong, but I doubt withholding cash is the most gracious way to communicate the truth, just like I doubt eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich is the ideal way to explain how the Bible describes marriage. Evangelism involves more than that. Quoting Leviticus, disowning JC Penny, and leaving it there doesn’t really say more than “I disagree, so screw you guys—I’m going home.”

6. This is not how the church changes the world.

You can choose what and where to buy according to your own conscience, but you can’t choose what the Bible tells the church to do. We’re not commanded to boycott and flex our muscles as a bloc of spirited spenders; we’re told to make disciples and spread Christ’s teachings. Our agenda is to follow Christ and bring others along, not indignantly whine about the actions of those who don’t do what we want.

7. If boycotts worked, we’d be preaching a weird, weird gospel.

Let’s assume that millions of Christians boycott Amazon.com because founder Jeff Bezos donated $2.5 million to support gay marriage in Washington State. Amazon’s sales plummet, and Bezos changes his mind about things. “Wow, my beliefs aren’t aligned with the Christians’. I really need to adopt their creed, or I’m going to lose everything.” He converts to Christianity, adds Amazon.com to the Christian Business Directory, and he’s back in the money!  Is that the story we should tell? “Do things God’s way or go out of business”? It’s a twisted, twisted prosperity gospel that makes the Christian customer the judge and savior. No, thanks.

Does this mean you need to buy things from those you disagree with? Nope. In fact, if you never buy another Frappuccino, that’s a perfectly OK (and healthy) decision to make. Just don’t assume that a Christian boycott is going to accomplish anything of constructive spiritual significance. And don’t boycott Reason for Change, JeffreyDKranz.com, or anything like that.

Jeffrey Kranz is not only an incredible writer, he’s a good friend. Follow his hijinks on JeffreyDKranz.com or his incredible DC serial Lex Luther vs.The Joker. You can also follow him on Twitter @Jeffrey_the_Red.

Image: Dave Hogg

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