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3 Reasons Christians Should Shop Locally

Part of the problemThere’s a Guitar Center coming to my town. As a musician, I should be pretty excited. Who wouldn’t want a wide selection of amps, wall-to-wall guitars, and competitive prices? I should be excited—I’m not.

I’ve lived in this town most of my life. I bought my first guitar (a black Les Paul) with my tip money (I paid $250 of that in one-dollar bills) in 1987. I bought it at a local shop called Brown’s Music. I went back and bought my first Strat from Brown’s a couple years later. I bought my first Telecaster locally from Manna Music, and my first Vox amp from Mojo Music.

Whether it’s a Best Buy, Wal*Mart, or Guitar Center, boxed stores change communities. Here are three reasons I think Christians should consider buying local.

1. Frugality isn’t the highest Christian virtue.

Every family knows that saving money is important. But is it the most important? I don’t think so. Sure, a box store may be able to buy larger quantities and sell it at a cheaper rate, but what’s the real cost?

I may be end up saving a little more to make that big purchase and I’ll probably spend a little more, but the money is an investment in my community. It’s an investment in my neighbor.

We’re being conditioned by box stores and online retailers to buy as cheaply as possible. We can’t allow ourselves to think that this is the only factor that matters when making a purchase. The way we spend money is important and we should consider its implications.

2. Boxed stores are a blight on our communities.

When I was growing up, a road trip was an exciting event. You could drive across the country and experience local cultures and communities. Every town was unique and had a flavor that was its own.

Now a drive across the nation is one sprawling shopping center after another. After a while, everywhere you go looks exactly the same. It’s one Chili’s, Applebees, P.F. Chang’s, Wal*Mart, and McDonald’s after another. It’s depressing to watch all the local color disappear. I’m tired of investing in the homogenization of our neighborhoods.

3. Loving our neighbor means investing in our neighbor.

I had a friend who owned a sporting goods store. Her business was strong, and she worked  hard. When Big 5 and Wal*Mart moved in, she put up a good fight. Now she works as a clerk in the sporting goods section at Wal*Mart.

We cannot sit idly by while people who have scraped, saved, and invested are buried by businesses with huge margins and buying power. I get capitalism and I am not against it—but the demand (us) gets to decide where the supply comes from.

Jesus says to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. This means I need to consider the value of loyalty when I am making purchases, and I am not just talking about being loyal to my pocketbook.

I would hate for Doug (the owner of local shop Mojo Music) to come to a show and see me playing a guitar I could have bought from him but didn’t—just because I saved $50. This is why I won’t be visiting our city’s new Guitar Center.

Jayson Bradley

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23 Comments Post a comment
  1. I like this one a lot. I have found shopping locally to be a higher calling. Not always the easiest or most convenient or as you pointed out the most inexpensive, however shopping locally puts real food on a real families table. Supports real people that bring culture into our communities. And builds relationship.

    April 24, 2013
    • You could not be more right, Jessica. Investing in our communities has a big impact.

      April 24, 2013
  2. Darren Beem #

    Thanks Jayson: You put into words, so much of what I’ve been thinking about lately. A threshold challenge to buying local is that it requires us to actually know our community. It means talking to neighbors. For example, our neighbors just told us about a small local greek store that makes really good yogurt. It’s something we figured out because we connected to neighbors. Which is all to say that there are other benefits, beyond the obvious economic ones to buying local.

    April 25, 2013
    • You’re so right. I mean, let’s be honest. If we were serious about introducing people to Christ, we would make investments into their lives. This builds relationships, and it’s relationships that allow us the luxury of speaking truth to them. I was going to include this in the post, but I didn’t want shopping local to come off as a evangelism gimmick.

      Just like you’re saying, sometime the relationship is the ends, and not the means.

      April 25, 2013
  3. Never thought about it like that but glad I read this blog. It opened my eyes and it is so true. I am from a town right outside a big city and the town is increasing in population every year and is growing up by the months. All the locally own businesses are going out of business because of these corporate business.

    May 20, 2013
  4. I’m sorry, but I strongly disagree with virtually everything in this article. Here are a few counter points to consider. I challenge everyone to watch/read everything I link to before replying to this.

    1. Frugality is beneficial for your community. “Low prices benefit both the consumers and the overall economy, besides being a winning strategy for Wal-Mart. Every dollar a consumer saves on a purchase enables him or her to buy other items. More of consumers’ needs and wants can be fulfilled when prices are lower than when prices are higher. Because a consumer’s dollars go further at lower prices, more merchandise can be manufactured and sold. All the businesses making and selling these other products and services are helped.”

    http://www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/wal-mart-is-good-for-the-economy#ixzz2agJurEZg

    2. You’re only showing half of the story. I just did a roadtrip with three friends from Pennsylvania to California and back. Yes, it was great to stop at a little coffee shop and swap stories with the owners. However, it was also convenient beyond words to be able to pull in at a Walmart and use the restrooms, stock up on baked beans, windshield washer fluid, duck tape, and a cell phone charger (to replace the one I left at the hotel in Boise) all at the same place, and cheaper than anywhere else. Besides, when stopping at a coffee shop, it didn’t matter whether it was an independent cafe or a Starbucks. Both establishments had people who wanted to hear your adventures and tell you where the most remote beach was along California Hwy 1. It’s the people that give a city it’s character, not the buildings. In fact, if you allow the companies in a city to define the town for you, you are completely missing the very thing that makes the city unique –its human inhabitants.

    3. The Good Samaritan parable clearly illustrates that everyone is our neighbor. This means the ancient tribalist notion of supporting your local societal group at the expense of humanity at large is selfish and unbiblical. Modern media usually paints a heartwrenching picture of the workers at Chinese factories. They work long hours for little pay. Here’s what the media doesn’t point out. If those factory jobs didn’t exist, they would probably be working at their family farm in the country, where diseases and inclimate weather threaten to wipe out their year’s worth of work in a few hours. The standard of living is far less for rural farm workers in China than factory workers in the cities. Don’t listen to me, here it from somebody who has personal relationships with some of these workers. I can’t begin to summarize the power of the following video, so I just beg you to spend 15 minutes to watch this.

    http://blog.ted.com/2012/09/12/meet-two-chinese-factory-workers-lu-qingmin-and-wu-chunming/

    Christ teaches us to give to the poor, and that is generally accepted as a good thing to do by our society. Our government gives 37 billion dollars (source: http://nationalpriorities.org/blog/2013/05/06/how-much-foreign-aid-does-us-give-away/) of financial aid to other countries every year. Yet as soon as you start talking about outsourcing jobs, people freak out. Why is it good to give people a random charity occasionally, but evil to give them a job which results in steady pay on which they can raise a family?

    You said “I get capitalism and I am not against it—but the demand (us) gets to decide where the supply comes from.” That is an absolutely true and beautiful thing. You may continue to spend your money however and wherever you want. But I submit to you that spending money at businesses that are not efficient (cheapest prices) is financially irresponsible, destructive to the local economy (you have less money to spend elsewhere) and unbiblical (emphasis on tribalism rather than humanity at large).

    July 31, 2013
    • You don’t have to apology for not agreeing with me. I don’t agree with you and I am sure you’re a fine individual.

      July 31, 2013
      • This is such a gracious response to a comment that literally wrenched my gut. Thank you for tackling this topic as a Christian. Although it can be “expensive” our family feels responsible consumerism is based on biblical principles.

        August 2, 2013
    • Alright Jethro, here’s my two cents.

      1. First of all, of course there are people who think that Wal-Mart is beneficial. If everyone agreed with me, they wouldn’t exist. So just pointing out a website that disagrees with me and gives some Ayn Rand view of economics isn’t going to make me concede your point.

      But I disagree that it is beneficial to the community. Wal-Marts come in and close down the family-run businesses that sell the same goods. They employee people as cheaply as possible (averaging $15,576 a year for full time employees) and without healthcare. Because they hire outside countries for their goods, Wal-Mart has cost the U.S. valuable manufacturing jobs. Walmart had received more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments around the country.

      When frugality is king, the true price for low prices isn’t seen. As a Christian, I am not beholden to capitalism . . . it is an economic system that works better than some Utopian ideals, but in the end it’s not perfect. As a company gets to be the size of Wal-Mart it “wins” by sheer force of will.

      2. I just disagree with you. We live in a country that is turning into a strip mall. To tell me I am wrong because it was convenient to by a cell phone charger at one of the Wal-Marts you passed is silly.

      The character of a city is more than just people. It’s the infrastructure and businesses people create when given the freedom to do so. I was talking about the landscape which is turning into one strip mall after another.

      3. You know what? We could sit here and swap videos and slanted news stories all day long. China is simply one nation that we outsource manufacturing to. There are many and, in support of the money that’s to be had there, they often do not treat their employees well or hire children, You can refute that if you want to, but it’s the documented truth.

      We can also go back and forth on what kind of justice God demands from us. If you feel that purchasing a DVD for $5 is saving the world, then by all means—do it. I disagree. I have plenty of local businesses in my city that bring in free-trade products. I will gladly spend more money when I know that workers and manufacturers are being treated well and humanely.

      We’re not going to agree here. I know that I didn’t say one thing that made you go, “Oh, I see his point.” Which is why I’m not interested in doing this back-and-forth. I appreciate that you don’t agree. I value your God-given right not to. And I wish you well.

      August 5, 2013
  5. Andy Doerksen #

    If I may offer some arbitration between Jayson and Jethro: you both make excellent points. At the moment I’m leaning Jethro’s way–but would love to see how you, Jayson, would refute his points. God bless………..

    August 3, 2013
    • I too would like to see a refutation, but it seems like an unsupported, simple disagreement is all we get…

      August 5, 2013
      • I will gladly respond when I have time. Even though I know it will get nowhere and probably devolve into another futile internet argument where everyone is too entrenched to really hear anyone else out (myself included). But if you want to politely taunt me into responding, I will.

        August 5, 2013
        • Well, even if two opponents never hammer out an agreement, just being able to read both sides’ arguments is of value to the readers themselves.

          August 28, 2013
  6. This is the first time I have felt sucked into one of these “futile internet arguments”, but I find I cannot get this post and some of these comments out of my mind. I, also, do not really have the time to give to this that it would require to have a meaningful discussion on the topic, but I did watch the TED Talk Jethro posted in his link about the Chinese factory workers. While I agree with Leslie Chang that we as Americans cannot presume to really know what most Chinese factory workers are experiencing, I disagree with the rationalization she uses when it comes to discussing their working and living conditions. On several occasions she admits how poor these conditions are, even comparing the situation to that of a prison, yet claims this is okay because their lives in rural China were much worse. I do not have a problem with goods being manufactured overseas, and happily support companies who do outsource their labor, as long as they are paying their workers a livable wage, and even more so, when they provide opportunities for their workers to better their lives as Chang suggests at the end of the clip. Companies who do otherwise (pay their workers the least amount possible and manage their lives in a way that one would compare it to being in prison) are guilty of exploiting a people group. Rationalizing this treatment is akin to taking a child out of a home where he is being starved and beaten to a new home where he is only beaten and claiming, “Well, at least he is being fed. I’m going to look the other way now.” All of this is only a small part of the huge concept of responsible consumerism, but is connected to shopping locally because WalMart and other big box stores rely on (and I would argue, demand) this exploitation to continue their business model.

    August 5, 2013
    • andydoerksen #

      In my opinion, Jenni, your operative phrase is “livable wage.” That’s going to have a fluid definition based on the local or regional context. A “livable wage” by rural Chinese standards would *not* be a livable wage here in Toronto.

      I’m not suggesting that it’s “okay” for businesses to just pay their workers as low a wage as possible–but neither can I agree with the suggestion of some (not that you’re saying this) that companies “must” pay non-North American workers what would be considered a “good” or “high” wage in N. America.

      August 28, 2013
      • I would say my operative phrase is “exploitation of the poor” and it happens in business models all over the world. Since commenting on this post, I have gone on to read the TED speaker’s book, Factory Girls. The situation in China is complex, and while I understand the relativity of wages and cost of living, the numbers and the personal stories still look like exploitation, even in the right context. What I appreciated most about this post was a Christian argument for conscientious consumerism. I have encountered many of the same arguments Jethro presented for years from family and friends, and it was an encouragement to see my point of view presented biblically in a public setting.

        August 29, 2013
        • andydoerksen #

          I get your point, but when I say “operative phrase,” I mean the key phrase that controls our interpretation of the rest–not necessarily the phrase that’s most thematically or ethically important. When you say “exploitation of the poor,” it’s obvious that you’re highlighting that phrase because it’s the key theme for you in this whole discussion.

          I’m not saying it’s *not* the key theme–only that I focused on “livable wage” because that’s the element that actually enables us to *identify* what is–or isn’t–exploitation of the poor.

          Look at a parallel in a well-off Western nation. Let’s say the government offers a road-work contract to whichever company can do it for the lowest cost. Now what if the company that wins the contract put in a lower bid than competitors because its owner was the most economically desperate? Did the government thus “exploit” that contractor?

          Well, in a way–yes. But “exploit” isn’t always a dirty word; one of its dictionary definitions is “to utilize, especially for profit.” Nothing inherently immoral about that. So let’s reason outward from the government contract case: if a corporation offers work to various countries, and settles on the country or countries where it can get that work for the lowest cost–why is that inherently immoral?

          Here’s where “livable wage” becomes the operative phrase in your earlier post: providing work for a given wage is *only* exploitative in the negative sense *if* that wage isn’t reasonably livable *in that regional context*.

          Since I make no claim to know the specifics of the Chinese situation, can you provide documented details for me that would show those workers are being “exploited” in the bad sense? Nike, for instance, is known to pay their foreign workers about 7x the national average *in those nations*. Is that “exploitative” by your definition–or is it actually doing those workers a favour in their own context?

          Bear in mind that terms like “fair(ness)” and “livable wage” aren’t the same thing as “equalization”–which is what socialists are after. And socialism is just not biblical.

          August 29, 2013
          • This will be my last response, because as is often observed, ultimately blog comment sections are a difficult forum when it comes to discussing dissenting viewpoints. Yes, I agree, it is important to research a company’s manufacturing practices, and some are doing better than others. You cannot make a blanket statement about all goods made in are built on the backs of exploited poor people. However, I still feel very strongly that western consumption relies heavily on the exploitation of poor people.
            Also, you ended your paragraph with an unsupported statement about socialism. That sentence, coupled with your use of words like exploit, utilize, and profit, indicates we are “discussing” this topic from very different viewpoints. I respect your right to your opinion and personal convictions. I do not expect to sway you (or anyone) using this format of communication. I would hope this post (and even some of the comments) would give someone pause for thought, though. This happens to be a topic about which I feel strongly that is based in my convictions as a Christian. Again, I have often been in the minority when these conversations come up amongst other believers, and simply have felt encouraged by Jayson’s post and some of the other comments.

            August 29, 2013
  7. brendt #

    Saw a FB link to your “hoax” post and have spent the last hour perusing your site. Lots of really great thoughts, and I’ll be back often.

    But this post just doesn’t work. Point #2 is purely aesthetic and has nothing to do with Christianity. You argue (well) in other posts against conflating Christianity with other things. That argument needs to be applied here as long as the title contains the word “Christians”.

    Point #1 and #3 both appeal to loving (and supporting) our neighbor — a fabulous and Scriptural issue. But you apparently would have us believe that only a small subset of local people are our neighbors. What about the construction crews employed to build the big box store? Or the new employees of the local electric company who got hired on because support of the big box store requires more man-power? Or the many employees of the store itself?

    Or what about this guy? He has an idea for a small business that (because of its nature) is not in competition with the big box store. Because of the latter’s presence and the fact that it pulls in people from all over the area, he can open his business with confidence that the traffic generated by the big box store will bring enough shoppers in proximity of his business too.

    Are not all of these people my neighbors, too? The point of the Good Samaritan parable is not that the least likely (or most marginalized) person is your neighbor, but that everyone is.

    You seem to have taken the logical fallacies of the “all aspects of big business are 100% evil” crowd and slapped a veneer of Christianity over the top.

    November 5, 2013
    • Thanks for your comments Brendt. I appreciate the time it took for you to submit them.

      The nice thing about keeping a blog is that it gives me a platform to share my thoughts to which people may, or may not agree. So, I’ll respond you your points but won’t get into a back-and-forth about it.

      Many of these box stores do not contract local labor to build or remodel their stores. They have teams that work around the world to build as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible. Are those people my neighbor no matter where they live? Technically yes, but, by that argument, I shouldn’t think twice about buying my clothes at Walmart because the 7-year-old Cambodian kid employed to make them is my neighbor.

      Do I think big business is 100% evil? No, of course not. Do I think that a lot of their practices are about their bottom line more than they’re about my neighbor? Yes.

      Loving my neighbor means considering a whole host of pros and cons and taking stands on issues that I feel, in the long run, negatively impacts them.

      November 7, 2013
      • brendt #

        Not to argue with you, but just as a “be of good cheeer” thing, even when they bring in outside labor to build the store, they always forget stuff and/or screw up and have to buy local (or lose precious time). 😉 So at least a little money goes into the local economy even when they ship in outsiders. My dad sold construction products for 35 years, so I know this is the case.

        To be sure, I don’t think that you think that big business is 100% evil. But a lot of your arguments sound a lot like those who do. This post just seems a lot less nuanced than most of your posts.

        November 8, 2013
  8. andydoerksen #

    The general picture: “big business” has generally improved living conditions around the globe. If I make purchases based on a competitive business model–i.e., which business offers me the most bang for my buck–that’s simply going to contribute to the improving of global business competition. And that’s good for the entire world economy in the long run.

    Are there corruption and unethical practices to be found in the business world? Sure, not just in poor countries but in the West too. But generally speaking, Western businesses *do* pay foreign workers a “livable wage.” End of story. I’m not interested in the emergent-types’ love affair with what I call “Leftianity.”

    November 8, 2013

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