Russ Moore’s 3d Way

From The Christian Post, by Russell Moore:

Russell Moore here argues that the way of political power is not the way of Jesus. I agree with him on that one completely. Morals are not determined by who wins the vote.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — A respected pro-family organization has announced a boycott of Starbucks coffee. The group, which supports legal protection for traditional marriage, launched the “Dump Starbucks” campaign after a national board meeting in which the Seattle-based coffee company mentioned support for same-sex marriage as a core value of the company. Some Christians are wondering whether we ought to join in the boycott. I say no.

It’s not that I’m saying a boycott in and of itself is always evil or wrong. It’s just that, in this case (and in many like it) a boycott exposes us to all of our worst tendencies. Christians are tempted, again and again, to fight like the devil to please the Lord.

A boycott is a display of power, particularly of economic power. The boycott shows a corporation (or government or service provider) that the aggrieved party can hurt the company, by depriving it of revenue. The boycott, if it’s successful, eventually causes the powers-that-be to yield, conceding that they need the money of the boycott participants more than they need whatever cause they were supporting. It is a contest of who has more buying power, and thus is of more value to the company.

We lose that argument.

The argument behind a boycott assumes that the “rightness” of a marriage definition is constituted by a majority with power. Isn’t that precisely what we’re arguing against? Our beliefs about marriage aren’t the way they are because we are in a majority. As a matter of fact, we must concede that we are in a tiny minority in contemporary American society, if we define marriage the way the Bible does, as a sexually exclusive, permanent one-flesh union….

But we don’t persuade our neighbors by mimicking their angry power-protests. We persuade them by holding fast to the Gospel, by explaining our increasingly “odd” view of marriage, and by serving the world and our neighbors around us, as our Lord does, with a towel and a foot-bucket.

We won’t win this argument by bringing corporations to the ground in surrender. We’ll engage this argument, first of all, by prompting our friends and neighbors to wonder why we don’t divorce each other, and why we don’t split up when a spouse loses his job or loses her health. We’ll engage this argument when we have a more exalted, and more mysterious, view of sexuality than those who see human persons as animals or machines. And, most of all, we’ll engage this argument when we proclaim the meaning behind marriage: the covenant union of Christ and his church.

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  • I loved this phrase:

    “… fight like the devil to please the Lord.”

    The big challenge his observation:

    “It’s not that I’m saying a boycott in and of itself is always evil or wrong.”

    And that is the rub. Which cases are which? I agree with Moore’s take on the Starbucks issue but it is tricky to discern when collective action is warranted. I wonder how others might pick and choose. I fear too many just make the choice based on whether a particular boycott lines up with their ideology.

  • I hear echoes of John Howard Yoder here…

  • Larry Barber

    Why in the world would anybody want to boycott over such a trivial issue? You would think gays getting married was the end of the world, and that oppressing gays is somehow the core conviction of Christianity. If we are going to boycott somebody, how about boycotting war profiteers? Or those companies that pollute the food supply? Or practice mountain top removal to feed our demand for cheap energy? Or advertising companies that do nothing but encourage a cheap and promiscuous materialism? I mean there are so many things that are so much more worthy of boycotting from a Christian perspective, even if you don’t support gay marriage.

  • Tom

    You would think they would try to save the marraiges within the church before trying to rescue everyone else. When our divorce rate is the same as the worlds- who are we kidding.

  • Dawne Piotrowski

    “We’ll engage this argument, first of all, by prompting our friends and neighbors to wonder why we don’t divorce each other, and why we don’t split up when a spouse loses his job or loses her health.”

    This is SO on point and precisely why the church needs to focus on living the way of Jesus rather than being a polemic to society!

  • I would like to see “when might a boycott be acceptable” fleshed out more, myself. As I think through it (but only just in response to this post. I can’t say I’ve invested lots of time on the subject), I wonder if an “acceptable” use of boycott power (I’m afraid I can’t think of any kind of boycott that doesn’t boil down to a use of power as the post describes) would be when it’s clear that the resources of the company/gov’t/whatever are being used to actively harm other people. Then, by denying that company/gov’t/whatever access to resources, we deny them the power to continue that harm.

  • Kyle

    The question in part hinges on the relationship between the company’s values and its product. If that tie becomes strong enough, a Christian is well within the spirit of his faith to refrain from actively monetarily supporting that company, and if he chooses to do so with others of a similar mind, this should not be considered so reductively as a mere power grab. Boycotts are not inevitably about crippling the other into converting to a new way of thinking; boycotts can in certain circumstances simply unequivocally express (and with a sting) displeasure with the existing way of thinking/practicing business. Yes, other social issues are more important, and yes, voices of dissent can disseminate a take on a better way through other more personal channels, but why at the outset exclude the strategy of boycott as one among many? Why not a mosaic? Not every effort at social change is done over dinner with the neighbors, and not every company can expect sales perfectly commensurate with the intrinsic properties of its product as if broader beliefs and values occur in a vacuum and are totally set apart from dollars and cents.

  • Kyle

    Also, the author is wrong to assume that Christians believe that the rightness of a view is established by the majority, and that this type of reasoning is implicit in a boycott. The rightness of a belief for a Christian exists independent of prevalence, but that doesn’t mean that increased prevalence of rightness isn’t to be desired.

    “But we don’t persuade our neighbors by mimicking their angry power-protests.” Who says a protest must be a demonstration of anger or that those protesting are angry? False dichotomy there.

    Lastly, many readers think this boycott is a symptom of emphasis being placed in the wrong place and that we as a church need to get back to the basics of living out what we believe as opposed to losing the spirit of grace through these harmful acts of opposition. There’s certainly no evidence in this article that the type of person boycotting isn’t even more committed to graceful dialogue and admirable modeling on all other fronts. Simply participating in an activity doesn’t mean one’s emphasis is upon that activity, but people read this into public dialogue almost religiously.

  • Jason O’Neil

    Very thought provoking post, thanks for sharing.

    As for the comments questioning when is a boycott ever justified: I think it would be justified if the actual business model (not just the beliefs of the business) is causing harm: for example, if it was manufactured using child labor. At that point it’s no longer you as the consumer trying to crush the business, but you using what power you have to benefit the victim. Food for thought…

  • Kyle

    Jason, it’s always been the case but increasingly so that companies export a belief system meant to shift or perpetrate certain ways of living and cultural norms. A company sees its platform as more than just putting you in touch with, say, a pile of beans but desires and takes active steps to have you associating those beans with certain social doctrines. Different companies do this to different extents, but you’re almost never buying merely the literal good or service — an ethos is always along for the ride. Is there any sound ground on which to stand and denounce and/or boycott the bigger agenda/evangelism of this or another company, though the “model” looks clean through a traditional lens?

  • While I think the call for boycotting Starbucks in the given example is off the mark, I do believe that those who follow Jesus can and should marshal their economic power to bring about justice. Even if it is in small ways — spending money at local business spots, keeping money local, declining to give to those who exploit labor or profit from death and destruction.

    Yes, sometimes, there really is not much of a choice (like buying electronics or other consumer products where the average consumer has little recourse), but even there, we can speak out.

    But making a stand against same-sex marriages seems silly, even for those who are passionate about it, given all the other injustice in the world — poverty, hunger, sex trafficking, child labor, incarceration nation, illegal and immoral wars, even those perishing because lack of health insurance / health care, etc.…

  • What is the point of a boycott any way? I suppose one of them is what Dr. King and his civil rights boycotters advanced: we will hurt you economically until you change your way. But this is not the only purpose behind NOT patronizing someone. The early church refrained from buying meat sacrificed to idols. It was not intended to hurt the meat sellers economically, though it clear had that affect. Its primary aim was a moral one: we live to please God and spending our money is one way we can honor Him and lift up His Name (or not).