Going Local

Going Local April 17, 2018

In a post-Christian society I am going to occasionally blog about building the Christian community. This is simply because I think we as Christians have to rethink our position in society. While community has always been important for us, I am convinced that it will be even more important for us in the near and distant future. Thinking about what that community should look like can help us to deliberately construct that community in ways that will be healthy for us. In this blog I will look at an economic philosophy that I think will benefit that Christian community which is a focus on supporting local businesses instead of national or international corporations.

Over the past several decades, there has been a political alliance between conservative Christians and big business. Both groups have tended to support the same political party and thus Republicans have become the political party of tax cuts while also opposing abortion. Given that most Christians are not in a position to disproportionally benefit from those tax cuts, the wisdom of this alliance for conservative Christians is questionable. But perhaps having a political party in one’s corner has been worth supporting an economic policy that may not have served them well.

However, it appears that this alliance is no longer to the advantage of conservative Christians and I want to encourage them to abandon it. I fear that being united to large corporations in their support of the politically conservative party, Christians have developed an unwise affinity to large corporations. I have to tell my fellow Christians that big business is not their friend. The actions of big business over the past few years has demonstrated this reality. Whether in Indiana, Georgia or North Carolina, big businesses have put hampered efforts to support religious freedom. Whatever unspoken alliance conservative Christians once had with the corporate world no longer exists. Those corporations have no loyalty to issues of religious freedom and are not going to pay Christians back for their support.

My argument that Christians do not owe a loyalty to big business goes beyond political alliances. I contend that we have to consider our purchasing behavior as well. With the recent controversy about Facebook, many individuals have begun to consider if we are allowing some industries to become too large and powerful. I would contend that it would be good for all of us in society to consider the economic activity that supports these businesses. But in a post-Christian world, Christians have to be especially careful about their spending habits.

Like any community, it is to our advantage to focus our spending on that community. Thus we must do all we can to support Christian owned, or at least Christian sympathetic, businesses. But working with only these business is going to be too restrictive. Those businesses will not be able to meet all of our needs. My basic argument is that, when possible, Christians should support Christian-owned business even as we realize that there are needs we have to meet that cannot easily be met by an existing Christian business.

While our priority can be to support Christian-owned businesses first, if one cannot find such businesses, then I suggest that the next best alternative would be a locally owned business and using the larger corporation only if necessary, or extremely convenient. Why do I argue that local businesses should be considered as superior alternatives to national or international corporations? Part of it is a general concern about the power of these large corporations. I believe that the concentration of power within those organizations is bad for our society and thus for our community. But there are unique advantages for Christians to focus their support on local businesses. Those businesses are forced to cater to the local population. They do not have the resources to engage in political activism and even if they did, they would be very responsive to concerns by their local clientele. Thus, keeping our money in local business, whether Christian or not, is healthier since it tends to be large corporations that are often dismissive of religious freedom through their political actions.

There is another important aspect of using local businesses. Larger businesses do not seek to have relationships with their customers that are anything other than economic transactions. If we frequent a locally owned business we often will get to know the owners and can develop relationships with them. Of course for some Christians this may present itself as an opportunity to spread the Gospel. But also we may find common ground to work together on issues we can agree upon. Even if neither one of those outcomes occur, we may simply have an opportunity to serve another one of God’s creatures in a personal face-to-face manner. While this is also the case when we interact with those who work for larger corporations, those individuals may not be in that position long term. It is nice to develop a relationship with the cashier at a national clothes store, but that cashier is not going to be around as long as the owner of the local clothes store. We have a much better chance investing our time in relationship building in local, rather than national, businesses.

Does this mean that Christians should boycott large corporations? No way. I know there are certain services that we are only going to get from larger corporations. There are certain economies of scale that will come into play for some of what we need. Furthermore the development of certain technologies within those corporations often cannot be duplicated by the local business. This blog is not a call for war on larger corporations but a consideration to be more deliberate with our dollars to first purchase from Christian-owned business and from local ones. If neither of those entities can provide what is needed, then of course we should not hesitate to get what we need from businesses that can provide them.

Here is how it looks in my life in one instance. There is a coffee shop, owned by a Christian ministry, in town that is doing fantastic work with ex-cons. They work the shop and get a chance to develop occupational skills. Whenever possible, that is where I go. If for some reason they are not available in town, there are several local coffee shops I can hang out at if I am so inclined. But sometimes I may be away on a trip and need a quick snack. Then I am open to using the closest Starbucks.

In time I hope to take this philosophy to other areas of my spending. Implementing this philosophy is a work in progress for me. But I hope that in time I can put forth more effort to wisely use my economic spending to support first Christian and then local economic interests. I hope other Christian consider adopting this philosophy as well.

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  • Salvatore A. Luiso

    Your philosophy sounds appealing to me. I am already following it to some extent. I do not want to live in a town where every store and restaurant is part of a retail chain. I do have limits, though, in quality, price, and inconvenience. For example, if I lived where you live, and if I liked to drink coffee in a coffee shop, I might well prefer the same one you prefer–but only if I actually liked its coffee, if the price was reasonable (not the least expensive, but not too expensive, either), and if it was not too inconvenient, e.g. too far away.

    I do not know of many Christian-owned businesses where I live, so that is not a consideration for me–although it might be if there were more. Ironically, one that I do know of is a large corporation: Chick-fil-A.

    Your article makes a point which, providentially, I heard this past weekend on Book TV (C-SPAN2): Big business is not a friend to Christians. I heard this in a speech which Rod Dreher delivered when he accepted the Paolucci Book Award for his book *The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation*. In this speech, Dreher cites the reaction of Big Business to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which became law in Indiana in 2015. Dreher also says that Christians cannot depend upon the Republican Party–with or without Trump. I agree.

    At present, his speech is accessible here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?443452-1/paolucci-book-award-the-benedict-option

    • George Yancey

      Thanks for the link. I am a big fan of Dreher’s idea of the Benedict Option.