Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Problem with Boycotts

Franklin Graham, objecting to a bank's use of a lesbian couple in a national ad campaign, is Boycotting Wells Fargo over gay ads. The caption adds that the  evangelical leader is struggling "to find a bank that's anti-LGBT enough." Graham moved the accounts of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to Branch Banking and Trust Company (BB&T). Some after this move, some have begun to report that BB&T is sponsoring the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade, and is the chief sponsor of the Miami Beach Gay Pride's "Legacy Couples" program. Trying to deflect from the controversy and concentrate on business, a spokesperson declared "we do not take formal positions on non-banking or social issues."

This controversy points up two problems with boycotts. 

First, boycotting must generally arise from a position of strength. Concerning boycotting Wells Fargo (and the jeweler Tiffany & Company), Graham wrote, “This is one way we as Christians can speak out – we have the power of choice. Let’s just stop doing business with those who promote sin and stand against Almighty God’s laws and His standards. Maybe if enough of us do this, it will get their attention.” I agree that all of us in a free country has "the power of choice" where we do business. I also have no problem with choosing not to do business with certain establishments. Southern Baptists like Graham have been somewhat successful with boycotts in the past. I think they (and we) will discover that they no longer ... a place of strength. I doubt that Baptists generally will pay much attention to this boycott. I believe that it will also become apparent that there will be little damage to either the revenues or reputations of these companies. The simple fact is that the majority of Americans don't care what positions that companies take on social issues. They care what the business does and how it fulfills their needs.

Second, boycotting is not a biblically advised response. I can find no evidence that the New Testament advocates Christians trying to "punish" the businesses of this world by withholding their wealth in some organized fashion. In fact, at least two subjects in Paul's letter to the church in Corinth suggest just the opposite. In chapter 5 the apostle wrote about a detestable moral situation in the membership of the church. He advised the church to act swiftly and decisively to put the fornicator outside the fellowship of the church. He clarified that he was talking "within the church," writing that not companying with fornicators did not apply universally to those "of this world." For if so "then must ye needs go out of the world." In other words, as long as we are in the world we will have some interchange with the people of the world (Cf. John 17:11,15). In chapters 8-10, Paul discusses a question of eating meat that had been sold after being in an idol's temple. He had no moral qualms about eating such meat -- it is only meat (though he did want to be considerate of the feeling of other church folk). This indicates that all commerce with those who "sin against God's laws" was not strictly forbidden. 

Boycotting is not the answer. Certainly that doesn't mean that we can't choose to do business with those who best align with our worldview. That choice should be a positive one in support of businesses we like. And even with businesses actively working against our worldview,* we shouldn't try to "punish" them. (Matthew 5:44)

* Most businesses are not so much actively working against our Christian worldview so much as trying to cater to as diverse a clientele as possible -- so as to get as much business as possible. Except for activists on both extremes, most want the business of both the fundamentalist and the liberal, the traditional marriage supporter and the same-sex marraige support, red and yellow, black and white. When push comes to shove, though, they may release those they feel bring the least to the table (e.g., as in the least dollars and the most headache).

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