On January 25, Starbucks posted the following status to Facebook: “We are proud to support Marriage Equality legislation in the Washington State Legislature.” Of course, some conservative Christians raised brouhaha over this statement and the comments in response to Starbucks are still coming in. For example, one commenter said: “I will be taking my dollars elsewhere because of this support - and I do love my Starbucks. But I do have the right in this country to choose how I spend my money. And I choose to not spend it with a company supporting something I do not.” A few months ago, it became apparent that Starbucks matched employee gifts to Planned Parenthood and at that time also many Christians declared that they would no longer buy coffee from Starbucks.
But I do not count myself among the boycotters.
Unlike my more liberal friends, I don’t agree with Starbucks’ expenditures. It’s not how I would spend my money and I don’t appreciate these causes. I don’t support Marriage Equality legislation (although I am certainly far more concerned about the redefinition of marriage within the church—which I expect to be set apart for God— than in the State—which I expect to act like the world). I definitely don’t support the mission and work of Planned Parenthood. Although there are caring people who work there, I do not trust the organization itself to truly do what is best for women.
If I don’t like Starbucks’ money going to these causes, then why have I failed to jump on the boycott bandwagon?
Well, first of all, I believe boycotts should be more than a knee-jerk reaction. Because our decisions directly impact someone’s business, we should stop and think hard before we boycott. We should think about the message we send by our boycott. (Are we contributing to the “intolerant bigots” view of Christians today?) We should think also about what other companies are contributing to the causes of which we disapprove. For example, there is a list of the other companies who are part of the Washington United for Marriage Business Coalition, a pro-gay marriage group. The list is long and although many of the companies are local businesses in Washington, there are a number of prominent national businesses as well. I believe each should be scrutinized equally when it comes to potential boycotts. Are you prepared to drop your insurance company (American Family Insurance)? Are you willing to start using another search engine (Google)? Plan to change your computer’s operating system (Microsoft)? Unless you are willing to consider these choices, you are simply succumbing to a herd mentality, doing the “trendy Christian thing.” We live in a world where it’s cool to boycott Starbucks in some Christian circles, but if we are not consistent, we run the risk of simply coming across as hateful and making very little impact. (Note: There is a similar list of companies that currently match employee's gifts to Planned Parenthood here. Starbucks is not listed on that list but is listed here; I have been unable to substantiate whether or not they are still providing these matching funds.)
Sooner or later though, we come to realize that all businesses and all money are tainted with sin. If we dig deep enough in most companies, we will find something we don’t like, something of which we disapprove. Yes, there may be times when we feel conscience-bound to boycott a business (and if God is calling you to do that, by all means do!). There may be times when we feel so uncomfortable with a certain group’s business practices that we decide to shop elsewhere. But we should think and pray carefully before we haul off with an angry boycott.
Yes, sin is serious. Yes, Christians are concerned with turning away from sin. But we also have to think about how our tactics make our message come across. Are we giving off a haughty attitude or are we portraying the Biblical understanding of sin? Sin is something we are all complicit in. Sin is something we all need a Savior to deliver us from. And that Savior did come, because He loved us enough to give up His life for us. So, the story begins with sin, but it ends with a Savior.
Where is the Savior in the angry boycott language? Is our communication style making it harder for people to see Jesus? Rather than boycotting a business for having different values than our own, maybe it would make sense for each Christian to become friends with someone who believes vastly differently than they do. Maybe in gently sharing God’s love and care for their friend, an open heart to Biblical truth may result. Christian disciples are not made by placards, slogans, and boycotts. Christian disciples are made through the Word, the Holy Spirit and the power of personal relationships with Christians. And Christians who are plugged into the Scriptures and Christian community fundamentally begin to change from the inside out.
We shouldn’t expect Starbucks—or Google—to have Biblical values. But maybe we can all befriend and care about Starbucks one barista at a time. The way Jesus would. And maybe those individuals can be changed to see the world the way God does.