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Should Christians boycott Starbucks?

March 27th, 2012

starbucks_logo_newThe National Organization for Marriage (NOM), America’s largest group dedicated to preserving traditional marriage, has announced it will lead an international “Dump Starbucks” protest of Starbucks Coffee Company to give voice to consumers around the world who support preserving marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

The protest campaign was announced after the annual Starbucks shareholders meeting in Seattle, where NOM spokesmen queried the board on its new policies promoting gay marriage and demanded protection against discrimination for employees, vendors and customers who disagree. NOM states that Starbucks’ executive vice president of partner resources has stated that gay marriage “is aligned with Starbucks business practices and upholds our belief in the equal treatment of partners. It is core to who we are and what we value as a company.”

One blogger, Russell Moore, who is Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Seminary, has argued that such a protest campaign is just not the best option for Christians and that ultimately it doesn’t achieve the goals that Christians are aiming for. He makes his point very eloquently, and the approach he suggests is an alternative to the traditional evangelical response in the part of the world where I live. A younger generation recognises that we no longer live in Christendom where Christians are in a majority and can flex their muscle with some commercial effect. And perhaps a boycott is a much too worldly way of trying to make our point anyway. There are situations that call for a much more nuanced and more Christian style of response.

A boycott of Starbucks is possibly a non-starter with many middle-class Christians since it would take them out of their comfort zone completely and deny them their regular shot of flavourful caffeine. Imagine having to go to Costa instead? But perhaps a more Christ-like response would be equally uncomfortable for many of us. It’s not easy to engage in conversation with those who don’t see things from our perspective, or to persuade them to adopt our position. The intellectual tide of our society is running against those of us who think that what God says really matters. That’s why we need to be bold, courageous, and persuasive, but in a thoroughly Christian way.

In that sense, nothing has changed. Paul advised the Corinthians with regard to their approach in countering arguments and trends in their society: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (II Cor 10:3,4). Elsewhere Paul commends prayer, faith, hope, love, God’s Word and the Holy Spirit as being our powerful and effective weapons in spiritual warfare. It seems as though petitions and boycotts may not be the answer to all the issues we face.

Russell Moore’s blogpost is copied below the fold.

A respected pro-family organization announced this week 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.

Moreover, is this kind of economic power context really how we’re going to engage our neighbors with a discussion about the meaning and mystery of marriage? Do such measures actually persuade at the level such decisions are actually made: the moral imagination? I doubt it.

I’m all for protecting marriage in law and in culture, and I’m for that partly because I believe it is necessary for human flourishing for all people, believers and non-believers alike. But there’s a way to do so that recognizes the resilience of marriage as a creation institution and that rests in the sovereignty of God over his universe.

Those who are scared of losing something are those who seem frantic or shrill or outraged. Those who are fearful resort to Gentile tactics of lording over others with political majorities or economic power. The winners, on the other hand, are able to take a longer view. We’re able to grieve when our neighbors seek to copy marriage without the most basic thing that makes marriage work: the mystery of male and female as one-flesh.

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.

Fear can lead us to cower and to hide a view of marriage that seems archaic and antiquated. That’s why so many evangelical Christians have already surrendered, in their own lives, on such questions as round-the-clock daycare or a therapeutic view of divorce. But fear can also lead us to a kind of enraged impotence, where our boycotts and campaigns are really just one more way of saying, “I’m important; listen to me.” Marriage is too important for that.

A Roman governor thought Jesus was weak when he refused to use imperial means of resistance. But Jesus’ refusal to fight meant just the opposite of what Pilate assumed. “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting,” Jesus said (Jn. 18:36).

Let others fight Mammon with Mammon. Let’s struggle against principalities and powers with the One thing they fear: a word of faithful witness that doesn’t blink before power, but doesn’t seek to imitate it either.

With the confidence of those who have been vindicated by the resurrection of Christ, we don’t need to be vindicated by the culture. That ought to free us to speak openly about what we believe, but with the gentleness of those who have nothing to prove. Let’s not boycott our neighbors. Let’s not picket or scream or bellow. Let’s offer a cup of cold water, or maybe even a grande skinny vanilla latte, in Jesus’ name.

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