Years ago, a Christian ministry called for a boycott against McDonald’s Corporation. That particular organization has called for various boycotts over the years, and this time I was curious to see the reactions to the issue. When it comes to boycotts, there are a few different perspectives on the strategy. In my experience, a boycott is never off the table. As one of my readers mentioned yesterday with Rosa Parks and the civil rights boycott in Montgomery – that boycott worked because it showed just how much the African-American community could impact the city. But personally, I view it as the nuclear option only. Because if it doesn’t work, it can really look foolish.
Years ago, and with a great deal of fanfare and publicity, a religious denomination initiated a boycott against a major Hollywood entertainment company. The problem was during the boycott the offending company’s sales went up. A few years later, a senior leader of the denomination called me for advice on how to delicately call off the boycott without the denomination looking foolish.
I arranged a meeting with the respective leadership of both organizations, and after shaking hands, they both declared a very unimpressive “victory.” But the truth is, the boycott did absolutely nothing but hurt the denomination’s credibility.
Christians are quick to boycott the entertainment industry, corporations that support gay rights, left-wing organizations, or a wide range of liberal causes. The problem is – I haven’t seen a shred of evidence confirming that boycotts bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
After all – if it worked so well, why aren’t missionaries using the technique? Why don’t missionaries surround a tribe in a third world country and boycott it? And while they’re at it, let’s call the tribe names, and criticize their beliefs.
We don’t do it because it doesn’t work for evangelism – but it does work for raising money.
Creating an enemy, then calling an all out war on that enemy really gets a segment of the Christian audience worked up. The problem is the perception that’s left. Today, Christians are known as the people who are against everything, when in truth, we’re telling (as the movie title describes) the greatest story ever told. If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something – something positive that can transform lives and impact the culture.
I think my ultimate problem with Christians boycotting the culture is why? Why do we expect a secular company to adhere to our values? Is it our job to police unbelievers? I’m reminded of the verse in 1 Corinthians 5:13 (NIV): “God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you.”
Based on that, I wonder if we should spend more time calling those of us inside the Church into account and less time criticizing outsiders. How is it our business to tell someone who doesn’t share our faith or values what to do? It’s one thing to caution believers about supporting a company that conflicts with our values, but a full-on boycott is something altogether different.
Is the motive changing the culture or raising money? I think that’s the big question here.