Engaging Culture

Boycotts – Do They Work?

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.


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  1. Bingo! We live in a fallen world. We can run out the clock being against stuff…or…be Amabassadors for Christ.

    Christianity and common sense can go hand-in-hand…but often don't.

    Wildmon & His Wild Bunch are well-intended, well-organized. CBS's Swingtown's ad revenue has been cut into by their boycott….but, five years from now will America be a better place because of it? Probably not.

    Let's show off our Savior instead of showing America her dirty underwear. The clock is ticking…..

  2. I personally think that some boycotts work and some are completely ridiculous (like not buying gas for a day). Boycotts are more about rallying people for a common cause to effect change in a community. 

    In the Rosa Parks story, it was the Churches and ministry leaders that rallied the people for the cause and they were successful. I don't think they were concerned about looking "foolish". Using any kind of blanket statement saying they don't work, isn't accurate.

    Perhaps a boycott is not the solution for every situation, but we still need to be a voice to bring reformation because we as Christians, are definitely not gaining ground. Any suggestions?

    The homosexual agenda has already started to infiltrate the church. GLAD (a homosexual organization) has instructed the gay and lesbian community to slowly start to influence their friends, neighbors, businesses and community to accept their marriage as a normal part of American society. Once they gain ground, the law suits will follow.

    I guess it will soon be normal to take your kids to a ball game or Mc Donalds to sit by a gay couple who is showing a public display of affection also know as making out.    

    Any suggestions on how to stop these agendas from infiltrating the church if boycotts are completely out of the question?   

  3. I'm going to need to check some of those key verses in the more modern translations again.

    16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, avoiding all contact with special sauce or seseme seed buns. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

    Perhaps a sermon series based upon the observation that none of the fish Jesus directed to be pulled in from the other side of the boat were used in Filet-o-Fish sandwiches.  Now, please turn in your hymnals and let us sing together,

    Hark the Herald Angels Sing,

    Glory to the newborn King! 

    For Peace on earth and mercy mild,

    Keep McNuggets from your child!


    Seriously, I think Boycotts can work, but there are organizations that have taken it to ridiculous lengths and Christians who appear to define themselves by what they are not and what they are against rather than promoting a positive statement of Christ and his power to transform lives.  It's worth a litte ridicule now and then to keep the focus where it belongs.


    Sometimes I think it is very distracting for Christians to be looking about for something to get upset about. If we're watching the other guys we don't have to look at ourselves. Wouldn't it be interesting if we focused on what WE are doing wrong? And I don't mean the other church or Christian. You.   

    For me, I'm having enough trouble truly loving my neighbor…living with grace. Full time job. I can only stumble towards Christ. If the only loud voice the world hears from Christians is one of anger and protest….what does it say about us? What if we put all that energy and time into something else? Art and relationships don't survive war zones. Who do you listen to? The voice of a friend or an angry stranger. Could be just me. 

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