Monday, February 18, 2008

Boycotts and the New Testament Church

Boycotts are an interesting subject for a Christian. Should we worry about the moral stances that companies (or clients, or customers) make? Should we try to assess the effect that our patronage will have on the moral landscape? Are we to force others into righteous behavior at the threat of financial ruin? Are we to wield the power of the Church (or Christian organizations) as a weapon of coercion in order to maintain a show of righteousness? Recently, a fellow Christian whom I love and respect very much asked me not to patronize a certain chain of stores in support of a boycott organized by Christian groups because this company (hereafter "Xxxx") was "catering to same sex couples for health care [and] supporting the homosexual agenda." This person recommended that I instead patronize a competing company (hereafter "Yyyyy"), which had recently caved in to the demands of a similar organized boycott. I have adapted my response to blog format and expanded it some: A quick Internet search on "boycott" and "sacrificed to idols" (which is immediately what popped into my head on the subject of boycotts) turned up an interesting article, some of which I have pasted below. In addition to Paul not having a problem buying and eating meat sacrificed to idols (and thus financially supporting pagan temples), he writes in 1 Corinthians 15:9-13:
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves."
Jesus prayed (John 17:15),
I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.
Part of being in the world is being in relationships with sinners. We are not to be contaminated by the world by conforming to their sin, but neither are we to use force to attempt to conform others to Christ. The ones in scripture who we find using financial pressure in order to conform the world to their will are the great harlot of Revelation 17-18 and the beast of Revelation 13. Imagine yourself to be a member of the Yyyyy board of directors as they are giving in to the boycott demands. What kind of feelings do you think your colleagues have at the mention of the name of Christ, or of Christians? It seems to me that unless Xxxxx purports itself to be a Christian organization, there is nothing wrong with patronizing it--in fact, I would argue that many boycotts are a politicization of the Church, something which is condemned in the Bible as fornication. Shopping at Xxxxx is not supporting homosexuality just as eating meat sacrificed to idols is not idol worship. The believer is not contaminated by what others do with money earned in financial transactions. The money is theirs, and they will do evil with it, because that is what is in their hearts (Prov 21:4). To try and coerce them to change their behavior merely embitters others against the name of Christ: this is the wisdom of man and is ultimately fruitless. Those who sacrificed the meat to idols were guilty of idol worship, and those who support and participate in homosexuality are guilty of those sins. We should certainly point out the wickedness of homosexuality, but we should not make our relationship with unbelievers contingent upon righteous behavior: behavior that can only be truly effected by the Holy Spirit working within. Here's an excerpt from the article that I mentioned:
Recently, the Apostle Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 8:4 challenged my position on boycotts: "Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one." Paul's conclusion in verse 8 convinced me that my position on boycotts was wrong: "But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." Certainly Paul didn't contradict himself with when he wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:22 and 1 Corinthians 8:8. So, letting scripture interpret scripture, we have to conclude that eating meat sacrificed to idols is not evil—nor does it even appear evil. We know that the practice of idol worship is/was an abomination to God and a violation of the second commandment. But the abomination was committed by somebody other than the purchaser and consumer of the meat, therefore his actions weren't wrong. Isn't that what is going on regarding situations like Zzzzz? Zzzzz is wrong and they are responsible before God for their actions. The question is, are individual believers wrong to use their products? If so, wouldn't we be in sin if we did business with ANY company or organization with immoral business practices and how would we ever be able to purchase anything without carrying enormous lists around telling us who the offending companies were? Do the scriptures advocate such actions? I wonder if we haven't confused biblical commands to not associate with unrepentant believers steeped in sin (e.g. 1 Corinthians 5:11) with commands concerning our business practices. Paul had no problem with buying meat from a market that may or may not have been sacrificed to idols, but he had a big problem with believers associating with other believers who wouldn't repent of their sin.


  1. I disagree. I avoid companies that support Planned Parenthood because if I give them my patronage, then I am indirectly helping pay for abortions. That's NOT cool. I cannot support, directly or indirectly, the killing of innocent people.

  2. A agree that it's not cool. The discussion was more about organized boycotts than it was about individual choices of patronage, but the two issues are certainly related.

    Patronizing organizations that support sin is not participation in that sin, and the Christian is not guilty of it or contaminated by it. Nevertheless, this is an area where we must respect the individual consciences of other believers, who hold their convictions "unto the Lord" (Romans 14:5-6).

    I was not suggesting, Deborah, that your conviction is wrong. What I was warning against is using the Church-as-an-organization in order to wield coercive pressure on secular entities.

  3. Okay, I'm not sure I 100% agree with you, but at the same time I wouldn't you're wrong in this instance. (If you're inside my head, this statement makes sense.)

  4. Yes. I was just testing to see if you could tell which word I left out.

  5. It's scary inside your head. Let me out.

  6. What about 2 John 1:11?

  7. 2 John 1:11 is talking specifically about false teachers, who purport themselves to be Christians, and therefore mis-representing Christ.

    "But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person... not even to eat with such a one."

    If someone who is a Christian (or claims to be so--we are not the judge of that) is behaving in an immoral way, Christians are not to pretend like nothing is wrong; they are not to "hang out with" that person as if the normal relationship were not effected by the break in fellowship with the Lord, but those who are spiritual are to restore such a one (Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15).