Starbucks, Boycotts, and (Not) Buying Coffee: The Need for Theological Ethics

Maggie Gallagher and the folks at the National Organization for Marriage are taking on Starbucks for their position on gay marriage, a position that they outline in the video above.

The controversy has brought up the question about whether Christians should join in on the boycotting, er, fun.  This Russell Moore has answered with a resounding nein:  

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’ve no interest in starting a theological throwdown with the good Doctor, as he’d get the better of it blindfolded with an arm tied up.  And frankly, that last paragraph above isn’t only one that I wish I’d written:  it sounds startlingly close to a line of thought on this issue I have sketched out before.

Moore goes on to suggest that he’s “protecting marriage in law and in culture,” but also expresses worries about doing so by “lording over others with political majorities.”**  Persuasion, he contends, happens 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.”

Moore’s case against boycotts is compelling, yet it raises more questions about the practice than it really answers.  While Moore grants he is not opposed to all boycotts by Christians, he has left little to no room for discerning which boycotts we should pursue.  Should Christians have, for instance, boycotted BP for their gross mismanagement of the clean-up efforts on the Gulf Coast?  Or if it turned out that Starbucks was sneaking venti cups of cash into the coffers of Planned Parenthood, would a boycott then be permissible?

What’s more, there is a harder question that Moore seems to answer in the final sentence of his piece:  whether Christians should buy Starbucks, even if they do not boycott Starbucks.  

Let us, for a minute, extend to the boycott and those behind it as much Christian charity as we can muster:  it may be the case that they do not think, a la Moore’s suggestion, that the ““rightness” of a marriage definition is constituted by a majority with power.”  (Why those quotes around “rightness”?  Does Moore wish to dissent from the National Organization for Marriage’s definition?)  One might think that the rightness of the definition will endure far longer than the majority will and still wish to “raise awareness” or bring about some sort of social action through the deployment of power.  To pick a recent example you may have heard a thing or two about, the fact that the majority of the world now knows about Joseph Kony has nothing to do with the rightness of acting about it.  The moral truth was there all along, only waiting to be discovered or ignored.

Suppose, then, that the boycott has raised our attention to a particular set of facts that had hitherto been ignored by, well, just about every latte loving evangelical (I include myself, having only last week enjoyed the smooth and silky tastes of the grand whole milk, decaf, white-chocolate mocha with two pumps of the magic).

The conversation must go beyond whether we boycott or continue on undeterred, or even whether we have ourselves been complicit in creating the tasty green monster and the culture that feeds it.  At some point, we must reflect diligently and carefully about whether we are to buy the stuff at all, or whether we will have to go our separate ways.  Starbucks is not only actively contributing funds to the social and legal recognition of a practice that Christians have moral qualms about, but has taken the unusual step of viewing such support as “core” to their company and its values and history.  Which means that even if Christians decided a boycott was the right way, it would be ineffective unless accompanied by repentance.  Its social power was not created ex nihilo, after all.

There is the possibility, then, of not drinking Starbucks while refusing to make much of your stance.   “Beware practicing your righteousness before men,” and your unwillingness to support its foe as well.

A bit more, if you can take it:  While Dr. Moore is right that our view on marriage will not be persuasive until we proclaim the real meaning of it in Christ and his church, I would add that “explaining our increasingly odd view” will only get us so far unless we are also willing to quietly and diligently pay the social costs that will doubtlessly come with believing it.  A “word of faithful witness” must be accompanied by deeds of faithful engagement and abstention, of saying both “yes” and “no” to the world through the manner of our lives.  Discerning when and where we should provide these answers is the matter of theological ethics and without significantly stronger doses of it from our pulpits and our leaders, the evangelical message on marriage will remain as impotent as it has been.

In short, Moore’s final word that we ought to offer our neighbor a “cup of cold water, or maybe even a grande skinny vanilla latte.”  But we also ought to occasionally reflect about where the coffee comes from and think about buying it from somewhere else.

**It is gauche to say “I said it too!” in an article.  It’s really gauche to say it twice.  But there you have it.  My only point in so linking is that when it comes to the question of how evangelicals and conservatives ought engage this and other matters, Dr. Moore and I have a lot in common.  Which makes me relieved, even if it might make him concerned.

 

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  • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

    The point of my pastor’s sermon this past week I think has something to say to this. He basically said, Christians should stop trying to police the beliefs and actions of those outside the church in areas that are primarily moral and not legal. Instead, our job as Christians is to love those outside the church in such a way that our actions draw people to Christ.

    (He had a corollary that it is our job to police the actions of those in our local body and to a (much) lessor extent those Christians outside the body. Of course there are boundaries and methods to the policing that are important, but not as important here.)

    This is the Christendom problem. Overly broadly, those that support the boycott (and most boycotts) believe that we should attempt to get back to Christendom. Those that don’t believe that Christendom isn’t the goal, love of the other is the goal, and if we do it properly Christendom might be a byproduct, but it just as likely might not.

    I think that you are right in the importance of our own message. But I think Moore needs to go further in talking about boycotts and Christians to include the concept that boycotts are primarily about economics power and using the world’s tools. As Christians, we are not prevented from using the worlds’ tools, but the actual power of the church should be based not on the world’s tools, but on Christ’s love.

  • Will Barrett

    Adam – does that logic apply to William Wilberforce, Bonhoffer and MLK? Why? Why not?

    And FWIW – I don’t support the Starbucks boycott, though MLA gets the better of Dr. Moore. Moore is right in principle, but when it comes to brass tacks, he runs the risk of espousing insubstanstial rhetoric.

    • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

      I agree that the hard places like Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer and MLK make something like my comments difficult. The problem is that I think that when we start with the hard places, we make everything into a hard place. So a company that uses their own resources to provide benefits to gay and/or non-married couples is not the same level of moral outrage of slavery or the eradication of an entire racial group of people. But quite often when listening to the rhetoric, we act as if they were the same.

      So I do think that there should be levels of response based on the issue. In general, I think that using economic boycotts, is either not strong enough or a wasted response in the vast majority of cases.

      But let me modify my comments to say that if our only reasoning is Christian morality then we should probably just ignore it. I think we can make secular arguments for why racial discrimination is wrong. Or secular arguments for why slavery is wrong. We might even be able to make secular arguments for why targeted assassination might be right (although there are many Christians that don’t think we can make a Christian argument for it.)

      I think one of the problems that we have as US Christians is that we want to make everything important. Matthew knows I am not a fan of calling the contraception mandate religious discrimination for this reason. But there are others that want to expand the concept of religious discrimination even greater. I think when we live in such a free society and with so many freedoms at our disposal, we start looking for smaller and smaller areas to fight about. This minimizes the real issues that many others face outside of ourselves.

      I also think we need to just accept a lot of things, say we believe them to be discriminatory against us, but not actively fight them. Instead we need to fight for other people’s rights. If we made it our point to fight for other people’s rights instead of our own (as I believe was the case in Wilberforce’s fight) that can make much more of an impact on others than fighting for our own rights.

      This is very minor and has the risk of being self serving. But it is all I can think of right now. Personally, I believe that there are too many property tax exemptions in my area. Over the past 10 years, both the tax rate and the property tax base have dropped. So the schools have about 65-70% of the income that they did (adjusted for inflation) 10 years ago, but there are actually more students. So as a form of protest, I do not take the homeowner’s exemption that is legally available to me. That is about $400 a year that I pay in taxes more than I have to. I could just take that $400 and give it to a local school, but that doesn’t answer the problem that I see, the fundamental issue of how we pay for schools and the corporate responsibility for children’s education (I don’t have kids). I don’t advertise this to a bunch of people, but when people talk about funding, I say I am willing to put my money where my beliefs go and voluntarily penalize myself.

      What I am concerned about is that boycotts and other similar types of action primarily work by trying to penalize the other for the thing we don’t like. What is better is trying to voluntarily give up our own rights in order to speak to the issues we disagree with. That is radical and will make much more of a difference. And I think still fits in with my earlier point.

  • John Stonestreet

    Adam,

    But, we can (and NOM, Robert George, Glenn Stanton and others have) make secular arguments that marriage is best preserved as being between a man and woman; and that the benefits of marriage for individuals and cultures who honor marriage are significant, and that the state has a compelling interest to recognize and incentivize the institution that best protects children and turns them into productive citizens. Marriage is not just a “religious” good, but a public one.

    • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

      Making an argument for heterosexual marriage is something completely different from protesting a company that provides benefits for gay and non-married employees.

      The church is rightly criticized for paying more attention to gay marriage than the heterosexual marriages in their own pews.

      My original point is that sometimes we should just let others do what they will do. They are not Christians, they do not have the same stance of morality that we do. But we should be actively working on those that are Christians to encourage good marriages. For instance my church has small groups for newly married couples. These are very popular because many newly married couples come for divorced families and are literally terrified of the possibility of divorce themselves. But we have only about 2/3 of the leaders we need to lead those groups.

      I am not saying that the church ignores heterosexual marriage, but if we were known for our support of heterosexual marriage instead of our opposition to gay marriage, we might have a stronger voice to actually speak to the issue.

      • Kevin White

        But how do we make that known? What do we do differently? There is action, there is being seen, and there is being newsworthy. At present, it seems that the main way a church or parachurch marriage ministry becomes newsworthy is, well, for not including gay marriage and gay couples in their definition. (See some of the Chick Fil-a controversies. How does catering a marriage workshop make the national news? When activists complain that the marriage workshop ministry is not gay marriage-compliant.)

        Do we have churches still go full speed ahead preaching on marriage, running workshops, etc., only sending out press releases each time?

        • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

          Why do we need to make national news? Did the early church send out press releases when it saved baby girls from the trash heap?

          When we think about fixing problems in order to have a good image, we are doing the same thing (trying to accumulate political power or good will) that is the part of the tools of this world.

          I am not saying we shouldn’t talk about the good that we do. But if we are doing good for the purpose of having a good image, it is the same things as befriending a person solely to witness to them. And people sense that and are repulsed by it.

          I am also not saying that we won’t have out mission misconstrued. But the Chick-fil-a thing would not have gone anywhere if there was not an understanding that Evangelicals are against gay marriage. And gay rights activist can point to very vocal support of Focus on the Family and Pennsylvania Family Institute against gay marriage. The particular support Chick-fil-a of a marriage conference may have had absolutely nothing to do with gay marriage, but Chick-fil-a is a public corporation and easy to point to. Some things just go on whether they are true or not.

  • Brian Lakin

    Matthew you hit the nail right on the head with your statement about the boycott “it would be ineffective unless accompanied by repentance.” May I quote Luther for another reason to boycott anything. “Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a postion that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” The boycott will not work but it may be right.

  • Andy

    I guess the to-buy-or-not-to-buy question depends whether we should eat meat that has been offered to idols or not.

    • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

      Awesome response

      • Matthew Lee Anderson

        Someday I’m gonna write a long piece on how 1 Corinthians 8 should–and shouldn’t–be used within theological ethics. Someday. : )

        matt

        • Brian Lakin

          Hi Matthew, I hope your 1 Cor.8 piece is not in response to what I wrote. I had in mind Luke 9:51 ” When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Christ decision to go to Jerusalm was not decided on safety; it will kill him. It was not decided on popularity; almost everyone will leave him. He went because it was His Father’s good pleasue to do so, and that is the right reason to do anything. Sola Deo Gloria

  • http://www.anotherthink.com Charlie

    Boycotts are sometimes effective. Cesar Chavez was probably effective in pressuring California farmers with his ‘no grapes’ campaign. However, boycotts by Christians — Moore is right about this — probably lead people to see Christianity in the wrong ways.

    I think the core point here is that Starbucks has apparently decided to make the legalization of same-sex marriage a core company value. If that is true, it means that I will knowingly assist them in that effort by my Starbucks purchases. That would create for me the same dilemma Catholics face with the HHS mandates, which ask Catholics to pay for something they believe is sinful.

    My response to Starbucks, if it turns out that they have made such a decision, will be a kindhearted but pointed letter to their management explaining why their ethical stand has forced me to take my own ethical stand against funding an agenda I believe to be morally wrong. I will not join a public boycott, because of concerns about damaging the witness of the church, but neither will I knowingly cooperate with evil by funding a company that has made a corporate value of something I know to be morally destructive.

  • scott0317

    I have not settled for myself the efficacy of boycotts. I have on occasion begun patronizing some businesses just because there is a boycott against them. There are some in the Body of Christ (probably not as many as I think) eager to strike sweeping blows against powers and principalities and spiritual wickedness in high places. I am not always certain they are hearing from the Holy Spirit about this but neither do I know of a certainty that they are not. Sometimes I fail to test every spirit to see if it is of God and so the issue goes unresolved for me. However, once I identify those who willfully and unambiguously oppose the teachings of my Savior, I believe I please Jesus when I choose not to enrich and empower them. Rather, I love them, pray for them, maybe evangelize them. Repentance is better than sacrifice, anyway. I am not moved by whether or not a boycott has been announced. I try to find Christian-run businesses as alternatives but I don’t make a crusade out of it.

  • http://chrisblackstone.com Chris Blackstone

    If the only alternative to the boycott is spending our money willy-nilly at any establishment with no regard for how and why they do business, count me out. The purchase of an item is our implicit endorsement of the provider and means of the production of that item, whether we want to admit it or not. That’s the reason that people want their coffee to be “fair trade” and no one wants to buy “blood diamonds”. Our inability to think deeply about how, why, and where we spend our money indicates our belief that, even though God has blessed me with a job, how I spend that money is of no concern to him.

    • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

      While I am not going to buy goods I know where made with slave labor, I am uncomfortable with your position that the purchase of a good is an implicit endorsement of the provider of the good.

      Even the Catholic church in the middle ages rejected this line of argument when applied to priests. Priests that were in sin or inappropriately ordained did not eliminate the spiritual work that they did in the parishioner. This is more a Catholic issue than a modern Evangelical one. But it is an important point. If the Priest blesses the Eucharist and invites Christ to be fully a part of it, then can a corrupt priest invite Christ into the Eucharist. Or if it is the role of the priest to forgive sins can someone impersonating a priest forgive sins.

      The principle was that we as individuals can’t always know what is going on with someone else (or some business). This doesn’t exempt us from knowingly doing wrong. But I think that assuming that it is even possible to have an idea of what every provider of goods is up to is extreme on the face of it.

      But regardless, I think there are more than two options here. It is not boycott or spend ‘willy-nilly’. There are a whole range of points between those two.

      • Matthew Lee Anderson

        Adam,

        I think the analogy with priests is a little strained. From what I understand, part of the dilemma there is a sacramental structure around communion that views the taking of the physical bread and wine as necessary for the spiritual life of the Christian. Whatever we make of that, the point is that without it, the life of the Christian shrivels and dies. That’s quite a bit different than deciding between Starbucks and a local brew, or none at all. The closer analogue is actually the state, which has the power and the authority from God to compel obedience. In that sense, we may not have the same obligation to refrain from participating in certain state activities (like paying taxes) like we would when choosing in the open market. I’m also open to the size of the market, the diversity of the choices, the necessity of the product under consideration for wellbeing, etc. to all be factors in our deliberation on the question.

        That to say, I agree we can’t have an idea of what every provider of goods is up to. That doesn’t mean, however, that if we are presented with evidence that ONE employer is behaving badly that we can continue acting as we once did. The new knowledge and evidence seems to matter, somehow, for our moral deliberation.

        matt

      • http://verschaetse.wordpress.com Nate Verschaetse

        Ummmmmm…Adam I’m going to have to call foul on your comparison. I’m not a theologian, but I had studied for the Catholic priesthood from ’09-’11. If your point is to say that a latte is a latte whether the coffee shop is honest or dishonest, then maybe you have a point. But the efficaciousness of a sacrament irregardless of the holiness of a priest has a completely different theological grounding than the argument we’re pursuing here.

        When I’m buying a latte from Starbucks (which, I do enjoy their lattes :), I’m not consciously affirming the mission of the organization. But when an organization espouses as a part of their mission an ideal with which I cannot agree, then I am, in a sense, bound by my financial decisions. The bible puts a clear emphasis on financial prudence and demonstrates that the end, or goal, of our finances is to glorify God (as is the goal of any other created thing). I mean, what if Starbucks espoused, as a part of their corporate plan, the ideal of taking over America. Would we still buy? What if they wanted to kill every firstborn child in the world in the next year? Would we buy our lattes elsewhere? The extremism I’m using here only brings the issue into clearer focus…yes, a “boycott” isn’t the end-all in the issue and Moore raises good points, especially regarding tact. But once a company makes explicit an immoral agenda, then our decisions to do business with them must take this into account. We can’t separate our latte from their agenda. It’s easy for us Americans to act that way since our consciences are formed to compartmentalize and relativize, but it just isn’t so.

        • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

          I withdraw the analogy.

          I do think that we do not have a moral obligation to explore every vendor and business we work with. But I do agree that we cannot un-know. So if we do know something that is inappropriate we should act.

          The problem is well illustrated by the Apple/This American Life issue. This American Life attempted to accurately portray problems in working conditions. Their sources exaggerated reality and weakened the overall story. There were people that had organized a boycott of Apple based on the story. The problem with the original boycott was that they picked Apple because of its prominence, not the fact that it was unique in the way its vendors treat employees. I am not convinced that this is not the case with Starbucks. Is Starbucks unique in the way it approches LGBT rights? Or if not unique, why should we chose them to boycott and not any of several dozen other companies?

          The other problem that I think that this brings up is false information. Urban Legends are rampent in the Christian world. Again this morning, I posted a reply back to an educated friend about an urban legend that he was passing around. At least with organized large boycotts, the information is usually relatively accurate. I picked up a Tommy Hilfiger shirt at Costco. My brother was appalled that I would support a racist company and told me that he never bought Hilfiger clothing. The problem is that my brother was basing his personal choices on a urban legend. http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/tommyhilfiger/a/tommy_hilfiger.htm

          • Matthew Lee Anderson

            Adam,

            The problem of information is a real one for everyone on this, of course. I think Starbucks’ claim that it is “core” to their identity as a company is an interesting one and makes them, I suspect, unique. But we also don’t all buy, for instance, Boeing, which also supports gay rights. So I think there’s a bit of prudence in focusing our efforts at information gathering on those companies whose products do get consumed on a widespread basis.

            Best,

            Matt

          • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

            Matt, I honestly am not sure why. Because it is a consumer company and easier to target we should? But Business to Business companies that are harder to target we should ignore?

            That is why I really question all boycotts. They are always targeted unevenly. They are always taking one issues and ignoring many others.

            One of the reasons that I left a community organizing effort of churches that I participated in for a while is that one of the tenants of organizing is to simplify and polarize. Organizers of things like this all know that the point is to demonize the other side. I am not going to claim that Starbucks is a great company. But my guess is that they are really not much different than a great number of other companies. Why is gay rights different than financial companies that knowingly target poor minorities with high interest loans. There is quite a bit in scripture that speaks against taking advantage of the poor. Yet the church in the US did not boycotting Countrywide. In fact, I know a couple of people that worked for ‘Christian run’ loan companies that have admitted to me that they loved working in a Christian environment, but also realized later that they were in a system that took advantage of people financially.

            Like a number of other issues, you are probably right that there are issues that we should be boycotting. But I am very wary of the whole tactic because other than a couple of instances in the civil rights era, I am really not sure that it has actually done any good. And I believe it has done harm to the name of the church.

          • Matthew Lee Anderson

            Adam,

            I understand the difficulty, but let me try to reclarify my position: I’m not advocating for boycotts or that Christians should participate in them and promote them. Rather, I am saying that Christians should evaluate our purchases ethically. That may mean not buying Starbucks while a lot of people boycott it, but not directly “participating” in the boycott or advocating others to do so.

            Best,

            matt

          • http://bookwi.se Adam Shields

            Matt, sometimes I get lost in the woods. Thanks for pulling me back to your point.

            On the basic point, I completely agree with you. As Christians we should approach economics differently than non-Christians do. On the whole, I really would think that it is hard to not advocate for the position. Everything else past that, that is where it gets hard. But on that point, I completely agree.

  • Tyler

    I love this: “A “word of faithful witness” must be accompanied by deeds of faithful engagement and abstention, of saying both “yes” and “no” to the world through the manner of our lives. Discerning when and where we should provide these answers is the matter of theological ethics and without significantly stronger doses of it from our pulpits and our leaders, the evangelical message on marriage will remain as impotent as it has been.”

    This puts words to my thoughts after reading Dr. Moore’s article. I have mixed feelings about boycotts. Full disclosure requires sharing some personal experience here–years ago my father was fired from his position after a gay community-organized boycott of his company because at that time my mother (who had no stake in the company) was an officer in the Republican party. Neither my parents’ finances nor marriage ever recovered. I find it hard to stomach the image of Christians inflicting a similar burden on a non-believing person or family with whose morals or politics they disagree. On the other hand, I can’t accept the opposite position that Christians should never raise awareness of immoral practices of businesses both large and small, local and corporate. This awareness raising may not use the word “boycott” but one goal of such an activity would certainly be a call to ethically informed consumption or patronage (preceded hopefully, as you mention, by repentance).

    My initial response to Dr. Moore was to wonder if the cafe at SBTS began donating 10% of its proceeds to Planned Parenthood, would he still consume the Starbucks coffee that they sell? I suspect not, perhaps because such localized economic actions are a lot closer to home and to the pocketbook than the idealistic ramblings of a CEO in Seattle. Perhaps there’s something to this distance that might point the way forward in ethical consumption for Christians.

    The second point that you hit in the point above is the role of the local church and its leaders in this. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the Dump Starbucks campaign (and many like it that have come and gone) is that it is being spear-headed by a para-church umbrella organization that is accountable only to its donors. And yet organizations like this are given credibility as true representatives of Christian thought and ethics by the media by the sheer volume of their press releases. The typical (non-mega) local church’s voice may sound small to the world, but that’s only because the church wages war with the one weapon that no government, NGO, or para-church group can fully replicate: the pulpit. I would love to see more pastors who are committed to the authority of Scripture help spell out for their people some principles of ethical consumption so that noisy media events like Dump Starbucks are unnecessary. (Another disclosure…)As an ex-Starbucks partner myself, it’s no secret that the company has been one of the most LGBT-friendly large corporations in history. Which to me makes the campaign seem all the more reactionary. But if the alternative is to cynically refuse to consider our buying practices beyond mere appearances and thriftiness, then I’m still left wandering in the wilderness of non-church voices. Such voices include those whose ethical consuming principles are a smorgasbord of sophomoric anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, and in some cases, anti-human rants. Here’s hoping more pastors will take up the challenge tackle this for their people from the pulpit.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Tyler,

      So many interesting lines of thought here that you open up. Thanks for the comment and the kind words.

      Your final paragraph, particularly, is a great way of putting the conundrum (“accountable only to its donors” is a great point). It’s great that NOM is forcing us all to evaluate what is and is not ethical consumption. But you’re absolutely right that such an effort should begin within the church, rather than without.

      Sorry to hear about your parents and that situation. Really heartbreaking and you’re right to be wary about Christians deploying the same sort of tool. That personalizes the whole thing in a way that is very helpful. thanks for sharing.

      matt

  • http://wordpress.stroogieworks.com David

    I’m a current partner at Starbucks, and my store is in a neighborhood well-known for its gay population. I’ve worked with several gay co-workers, and one of them attends church at a local, gay-friendly congregation. She and I get along famously, so when she got seriously ill, I told her she was in my prayers. She was appreciative and said she believes in the power of prayer.

    It was a nice moment.

    But while she and my other co-workers, both gay and straight, all know that I’m a Christian, I’ve never had any kind of conversation with them about my “increasingly odd view.” Naturally, it’s a hard talk to have in the middle of a busy work day; but after nearly three years on the job, I struggle with the feeling of failure for not having provided the “word of faithful witness.”

    I’m scared of ruining a friendly working relationship, or having to overcome the instant judgments on my character, or of simply hurting my friend’s feelings.

    And though I don’t want to read into the motivations of others’ hearts, I think it’s very easy to join with a group to take up arms against a big corporation than it is to work through the mess of engaging with an individual. Like Tyler said above, Starbucks is hardly the first LGBT-friendly organization out there, nor is their stance anything new. So a sudden boycott seems a little strange.

    On the other hand, it could force a conversation between me and my gay friends.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      Great thoughts, David, and you’re right about how difficult these things can be. You’re exactly right about the potential escapism of this sort of strategy and how problematic that is. That’s worth considering carefully.

  • Adam shields

    Just thought I would link to a post over at Mockingbird (a blog I read because of you). Had a good post about how punishment. Aides rebellion as often as change.
    http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/mbird/~3/SIB7RCj5MB8/

  • http://www.benjaminasimpson.com Ben Simpson

    Long, impassioned, and interesting comments. And the original post ain’t half bad, either.

    Recent history brings to mind a small, minority population that held firmly to its convictions that racism is wrong, used boycotting as one among a number of strategies, persevered in the face of criticism, oppression, educated the masses with patience, demonstrated love, risked their lives, and loved their enemies. Though the narrative presented to us each year as we observe MLK day is one of the triumph of democratic ideals, my own study has left me convinced that without the groundings of Christian convictions and the deep sense in which the black church truly did represent an alterative culture in a world deeply infected by racism and blind prejudice, the victory may not have been won.

    The difference, as I see it, is that a boycott of Starbucks, motivated by opposing views on marriage, doesn’t hurt. It does not hurt Starbucks, as it does not expose an injustice. And it does not hurt the Christian consumer, in that I do not believe that our lives are significantly impoverished (or dignified) by refusing to drink Starbucks Coffee due to their advocacy for gay marriage. While the black community took pride in walking, coordinating carpools, riding bicycles, etc. instead of taking the bus, I do not see Christians buying fair trade coffee, frequenting local establishments, or kicking their coffee habit all together in such a way that it truly reaffirms the rightness of the boycott in the first place.

    I’ve already written too much. I am a former partner at Starbucks, and a frequent customer as well. While I am in agreement with of the NOM, I do not understand the reasons for boycotting Starbucks, as it seems to me an ineffective strategy, nor do I understand why Dr. Moore felt pressed to name the strategy itself as a bad idea on consumeristic grounds. What I would like to see is an effective and compelling vision for persuading those within the church, first, to live according to our convictions on marriage, and secondly to envision how we might communicate that peculiar way of thinking, believing, and living in such a way that it might just convince the surrounding social order that in Jesus Christ, God has in fact become King.

  • linds

    It’s a bit distressing to me that we Christians are so quick to boycott (or support) a business based on its owner/operators’ stance on a hot button culture war issue like gay marriage, and yet can’t be bothered to choose which businesses we patronize based on their supply chains. It is oh, so easy to get Christians to boycott Starbucks for gay marriage, and massively difficult to get Christians to even acknowledge that they should care whether or not slave labor was used to produce the same coffee.

    If the people organizing and participating in these boycotts spent half the energy making ethical choices as consumers to fight human trafficking within our supply chain, it would put the modern abolitionist movement light years ahead of where it is now.

    And honestly… it would do much more to advance the cause of Christ than screaming about gay marriage (and give Christians a platform from which to speak about other beliefs to an audience that is willing to listen). I dream of the day when people associate Christians with fair trade, peace talks, and charities rather than the morality police.