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  • Britton Carter

Should We Boycott Boycotting?

Updated: Jun 3, 2023


Boycotting is a time-honored Western tradition. When a company offends our sensibilities or commits some perceived injustice against us, we turn to the owner and shout, “You just lost a customer!” Then we gather as many additional customers as we can and convince them to stop patronizing the establishment so the owner can feel our collective wrath.


Today, many Christians have aligned with political conservatives to boycott stores that support LGBTQ+ initiatives. We’ve boycotted Bud Light because they promoted a trans social media influencer (but good luck getting Baptists to tell you which beer they drink instead). We’ve boycotted Target because they are stocking and displaying clothing that supports the LGBTQ+ community. Some have even called for a boycott of Chick-fil-a (!) because they hired a vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion. While boycotts are nothing new for American Christians, the list of places we shouldn’t shop seems to grow by the day.


With ever-increasing excitement for boycotts washing over Christians and churches, it’s important for us to pause and consider what we’re doing. Should Christians boycott certain stores? And if we choose to boycott a store, should we hold other believers to that same standard?


I believe the answer to those questions depends on one’s motivation. While we can boycott a company for a variety of reasons, most reasons fall under three main categories: (1) vengeance; (2) persuasion; or (3) conviction.


Motivation #1: Vengeance

We can choose to boycott because we want a store to feel our wrath. We feel slighted and wronged, and we want to get even. This is the store that you organize against because they were rude to your friend. Or the sports team whose games you refuse to attend because they honored a group of people who denigrate Christianity (looking at you, Dodgers).


There’s just one problem with the motivation of vengeance: when anger is our motivation, we cannot claim to act on the basis of the gospel. For a believer who’s been forgiven of countless wrongs against the Creator, vengeance seems like a petty (and un-Christlike) reason to boycott. Paul tells us in Romans 12:18-19 that we are to “live peaceably with all” and that vengeance belongs to the Lord (ESV). We don’t have to retaliate—God will take care of it. You may still choose to boycott a company based on the other two motivations—that is, boycotting on principle. But boycotting based on anger is antithetical to the gospel.


Motivation #2: Persuasion

We can choose to boycott because we want the store to change their behaviors. We want Bud Light to be as conservative as its consumers. We want Target to stop supporting LGBTQ+ causes. We want Chick-fil-a to pray over our chicken before dropping it in the fryer. So we “vote with our dollars” to convince them to change.


I wrote about this motivation after the uproar fostered by this year’s Grammys. It’s fine to want a company to align with biblical morality, but that’s a paltry goal for our behavior as Christians. At best, we convince a company to adopt values that align with those outlined in Scripture. In that case, we succeed in creating companies that are less offensive to Christians yet no closer to operating for the glory of God. We haven’t advanced the gospel—we’ve just made the world more comfortable for us to live in.


In 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul discusses the controversial act of eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. The debate centers around whether a Christian should purchase and consume meat from a vendor who previously sacrificed the animal to his or her pagan deity. In other—overly simplified—words, Should Christians boycott idolatrous butchers?


Paul’s discussion centers entirely on the gospel—whether certain acts will advance the gospel or harm the young faith of new believers. Nowhere in his discussion does he consider trying to change the vendor’s behavior. As wonderful as it would be for every pagan vendor to stop sacrificing to idols, the vendors would still be lost. We, as Christians, have higher goals for our community than moral conformity—we want to see gospel transformation. God’s kingdom will not come through legalistic browbeating—it will come in its fullness through Jesus. Thus, if we are motivated to boycott by the hope of forcing businesses around us to change their behaviors, then I believe we are trading our gospel-centered mission for a lesser goal.


Motivation #3: Conviction

Finally, we can choose to boycott because we do not want to personally engage in a behavior with which we disagree. In this case, we believe that by buying cleaning products at Target, we actively support a lifestyle we view as sinful. If we spend our money at Target, which is a sinful company, then we are sinning by extension.


While this approach makes sense in principle, we are woefully hypocritical in our application of this idea. We boycott one or two companies who openly support homosexuality, but we continue to patronize stores and websites that give money to LGBTQ+ causes, source products from countries that employ child labor, and provide funding to abortion clinics. Moreover, we do not boycott companies consumed by greed—companies that exist for the sole purpose of maximizing shareholder value, no matter the cost. We temporarily boycott a small number of companies that create a public outcry while simultaneously supporting other equally un-Christlike organizations. If we’re going to be consistent, we may as well boycott every major company in the world (good luck finding a single organization that perfectly aligns with biblical values).


We could become monks, cut off from the world, growing our own food and making our own clothes. Or, we could go back to Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 8-10. In chapter 8, Paul tells the Corinthians they are free to eat meat sacrificed to idols (verses 4-6). They’re not participating in sin—they’re eating lunch. Similarly, you as a believer are free to eat and shop as you will. You’re not engaging in homosexuality—you’re buying trash bags. What the company does with their cash is their choice. You are not responsible for the company’s choices; you’re responsible for conducting business transactions that glorify God (1 Cor 10:31-33).


That being said, Paul’s caution to the Corinthians rings true today: be careful with your freedom. If you’re out shopping with a young believer and he or she says, “Target supports LGBTQ+ causes,” then don’t go to Target. What you interpret as Christian freedom, they may interpret as affirming sin. In that case, shopping at Target is still not sinful, but it can lead to confusion and a misunderstanding of the gospel for the young believer. Therefore, in that specific instance, boycott Target for the sake of your fellow believer.


Additionally, if you view shopping at Target as a sin (or any other store under similar circumstances), I would lovingly encourage you to search the Scriptures and understand the wonderful freedom you have in Christ. But at the same time, as long as you believe you’re sinning by shopping at Target—don’t go to Target. If you’re boycotting Target and other places based on conviction, I would argue your conviction is misplaced—but I would also encourage you to continue your boycott for as long as that conviction remains.


In some cases, boycotting a company is certainly the right call for believers. I would expect Christians to boycott a porn site or a drug den. Additionally, if a store promises to devote 100% of their proceeds to worshiping the devil and undermining Christian missions, we should probably find somewhere else to shop. When you cannot possibly conduct a transaction that glorifies God at the company or with the product, stay away. However, this scenario does not cover the vast majority of our present boycotting cases. Bud Light, Target, the Dodgers, and others all present less clear-cut, black-and-white situations. In such cases, we should defer to Christian freedom and seek to glorify God with our choices.


Conclusion

Should Christians boycott? It’s ultimately up to each believer, but I would argue that most of our motivations for boycotting are either antithetical to the gospel, trivial in light of the gospel, or stem from misplaced conviction. I have nothing against the practice of boycotting, but I question the value of an American Christianity that is known more for its anger at businesses than its love for the lost.


We must make decisions on boycotting with the gospel in mind. How can we best reach our neighbors? How can we best support fellow believers? What will lift up the name of Christ in the world? Therefore, whether you shop or boycott—whatever you do—do it for the glory of God.

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