Are Boycotts Legitimate Arrows in the Moral Quiver?


The National Organization for Marriage and the National Gun Victim's Action Council both called for boycotts against Starbucks.
New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., called for an economic boycott of Orlando, Fla., after the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin.

"We will not support or attend conferences in Orlando. We will not vacation in Orlando. And we urge all other persons and groups who believe in justice to do the same. Orlando, Sanford, and Seminole County do not deserve the patronage of people who believe in justice for crime victims," read the statement from a predominately African-American congregation affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

"Remember Trayvon Martin! Boycott Orlando!" said the statement issued in mid-March.

New Millennium Church's pastor, Wendell Griffen, is on the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics and a sermon manuscript contributor to EthicsDaily.com.

A few days earlier, the National Organization for Marriage, a pro-family group, announced a boycott of Starbucks and launched DumpStarbucks.com.

"Starbucks has taken a corporate position in support of redefining marriage for all of society. We will not tolerate an international company attempting to force its misguided values on citizens," said Brian Brown, NOM's president. "The majority of Americans and virtually every consumer in some countries in which Starbucks operates believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. They will not be pleased to learn that their money is being used to advance gay marriage in society."

NOM objected to the role Starbucks played in passing a gay marriage bill in Washington, the state where Starbucks is headquartered.

New York City's Park Slope Food Coop is considering a vote to stop selling Israeli goods – joining an international boycott against Israel for its treatment of Palestinians.

"We are for the rights and security of both Jews and Palestinians, but support the boycott because of Israel's decades-long discriminatory policies against Palestinians," wrote Carol Wald, a member of the Coop. "[T]he boycott proposal at the Park Slope Food Coop is a tremendous opportunity to advance the struggle for justice and peace."

In February, the National Gun Victim's Action Council called for a boycott of Starbucks on Valentine's Day, charging that the company allowed customers to carry openly guns into the coffee shop.

Speaking about the boycott of Rush Limbaugh after his vulgar and misogynistic comments about Sandra Fluke, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly lashed out.

"The entire boycott movement is garbage. The far left threatening sponsors who advertise on programs they don't like is flat-out un-American," said O'Reilly.

"The marketplace should dictate these controversies," he said. "We want free speech all over the place. But when that speech turns irresponsible, the marketplace should dictate, not pressure groups armed with threats."

Contrary to O'Reilly's assessment, boycotts are as American as apple pie. Etched into the public memory is the rightfulness of the Montgomery bus boycott. An unforgettable failure is the Southern Baptist Convention's boycott of Disney.

Some organizations almost appear to have a boycott-of-the-month approach. The American Family Association has boycotted Home Depot, JC Penney, Olive Garden, McDonalds, Kroger and Gap Stores – to name a few.

Explaining why he would not join the pro-family group's boycott of Starbucks, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Dean Russell Moore raised theological questions about how Christians ought to engage society.

Moore spoke out against resorting "to the Gentile tactics of lording over others with political majorities or economic power."

Instead of "mimicking...angry power-protests," he presented a strategy bearing the silhouette of the Anabaptists. Show the world an alternative Christian approach that is so compelling that the world will want to follow it.

Much is commendable about the Amish withdrawal from society or the Baptist pietistic witness. Whether these social change strategies appreciate systemic sinfulness is debatable.

No amount of Christian humility – servitude – would have changed the systemic discrimination in Montgomery, for example.

Sometimes social change necessitates a costly moral witness to obtain a just society, which was the nature of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Boycotts have a range of utilities – giving a moral witness, drawing attention to an unjust matter, showing solidarity with the aggrieved, demonstrating stewardship of one's financial resources, rallying organizational support by focusing on wrongdoing and, frankly, raising organizational funds.

No doubt, boycotts can create change for the common good.

Jesus spoke to his followers metaphorically about weighing the cost before building a tower or waging a war (Luke 14:28-32).

Surely, calculating the cost is a critical ingredient to boycotts, a viable arrow in the quiver for people of faith.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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