|A faculty member at Baptist-related McAfee School of Theology appears in a new television ad critical of Wal-Mart.
"The Bible says, 'To whom much is given, much is required,'" Charles Foster Johnson says in the ad. "Wal-Mart rakes in over $21,000 in profit every single minute. This Christmas, let's make Wal-Mart be a better neighbor to us all."
Johnson, former pastor of Trinity Baptist Church of San Antonio, is visiting instructor of preaching at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta and interim pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. He appears in the ad with another Baptist preacher, Markel Hutchins, a civil-rights activist in Atlanta.
"I am delighted to serve as a clergy spokesperson for the Wake Up Wal-Mart Christmas media campaign, and honored to be invited," Johnson said in a statement to EthicsDaily.com. "I have long felt that ministers had a moral obligation before God to speak out for issues of justice and fairness for all people. The Wake Up WalMart initiative gives us a good opportunity to hold this corporate monolith accountable to more progressive and equitable policies for its thousands of employees."
The ad is the third in a series of television and radio ads being rolled out for this year's "Hope for the Holidays" campaign by the labor group WakeUpWalMart.com. Last year's campaign involved the Baptist Center for Ethics in a pastoral letter challenging Wal-Mart to become a "Golden Rule company" and a controversial television spot featuring Baptist minister Joe Phelps of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., asking, "Would Jesus shop at Wal-Mart?"
Last year's faith-based campaign made headlines on FOX News and CNBC. It drew the ire of Rush Limbaugh and earned mention in a Jay Leno monologue in the "Tonight Show."
This is the third year for Wake Up Wal-Mart's holiday campaign coinciding with the busiest shopping time of the year just before Christmas. Sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, this year's campaign focuses on product safety, drawing on the fact that 70 percent of Wal-Mart products come from China.
More than 25 deemed-dangerous products from China have been pulled from Wal-Mart's shelves in the past year.
"Shoppers are thinking twice as they head out in search of bargains this year," said Meghan Scott, WakeUpWalMart.com spokesperson.
"As the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart bears a unique responsibility to improve the safety of what we're wrapping up to put under the tree," Scott said. The largest importer from Communist China, she said, Wal-Mart "has the economic power and duty to protect consumers and demand higher quality from its Chinese suppliers." The campaign also criticizes China for exploiting workers, violating human rights and using child labor.
A national poll said 60 percent of frequent Wal-Mart shoppers are uneasy about buying Chinese goods, and nearly half said learning that Wal-Mart imports 70 percent of its products from China gave them a less-favorable view of the company.
The newest ad, called "Neighbor," went up Monday in 35 markets across the country. Religious and community leaders in more than 40 cities are planning candlelight vigils outside of Wal-Mart stores to reinforce the message by offering prayers for Wal-Mart to change and handing out "Think before you shop" holiday cards to shoppers.
"Wal-Mart has become an integral part of the American cultural landscape," Johnson said. "They have amassed untold wealth in this great nation of ours, and they should do much better in providing not only decent hourly wages, but also affordable health care coverage for their workers. As the Bible says, "To those whom much is given, much is required."
While still subject to criticism for its labor practices, Wal-Mart is working to improve its relationship with religious conservatives. Stung by criticism two years ago, Wal-Mart last season reversed an earlier decision and told employees it's OK to wish shoppers "Merry Christmas" instead of the more inclusive "Happy Holidays."
This year, for the first time, Santa Claus is visiting more than 3,000 Wal-Mart stores. Earlier this month Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores featured their first-ever Christmas carol concert, co-sponsored by the Salvation Army, that included a special Christmas message by Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.