Christians Need to Stop Boycotting Stuff

Dialogue isn’t about suppressing culture. It’s about knowing how to engage with it.

Last week, ABC aired a new version of the classic show The Muppets. Though the latest iteration of the satirical franchise received mixed reviews after its debut, it was subject to its harshest criticisms before it even premiered—from some Christians.

Days before the first episode aired, Franklin Graham, the minister and son of the famed evangelist Billy Graham, posted the following message on Facebook:

Tonight, ABC is premiering a new, “mature version” of the Muppets that reports say will cover a range of topics from sex to drugs to “interspecies relationships” with no subject being off limits. It sounds to me like the whole show should be off limits! Hollywood seems to be in a frenzy to see what new moral low they can reach in their programming. Their agenda is to promote sin to a younger and younger audience. I applaud the group One Million Moms for speaking out against this and urging parents to call on ABC to take it off the air. The Bible says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” That goes for Kermit the Frog as well!

Despite the strong words from the million anti-Kermit moms and Franklin Graham, the show, did in fact, go on. Shockingly, the angry Facebook rant (that the “interspecies relationship” between Kermit, a frog, and Miss Piggy, a pig, is actually promoting real-world coupling of random animals that will cause the fragile foundations of Western values to crumble) from someone who had never even seen the show was not enough for a major TV network to pull a program it had spent millions of dollars creating and promoting.

Because, let’s face it, Christian pop-culture boycotts never work. Most of the time, “working” isn’t even the point. The campaign from a million moms is only one in a longstanding list of failed boycotts of companies by groups of Christians for a variety of reasons.

Boycotts Never Work

In 2012, Starbucks was one of a number of high-profile companies that were (unsuccessfully) boycotted for having some sort of tie to the support of same-sex marriage. To date, Starbucks, Heinz, Wells Fargo, Home Depot and other companies targeted by the activists seem to be doing pretty well despite a handful of boycotters loudly taking their business elsewhere.

Most of the time, when a Christian group organizes a boycott, it’s not over dangerous working conditions, child labor or environmental irresponsibility. It’s usually because of some perceived “attack” on a social value or religious belief.

Every year, a “Naughty” list of retailers who use holiday greetings other than “Merry Christmas” is released by one organization, which encourages readers to boycott places that don’t employ the exact seasonal terminology they deem required to do business in the United States. This year, PetSmart managed to stay open despite being subjected to an all-out boycott for not saying the words “Merry Christmas”.

Harry Potter, Disney, the Beatles and Martin Scorsese all have been the targets of organized efforts of some concerned Christian consumers who felt their values or beliefs were under attack by privately held companies that, despite misconceptions, are actually entitled to their own opinions without having to consult groups of angry, offended Christians.

Ironically, most of the time, when a notable Christian or Christian group organizes a boycott, it’s not over labor violations, dangerous working conditions, unethical business practices or environmental irresponsibility. It’s usually because of some perceived “attack” (aka having an opinion different from their own) on a social value or religious belief.

The reason these “boycotts” almost never work is because they were never about principles in the first place. They’re almost always about grandstanding.

Cultural Grandstanding

Just like any consumers, Christians are free to support whatever companies they want with their business, for whatever reason they want. It’s not illogical that some people will do business with companies that share their values, opinions or ideas. It’s a free market and a free country, after all. But freedom works both ways.

People are allowed to have ideas that other people don’t like.

The problem with these pop culture boycotts is that they operate under the notion that certain people’s ideas are so superior to anyone else’s, that the others don’t even deserve to exist.

But, too often, public boycotts aren’t about shining a light on companies doing things some people don’t like. They’re about people grabbing the spotlight and turning it on themselves. The boycott is simply a megaphone.

The problem with these pop-culture boycotts (besides being ineffective), is that they operate under the notion that certain people’s ideas are so superior to anyone else’s, that the others don’t even deserve to exist. Even if you believe your values and faith represent the truth, squashing out all other beliefs isn’t an effective way to enter into meaningful dialogue.

Engagement Vs. Suppression

The Apostle Paul demonstrates a different way of interacting with ideas and values we may not always agree with in culture. Instead of just suppressing them, we should know how to engage with them.

In the book of Acts, Paul is in the cultural hub of Athens. While in the marketplace, he was “distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Paul went to a meeting of cultural leaders, but instead of admonishing them for their beliefs and values, he praised them, and used their own culture as a means of civil engagement.

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god … The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.”

By using an example of one of their own cultural ideas (even though he didn’t agree with idolatry), he was able to show that they were inadvertently “ignorant of the very thing you worship,” not in a way that trashed their culture, but in a way that actually used thoughtful, gracious engagement.

He then referenced one of their own cultural influencers saying, “He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else ... God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

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We’re called to spend our lives making disciples, not closing down people’s businesses for not effectively celebrating our holiday.


If Paul would have marched through the Athens marketplace attempting to drive everyone out of business for selling things he didn’t personally agree with, he would have missed an opportunity to share his own beliefs.

Boycotting would have made it about him, instead about the people he was called to serve and to love.

There’s a time to stand up against real injustice. Boycotts have been used to draw attention to actual social evils. But when Christians simply organize ineffective boycotts every time a celebrity, TV show or company does or says something they don't disagree with, these Christians start to look like they are more concerned with protecting themselves than actually engaging with others.

We’re called to spend our lives making disciples, not closing down people’s businesses for not effectively celebrating our holiday.

Christians shouldn’t be afraid of culture. They should be helping to shape it. And it’s hard to do that when you’re boycotting it.

Top Comments

Bill Tackett

28

Bill Tackett commented…

I'm going to boycott Relevant until they stop using headlines like this.

Eric pagan

41

Eric pagan replied to Eric pagan's comment

Potential marketing solution for VS: "Victoria's Secret, because not every conception can be immaculate"

35 Comments

Shawn Walrus

6

Shawn Walrus commented…

Dear Mr Carey

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

I just have a few thoughts in response and would appreciate if you could have a look at them, and perhaps address them if needed:

1. I believe that boycotting per se is not wrong. It's simply the manner in which it has been done in recent years that seems to have irked you.

Boycotting is a personal conviction, and should be done on a personal level, which is perhaps why instigating one corporately may not be beneficial. You'll end up getting a bunch of people who don't know why they're doing this, or a herd mentality where Person A is convicted of something simply because Persons B to Z are, and that's not genuine conviction.

So in that sense, I believe boycotting has its place, but has to be carried appropriately and only motivated by genuine conviction.

2. Whether a boycott 'works' or not is immaterial. The objective of a boycott should never be to bring down a company, but to make a statement before God and everyone else that you do not support this or that company's values. A boycott aimed at destroying a company would have missed the point.

3. With adequate research, one will find that 'dangerous working conditions, child labor or environmental irresponsibility' are all symptomatic of dysfunctional values. There is a place for relieving such symptoms, but there is an even greater need to tackle the root issues (the values) that birth those symptoms. Rather than merely kerbing the vomitting, a doctor ought to eradicate the CAUSE of the stomach upset. Dysfunctional values breed dysfunctional societies.

Thus, it's right and good that the weapons of a boycott are targeted at dysfunctional values. There are others who deal with the symptoms such as social issues, ISIS, environmental damage and whatnot - it's not that no one cares about those things. Again, some research will tell you that people do. Let's celebrate the diversity of roles in the Body.

4. Agree that it's un-Christlike to use a boycott as a grandstand.

That's all. Thank you for reading and thoughts are most welcome!

- Shawn Walrus

Daniel Faith Thomas

1

Daniel Faith Thomas commented…

Shaping the culture is definitely the goal. That can happen through boycotting and protesting, but I agree it has to be a serious issue - but what is serious? and who gets to determine that? I love the biblical example given re Paul, though the context is a bit different.. Greece wasn't a christian country moving towards paganism.. it was a pagan country being moved towards God... so there is an important difference there... but it is still applicable in some way (but that has to be properly contextualized).

What would the actual application be in terms of the Kermit example?

I must say, I am tempted to agree with Franklin Graham, just because of his last name and the utter respect I have for his father and by extension him. But I do still agree, because I believe we need to speak up against things in everyday life that oppose God. That is how we engage the culture. What really is the other option? Ignore it? Silence? It's not so much about putting them out of business, but about making a statement, and registering our position. People have the right to their opinion yes, but evil should always be contested.. i think a fb post to a kermit cartoon is an appropriately proportioned action... Silence is not the solution.

Our role on earth is not just to evangelize and love people. It is also to represent God and his perspective as well.

I'm actually just realizing that the writer doesn't actually say what should be done... though he's speaking to a concept generally... what really is the alternative, what is the actual application of the scripture in our context?

The church will always have to walk a thin line. As we protest same sex marriage, we must reach those who are same sex married. As we protest abortion, we have to reach out to those who have committed abortions. It's rough, but important. Because loving God (a part of which is hating evil) is important, and loving people is also important. We agree though that the thing we are protesting for has to be worth it. Hands down, life (as opposed to abortion) and marriage (biblically the image of God) are very very important... There are also some things which cut some people deeply that won't affect other believers at all. So there needs to be respect for that diversity and I also agree with the comment that poor values lead to the systemic diseases of poor conditions/systems (so treat the root, and early).. but the biggest thing lacking here for me is that no practical guidance is given.. only 'don't boycott' (which is clearly a misleading title and theme.. because the writer does insinuate that there are things we should boycott!)

Love,

Daniel Thomas
Love March Movement
Jamaica

David Randall

16

David Randall commented…

I appreciate some of what is said here, but at the same time it is somewhat immature and shallow evaluation of what is going on. And I might add a little self-righteous.

I have a number of thoughts. I’ll share a few.

“Boycotts don’t work.” First of all, this only has any validity at all, if you assume that the whole purpose of a “boycott” is putting someone out of business or at least “punishing them” significantly. I am sure that some may participate in boycott with that hope in mind. But the primary reason not to patronize a business or other form of boycott is simply to keep the resources God has given me out of the hands of those who would put those resources to a destructive purpose. It is not to say, “If you are going to promote this, I am going to destroy you.” It is simply a statement that “if you are going to spend resources for this purpose, you will have to do so without using mine”. Period. Full stop. In as much as my purpose is simply to withdraw my support, I have unequivocally succeeded. The boycott has worked!
Now of course most entities are “non-Christian” and we don’t boycott everyone. Paul’s point about eating meat in certain gentile areas is to the point. If someone serves you meat from the market, don’t worry and don’t ask questions. Go ahead and eat it with a clear conscience. If one the other hand, someone makes a point that this meat was dedicated to an idol, and as you eat it you participate in worship, then we are clearly to refuse. There is a difference between a company at some point getting into an area that is contrary to our conscience, and a company that has expressly made it a point to do so. Certain entities have expressly made it a point to state that they are committed to certain ends that are decidedly ungodly, and I will not assist them with my patronage.

Finally I agree that we need to “engage the culture”. Fine. So do I need to patronize a prostitute to reach out to prostitutes? Or purchase and use drugs to engage those in the drug culture? Or do I have to make a contribution to a political party in order to be able to debate that party’s platform? Sorry, this is just a retread of the brain-dead, “you can’t knock it, if you haven’t tried it” foolishness.

We do need to be wise about this and not engage in boycotting everyone that someone complains about on the internet. And we need to weigh the pros and cons of engaging in any particular boycott. But making wise decisions will sometimes mean making a conscious effort to not be a participator when our participation ends contributing to someone’s hurt.

I suspect the author is a little hypocritical and really only has a problem with boycotts that don’t suite his tastes, since he implies that boycotts over “labor” and “environmental” issues are just fine and also effective. Just not ones over moral issues which don't constitute "real injustice". Is corruption of a culture really less "unjust" than paying low wages, or creating carbon emissions when we exhale? In the end he simply considers Christian moral values as unimportant in his world-view.

Finally he plainly states that it every Christian’s is free to patronize or not patronize whoever, for whatever reason. If this is true, exactly why does he have a need to scold those who exercise this right over issues that he doesn’t personally find important? This is like a child on a playground complaining that some kids aren’t playing by his rules, so they should just go home.

I haven’t watched the new muppet show, so I won’t say much about that. The muppet “brand” has always been a children’s show that has been done in such a way that adults enjoy it at much as children. That is a rare and precious thing in line with the very best of children’s literature. If it actually becomes (or has become) a platform for subtly influencing children in a decidedly negative way, then it loses my custom. I’ll make that judgment when I see it. And, I won’t fault Graham for bringing it to my attention, even if I don’t happen to agree with him in the end.

RJ Clarke

1

RJ Clarke commented…

I love Relevant articles, but the comment section is always disheartening. 90% of the comments are made up of people trying to correct the author, one-up the author's spirituality, or trying to prove why the article doesn't apply in EVERY situation EVER.

It's simple. Find out what you can learn from it. Apply it to your life.

But we get it. You like to hear yourself talk. That's why this article is trying to explain to you how projecting your opinion about "offensive" things in this world is embarrassing for us other Christians. If you think the Muppets may be offensive, sure, don't watch it. But your post about it on FB isn't planting seeds or watering them. You made it so you can high-five about how proactive you are with your other self-serving Christian friends.

Moral of this story? Pick and choose your "battles." And much like the author is trying to say... If you don't like something, get involved and change it. Nothing is accomplished by sitting on the sidelines complaining and refusing to get involved.

Don't think you can fix it by getting involved in some fashion? Good thing we have an omnipotent God who makes all things possible!!

(Though in most cases, you probably gotta show some effort... Because I doubt you're geting rewarded with jewels on your heavenly crown for that one FB update you made...or by not buying a pumpkin spiced latte this season.)

Randi Thayer

1

Randi Thayer commented…

I understand this article, and it makes a lot of sense to me. I think this is a very valid point and asks us to self-evaluate our own motivations and fiscal actions. My question is: how do I decide where to spend my money? It seems like many people are simply looking at the price tag, or the quality of product. In my own life I have started questioning if I should be doing business with a specific company. They are a very politically active, campaign driven company. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But I am having great difficulty deciding if I should stop doing business with them over a single campaign they did, and use my dollar as a vote, or if my focus should be on my personal impact on the lives of the people around me. In short, how do I merge the idea of "Christians need to stop boycotting stuff" with the idea that were I spend my money does have an effect on the world around me? Where is the balance between the two?

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