17 May 2017

Corporate vs. Individual Boycotts

From time to time the issue of Church boycotts comes to the fore. Usually what is meant by this is that certain denominations and para-church organisations will decide to collectively boycott a particular retailer or organisation due to moral objections regarding a product or sponsorship.
I do think we need to reject certain corporations and institutions. As Christians we understand that we live in a lost and sinful world full of idolatry and like the Early Church there are aspects of society that are all but closed to us. This is not the viewpoint of most who advocate this view. Frankly they're confused and their proclivity to call for a boycott is not rooted in antithesis but is instead a political tactic meant to 'break' an opponent. Their hope is that their numbers are sufficient that the company or institution will take such a financial hit, that they'll reconsider the policy.

I hope you see the difference? One school of thought is motivated by separatism, the call to holiness, the call to 'come out of Babylon' and embrace antithesis and the way of the cross. The other school is motivated by a wish to transform society and control its narrative. Ideally the advocates of this view would 'Christianise' society and they seek to control all its institutions and narratives.
The differences are themselves antithetical.
If the unbiblical concept of the 'denomination' is abandoned much of the discussion quickly becomes moot. Congregations still could (and should) work together and it's possible that a group of congregations in a given region could instigate a boycott. This does not require the bureaucracy of denomination but instead would be based on congregational voluntarism. Congregations (led by elders) can weigh the issues and decide for themselves whether or not to participate in any action, whether we're speaking of a boycott or something else. Denominationalists don't like the lack of ability to sanction a wayward congregation but as is often the case if a congregation wishes to defect they tend to do so regardless of the denominational infrastructure. The battle (if there is one) usually ends up being over assets and property... to the shame of both parties.
All that said, individual congregations engaging in mass boycotts is probably not warranted or even useful. This is something the Church can and should certainly address but hopefully there's enough wisdom in the leadership to recognise that every situation is different and everyone's conscience is different. It's probably better to leave the boycott to the individual realm. Each of us in our context can respond as we are able and according to conviction.
There's an additional danger of congregations let alone large denominational institutions engaging in the boycott. The Church's witness can be bruised and misrepresented.
The Church makes a public statement. We're going to boycott Target over its Sodomitical policies. Their degenerate policies are certainly a valid concern. One must weigh their policy with regard to bathrooms and what you wish to expose your family to. And one is warranted in asking whether we should patronise their business, feed their profits or work for such a company. All of these questions are valid.
But when the Church (as the Church) speaks out, it sends a mixed message. Its agenda appears to be targeted (no pun intended). Its concerns for moral universality rightly come under question and it appears its motivations are instead political. The Church targets homosexuals and sinks a great deal of time and energy into the Christmas wars but seems little concerned when it comes to corporate avarice, globalism's destruction of societies, slave labour or geopolitical machinations. The Church 'cares' about the one and doesn't seem to 'care' about the other.
That may or may not be true. Individuals within the Church and indeed some of its leaders may be concerned about economic crimes, the abuse of fellow human beings, warmongering etc.
But when the Church speaks up about one political issue and ignores others, it sends a message of prioritisation... regardless of whether or not this was its intention.
Of course in many cases not only does 'The Church' not care about economic exploitation and warmongering but instead actively encourages these things. The 'Land Letter' of 2002 comes to mind. Its signatories proclaimed their moral bankruptcy, heresy, and even stupidity and brought a great deal of shame to the American Evangelical Church. Every one of them fools, all they did was proclaim their ignorance of Scripture, history and geopolitics. Such endorsements (and boycotts) are dangerous and will almost always be taken politically.
At the end of the day, we're not going to stop the wars and rumours of wars. We're not going to stop avarice, exploitation and criminality. Christ did not establish the Church to stop Nike, Verizon, Wal-Mart, Monsanto or General Dynamics. These evil organisations will go on indulging in their evil.
Our task is to bear witness and leave vengeance in God's hands. And no fear, they will all perish and give account for their deeds.
In that sense Christ did come to stop them... his victory is secure. But during this time between the times, He exhibits longsuffering. The individuals that make up these organisations need to repent and embrace Christ.
Merely reforming their conduct will in the end accomplish nothing. There are many waiting in the wings who would take their places and their real problem is not their evil deeds but their rejection of Christ. All attempts at reform apart from embracing Christ in repentance and faith are ultimately exercises in futility.
That said, we keep preaching and proclaiming... and suffering, even if that suffering is merely being relegated to second-class citizen status. By excluding ourselves from such companies and institutions we may indeed pay a social price.
Christ will make things right in the end, but it won't be through legislative reform or economic sanctions. He will destroy them in the fires of vengeance.
The world is broken. We can't fix it but we need to follow our consciences. Elders can and should connect Scripture to what's happening in the wider world. That may mean some Christians change their habits, find different jobs and re-think the way they relate to culture. The Early Church understood this and believers knew that many occupations and spheres of society were closed to them. This mindset and the categories that go with it were destroyed by the Constantinian Shift. And frankly the confusion was exacerbated by the world-affirming posture of the Magisterial Reformation.

If God grants a new reformation, this issue has to be re-thought. In the meantime questions about 'boycotts' and other such issues will continue to confuse. It need not be so, but for change to ensue a reconsideration of Scriptural Sufficiency must be embraced.