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Does Boycotting Contradict the Message of Christian Love?

Does Boycotting Contradict the Message of Christian Love?

"Hardware Surplus" employee "Tina Martin" stands behind the check-out counter, her feet and back sore from a long, busy week. She shivers every time the big glass doors open, letting in the biting wind. Carols drift from the store’s speakers. The secular kind. Her manager made it clear; they couldn’t play religious music. Folks would get mad. Maybe even call corporate. More than that, the employees weren’t to use the word Christmas. They could wish customers happy holidays but they needed to avoid all religious affiliation. So she complied, doing what she needed to do to feed her family.

But then she went home and got on Facebook, and started reading all the hate posts. People were planning a boycott. For real? Over a word? What if the store lost money and cut her hours? What if she lost her job? These people say they’re Christians. “They’ll know us by our love,” they say. Love for what—the words others use? They certainly don’t love people like Tina. From where she sits, all she sees are a bunch of angry, boycotting, haters.

To think, one of them dropped a flyer off at her house inviting her to their Christmas service. Why? So they could tell her how evil she is for working at the hardware store? Nah. They can keep their slogans and special words. She’s got enough drama in her life without adding a bunch of haters into the mix.

It happens every year. Articles circulate the Internet telling us which stores to boycott and which ones to frequent. Because saving the word Christmas will bring the masses to Christ (you might detect my note of sarcasm). We know intrinsically that anger and hatred are the worst evangelism tools ever. So why do we engage in these superficial battles? Could it be we’re worried about God’s reputation?

Why are we boycotting?

Perhaps our boycotts are birthed in fear. If this is the case, the answer is love, for love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Perhaps we truly want to see our world change, to see our nation turn to God. If this is the case, the answer is love, for it is God’s kindness that draws man to repentance (Romans 2:4). Or perhaps we’re just caught up in the hype of it all, allowing the media and Facebook to stir our emotions. If this is the case, the answer is love for God, because when we love with him with everything we are, think, and have, there’s no room for hate. Peace, love, and joy push out all anger, bitterness and malice (Galatians 5:19-23).

Is our desire to boycott rooted in fear?

Anger, like we see in numerous Facebook posts this time of year, is a secondary emotion. That means a primary emotion, like fear or sadness, precede it. When I read social media posts regarding boycotts, I often see a lot of hostility. This tells me people are frightened. I get that. We live in a crazy world full of wars, injustices, and terrorism.

Watching this all unfold, it’s easy to believe our world is saturated by evil. Then we look at things closer to home—the way the majority of teenagers dress in the mall, or the divorce rate in our town, or perhaps the lack of church attendance among our neighbors. We conclude all these little “evils” are but a step to the greater evil, and it’s our job to counter this downward progression.

God doesn’t need us to defend him. He is big enough to carry his own reputation.

I love the story of David and Goliath, the small, unknown Israelite, who, in defense of God’s honor, takes on the nasty giant. I love putting myself into the position of the hero, as if God needs me to defend him. Many times, I think it’s this desire to defend God that can fuel a desire to boycott. It’s Christ’s birthday, after all! We need to honor him!

Let’s revisit the David and Goliath story (1 Samuel 17). Who are we in this narrative? Are we the mighty warriors ready to rise up in God’s defense, or are we those in need of saving?

According to my pastor, Lance Burch from Reality Church, we are not the heroes in that story. We are the frightened Israelites in need of a savior. David, the strong, fearless hero, is a symbol of Christ.

But even if we were the heroes called to stand in defense of our Savior, do we really think we can accomplish this by fighting over word choices? Does that truly bring honor to Christ’s name? Is that what we, as his followers, are to be known for?

Step back in time to the year 60 AD. Jesus had been brutally killed, rose from the dead, and ascended, leaving the early church to share the good news of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20).

They did this through love.

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. And a deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the good will of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47 NLT).

How did the apostles deal with atrocity and complete injustice of their Savior’s death? They devoted themselves to developing their Christian faith, praying, meeting with other believers, and demonstrating love through tangible, self-sacrificing acts. In other words, they loved one another, deeply and consistently. The result? God added to their fellowship daily.

If anyone had cause to protest, they did. They had seen much worse than nonbelievers banning a Christian word; they’d seen the Word himself mocked and crucified.

But rather than picking up their picket signs or forming a protest, they banded together and drew closer to their Savior through prayer and Bible reading. And the church expanded like a wild fire.

The greatest catalyst, other than the death and resurrection of Christ, was the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:1-4). Pause to consider how this precious saint responded to the unthinkable injustice he endured: “He fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’ And with that, he died” (Acts 7:60). His final words reiterated the extreme model of love Christ himself showed when he hung on the cross and said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Let’s camp out on his ending phrase for a moment, “…they don’t know what they are doing.”

When we’re holding our boycott signs and lighting up our Facebook pages, do we forget this? Do we forget that non-Christians operate on a different mindset than we do? When they choose not to use the word Christmas and ask their employees to do the same, they aren’t trying to be evil. They aren’t trying to persecute us or make a point. They are truly trying to be kind, and they are incredibly confused. They can’t understand why their efforts not to exclude a portion of the population by their word choices would cause another demographic to get so upset. And in their confusion, they determine we must be crazy. Or hateful. Or simply addicted to drama (sometimes I myself wonder about that last one).

Friends, we cannot expect unregenerated men and women to live by Christian standards. That’s unfair, and, I believe, repellant. Our role is to love, to reveal through our words and actions the grace of Christ. For it is his kindness that leads mankind to repentance. 

That’s not to say we can’t shop smart or stay true to what we believe. But may God’s love and grace overshadow our every word and deed. Because that is when our message grows loudest. Boycotts are merely surface-level solutions. They attempt to change a behavior—the secularization of Christmas—and fail to reach the heart, where actions stem from.

The proper response, then, is to love and point others to Christ. Only he can bring Christmas to an increasingly secular nation, and he does that through grace. For it is by grace we have been saved, it is by grace that we change, and it is by grace that we overcome our sinful behaviors and learn to live like Christ.

This holiday season, before you post that angry status update or gather all your friends for a good old fashioned boycott, pause to consider the effects of your actions. Look at the issue from a human level and through the lens of the gospel. Will your avoidance of "Hardware Surplus" bring their workers to Christ or push them further from him? Are you motivated by fear or a faulty notion that God needs you to defend him? If so, set your agenda aside and worship him instead. For that, I believe, is the best gift we can give him this Christmas.

Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects, and currently writes missional romance novels for New Hope Publishers.

Publication date: December 19, 2014