Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Biblical Boycotting??

A friend of mine (we'll call her Olivia) recently had an interesting conversation with her Christian colleague (we'll call him Steve).

I'm going to attempt to give you the gist of Olivia and Steve's conversation, but first, a qualifier. I was not present during this conversation and received it second-hand through Olivia.  I am only including the main points of the conversation in order to avoid misrepresenting what was said.  
The dialogue begins with Steve discovering that Olivia boycotts Target because Target funds Plan Parenthood with a portion of all their sales.  Here's the bulk of the conversation:

Steve: Do you know that Target only gives $18,000 a year to Plan Parenthood?  And Plan Parenthood does a lot more than fund abortions.  It's not like the money you spend at Target is going directly to kill babies.
Olivia: But if a percentage of the money I spend at Target is going to Plan Parenthood, and  Plan Parenthood uses a large percentage of their money to fund abortions, then my money is going to support abortions.
Steve: It's not that big of a deal.  It's only $18,000 and not all of it is directly funding abortions.  You should boycott Walmart instead.  I boycott Walmart because Walmarts are being constructed in small towns in South America, making it difficult for small business owners to feed their families.

The conversation trails off from here.  I have to admit, I admire Steve's desire to simultaneously make a stand for the less fortunate in South America, while being a good steward of his money.  Like Olivia, it looks like he's trying to practically live out his Christian faith.  However, I find two major problems with this conversation, his apparent position, and the reasoning supporting it.  These problems are especially disturbing to me because more and more Christians are publicly embracing Steve's philosophy of stewardship and social action.
Problem #1: Steve's apparent approach to practical Christianity is, at best, reductionistic.  He reveals an either/or mentality that suggests the Christian's call to social action is so narrow and the resources so limited, that Christians must embrace one cause and reject another.  What Steve has essentially said is, "You are silly for boycotting Target when the money they send to Plan Parenthood is petty cash.  Abandon your cause and adopt mine."  As Christians, are we so restricted that we cannot concurrently support two causes?  Or at least identify the merit in a cause other than our own?
I'd like to ask Steve, when Jesus charged his followers to care for the poor, watch after widows, tame the tongue, and cast their cares on him, did he mean that Christians must choose one charge and throw the others out the window?  Should we just pick and choose which of God's concerns seem best aligned with our own concerns and ignore all the rest?  Steve's apparent either/or mentality threatens to undermine the all-encompassing call of the Christianity he claims: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27).

Problem #2: Steve has fallen into the stifling trap of legalism (def: strict adherence to the letter of the law).  He has gotten caught up in numbers and percentages, rather than focusing on the state of the heart.  He prefers to emphasize the mere $18,000 Target gives to Plan Parenthood, rather than identify the tragedy that occurs any time an organization (or person) is more concerned with being politically correct than protecting the sanctity of life.
My guess is that on judgement day God won't hold us accountable for the specific dollar amounts we spend as much as the heart issues prompting us to spend our money selfishly or generously (See Luke 16:14-15).  And I don't think rich Christians who give millions of dollars to good causes are more holy than poor Christians who give a few dollars to a good cause (see Mark 12:41-44).  God makes it clear that our actions ultimately come down to the states of our hearts.  I think Steve would agree.  It just might take some time for that sentiment to penetrate his stance on boycotting.