The recent boycott of Target, initiated by the American Family Association, has spurred quite the discussion around here at Summit. The following article is not a hard and fast stance on the boycott but rather a set of differing perspectives on how Christians respond to culture. This is more of a conversation than a how-to guide. We hope it will help you think through your response to the ongoing social and political pressure on Christian values.
We’ll start with Summit’s Vice President of Publishing, Karl Schaller, who shares why he supports the boycott of Target. Also joining the conversation is Summit’s Vice President for Advancement, Aaron Atwood, who explains his reasons for opposing the boycott.
Pro-boycott — Karl Schaller
I signed the digital petition to boycott Target retail stores. As of this writing, I am one of 1.2 million people who have done so. Progressives have already labeled me a hater and a bigot by association.
Really? 1.2 million Americans who object to biological males entering women’s restrooms, locker rooms (showers!), and fitting rooms are haters and bigots? Even assuming that the transgender cause is just, implementing such radical policies (policies that would have been considered unthinkable nonsense only a few years ago) could only be done well by a robust democratic conversation. Of course, that’s not what’s happening.
Instead, we have major corporations like Disney, Apple, PayPal, and Sales Force, celebrities like Bruce Springsteen, and politicians like Anthony Cuomo from New York all the way to President Barak Obama, all leveraging major economic, judicial, and political pressure toward changing American society without addressing very real practical concerns and consequences. I think it’s fair to ask where this sort of uncompromising, pugnacious activism will end. Do we know the full force of transformations to come? Is this just the beginning?
Opposed to boycott — Aaron Atwood
At its core, the Target boycott isn’t about bathrooms. It’s about long-settled definitions of gender being suddenly challenged, and culture’s response to that dramatic change. If that’s the ideological situation, how does boycotting Target positively affect the culture at large?
Writing at Christianity Today, Aaron Wilson describes boycotting as setting up a bucket to catch the dripping water in our leaky (cultural) basement. He goes on to suggest that “in the best-case scenario, Target goes back to its long-standing bathroom policy. While this would be great news, you could only call it a tempered victory—no disciples of Jesus would be made and the real underlying problem of sin would still exist.” In other words, even at best, the boycott will only fix the symptom, not the underlying disease.
Target has been promoting a liberal agenda, friendly to homosexuals and transgendered people, for years. Even if Target was forced to rescind its new bathroom policy, the company culture would still be deeply-set against biblical principles.
Breitbart News points out:
On its corporate website, for instance, there are many posts and announcements celebrating the LGBT lifestyle. Furthermore, last year, Target was a corporate sponsor of the “Out & Equal” conference, a summit aimed at forcing corporations into adopting gay-friendly workplace policies. The company was also praised by gay groups for its “It Gets Better” campaign meant to boost the status of homosexuality in the U.S. In addition, Target raised the ire of many with its decision to re-engineer its kids’ sections, when in August of 2015 the chain announced it was eliminating “gender specific” labels and store signage for kids’ clothing and toy sections.
In the 1990s, The American Family Association launched a boycott of Disney along with many other conservative groups. Focus on the Family and the Assemblies of God piled on and challenged their constituents to have nothing to do with Disney. I worked at Focus on the Family on the tail-end of the boycott. The impact?
The Disney stock price has grown steadily from about $7 per share in 1990 to $105 per share today. Focus on the Family is actually hosting a Disney cruise next year, which my family would love to take! Boycotts tend to create more smoke than fire and rarely hurt the company in question. I predict that the current drop in Target’s stock price (down about 7.6 percent to date) will be a blip on the company’s radar.
As American culture has become more polarized, true democratic discourse has become more and more rare. Concerned average citizens are caught off-guard and befuddled by LGBT activism. They don’t see themselves as contributing to discrimination in any form, but are still in the crosshairs of progressive demands. They’re unsure how to respond to such aggressive and powerful societal forces.
In the post-Obergefell world, where all LGBT-related issues are seemingly of equal urgency and importance, power stratagem reigns supreme. The most common power play we’ve seen is progressive activist judges legislating from the bench. Despite most states voting to institute laws that define marriage as between one man and one woman, the Supreme Court changed everything with a single, marginal 5-4 decision, ignoring the voice of the people.
We need to realize that the latest “bathroom wars” are just skirmishes in a much bigger cultural battle, waged between those who hold to America’s historical understanding of morality, based on biblical teaching, and rising new “moralities,” which stress unpreceded new definitions of “equality” and “tolerance,” as well as sexual freedom.
Summit has always taught that ideas have consequences. The Christian worldview maintains that only Christianity paints the true picture of the world in full, and that nations or cultures that ignore or oppose biblical truth will not prosper. In light of that truth, I believe America’s citizens, and especially those in the church, are responsible for, and justified in, responding to this liberal reimagining of America with every tool at their disposal, including economic pressure in the form of a boycott.
Not only will the boycott likely fail (Target’s Chairman and CEO, Brian Cornell, recently reaffirmed their commitment to the transgender cause), but being quick to boycott can hurt our witness. Christians get tagged as “grumpy conservatives” (and frequently called much worse) often enough already, without self-defining ourselves based on a list of stores and businesses we won’t support. Jesus was often labeled as a friend of sinners, and called us to follow in his stead. I personally have a hard enough time building relationships with people who need Jesus without carrying around a list of places where I do business due to the owner’s policy regarding marriage, sexuality, or Christmas.
What do we stand for as Christians? First, that the world and everyone within it is fallen as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Second, that Christ came, was killed for our sins, and was resurrected in triumph over sin and death. All of our cultural engagement should be grounded in those two facts. While we believe other worldviews are ultimately anemic and should be opposed, our methods have never been about power. Chuck Colson would often say that Christians should propose and not impose policy change. Instead of trying to strangle other perspectives, we try to win others to Christ by proclaiming the truth and power of a biblical worldview.
Progressive social engineers should not impose radical values based on flawed worldviews without public, democratic discourse. While seeking sweeping societal change in a matter of micro-seconds after centuries of proven social standards, all mass strategies of response are fair game.
One of these techniques is the tried-and-true method of boycotting places of commerce that advocate positions or utilize service practices I don’t agree with. It’s a strategy that’s been used by liberals and conservatives alike through the years, sometimes effectively, and sometimes not. Warren Cole Smith writes at Breakpoint, “The Birmingham Bus Boycott (and) Gandhi’s Salt March are two of the most successful boycotts of the 20th century, and two that represent moral high-water marks for their respective movements.” (That being said, I do acknowledge Marvin Olasky’s caveat that we be consistent. If you boycott one group, you should boycott every group with a similar position.)
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to me how effective boycotts are, as long as I have a chance — any opportunity — to let my voice be heard. Public expression should be part of the American ideal. If Disney and Bruce Springsteen are able to leverage their influence to champion their views in the public square, I should be able to do the same.
I will exercise my American right to respectful free speech and share my thoughts with my local Target store. And, in the larger public square, I will respond with respect, compassion, and dignity to transgender men and women with the preferred option of unisex, single-occupancy facilities, as Kroger and other retailers have offered.
Target is hardly the only corporation taking a strong stand for the transgender movement. To be consistent, Christians would have to boycott over 407 businesses, including Apple, Comcast, AT&T, Ford, Chevrolet, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, American Apparel, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Walgreens, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Facebook, and Twitter, to name only a few major examples. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth:
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world” 1 Corinthians 5:9–13 (ESV, emphasis added).
Robert Rothwell writes at Ligonier Ministries, “We are to be in the world, and being in this world means participating in the economies of this world. So, we must respectfully disagree with our fellow Christians who insist that all believers are morally obligated to boycott any company that supports sinful behavior. Therefore, we choose to do business with non-Christians. We choose to live among them. We choose to do so in order that we might call them out of darkness and into light.”
We live in Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah challenged the Jewish people to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7 ESV).
So what should we do now?
First, there’s a difference between boycotting, which is an organized attempt to coerce a company into doing something they wouldn’t willingly do on their own, and simply taking your business to another store that better reflects your values. (Joe Carter makes that helpful distinction in an article at The Gospel Coalition.) Each dollar you spend is, in a sense, a vote for that business. The church ought to support stores that line up with our values.
Two examples: Altar’d State is a chic clothing store where, while fairly under the radar in their overt faith, the leadership tries to live a Christian mission. They do tend to be more expensive than Target, however. Rue 21 is more affordable and is bold about its stance on Christian values. Seek out companies you can encourage for their boldness in faith.
A final thought — have real conversations with employees, management, and shareholders of Target. I don’t mean letters to the editor of the local paper, I mean real conversations. The news of the boycott has gotten the attention of Target management; perhaps there’s room to make inroads in the company policy in this conversation. This is where your faith better match your behavior. Ranting and ridicule won’t win those who have a preconceived notion of Christians as bigots to Christ.