Est. May 2008

23 February, 2012

On Christian Boycotting

Over at The Christian Post there’s a lively discussion going on over the biblical soundness of Christians boycotting businesses. Some say yes, others say no.

It’s all in your definition of ‘boycott’.

Joe Carter, editor of and contributor to First Things, makes this apparent when he says:
"While Christians may have legitimate reasons for not using a certain product or associating with a particular business, banding together to cut off commerce to an otherwise licit venture has no obvious biblical warrant."
In this we see two definitions of ‘boycott’: the first is an individual refusing to patronize a particular business or group; the second is usually defined as an organized popular protest against a business or group. As Mr. Carter points out, there is no ‘obvious biblical warrant’ for the latter; I maintain this is because there’s no real reason for it.

When the apostle Paul was in Ephesus, he preached Christ crucified, and part of his message was that idols were not gods – they were man-made statues with no power in them. This didn’t sit well with the idol-smiths of the city, as is evidenced in Acts 19:23-27. In fact, in the words of Demetrius the silversmith, we see what happens when individuals act on their consciences:
About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.” (emphasis mine)
Paul had, according to Demetrius, ‘persuaded and turned away’ people from the purchasing of idols. How? I doubt it was by him telling folks, ‘Don’t buy idols!’ If that had been his message, I think Demetrius would have used that against Paul, since deliberate disruption of city commerce would have been a much firmer foundation on which to build a case against the apostle. What I believe is that Paul’s preaching turned hearts and minds from worshiping false gods, which in turn convinced the people that purchasing idols was a waste of money as well as being sinful.

This is what I call the ‘individual mandate’ (sorry – that term has such a negative connotation right now) against sin and the evil it engenders. The Bible is full of warnings against sin and evil, and how believers (both Christians and those who came before) are to turn from sin and turn to God, to resist sin, to discipline the heart, mind and body against sin, and to (when necessary) flee sin and evil. These, though presented as corporate acts (every believer is to do them), are focused in the individual mind, heart, soul and body; it is the individual heart where this transformation from embracing sin to resisting it comes into play.

When the believer is saved, the Holy Spirit enters him/her and assists with this battle (because of our innate predilection to sin, we can’t fight sin by ourselves). With the Spirit’s assistance, we’re able to ‘boycott’ sin and its accompanying evil more and more easily (though never completely); this in turn becomes manifest in our outward behaviors. But it remains an individual, internal struggle.

Paul wouldn’t have had to tell the Ephesians not to buy idols – when they were saved, the Spirit began working in them to assist them in ‘boycotting’ sin. This internal ‘boycott’ of sin – in this case, the sin of idolatry – manifested as a ‘boycott’ of the idol-smiths: the new Christians wouldn’t buy their idols anymore because they were an unnecessary waste of money, and it was sinful to worship them to boot. In the same vein, Christian leaders don’t (or shouldn’t) have to tell their flocks they should go out and boycott a business or group because that business or group is either engaging directly in sinful acts or is supporting them: Christians ought to be able to tell these businesses/groups are doing so, and should individually ‘boycott’ them. And, just like the Christians of Ephesus and the cities and towns Paul had already visited, their individual ‘boycotts’ of sin and evil will spill over into individual boycotts of the purveyors/supporters of the offending ideology, which in turn will become more and more like a traditional ‘boycott’ as more and more Christians follow their convictions and refuse to patronize the purveyors.

This, I believe, is why there’s no specific mandate in the Bible for ‘organized popular protests’: they’re totally unnecessary.

1 comment:

. said...

I've never really thought about whether a boycott by an individual or group was Biblical or not. You've done a good job of looking at the subject.

Right Truth