Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Maybe we should boycott the boycotts

I recently came across a campaign run by a large and well known Christian ministry which involved getting people to boycott stores where the staff said happy holidays rather than merry Christmas. There is a number of things that can and have been asked of such a campaign. Some of these include-
- The world is filled with injustice and suffering on a massive scale. Even in the retail sector there is problems like products produced by slave/exploitative labour, environmentally destructive production practices and severely underpaying staff. Is the greeting at the register really the issue we should be focusing on?
- The bible doesn't even command that Christians celebrate Christmas. On what grounds then can we insist on a very specific form of Christmas observance being mandatory on those who don't believe in Jesus?
- This time of year is likely busy and stressful for many retail staff. Shouldn't we be happy they are managing a polite greeting in any form?
- Christmas shopping has become incredibly consumerist and materialistic. How does altering the words used at the register solve the problem? Shouldn't we be looking for an alternative, rather than just changing the label of our existing problem? Can the real meaning of Jesus birth ever be found in a mall?

All these are important questions. One I haven't seen addressed much in all the commentary is what boycotts like this do to our Christian witness. I think we have good reason to be very concerned about the effects.

Picking such relatively petty things to fight against reflects badly on us as representatives of Christ. I don't know what the motives are of those who started this boycott. Maybe they had completely good intentions. The problem is all the good intentions in the world don't count for much if people perceive something else. By insisting that everyone else do even the smallest things how we would like them done we risk coming across as self interested and power hungry. It makes us appear (possibly rightly) to have really messed up priorities. Who would want to become a Christian when this is what we are showing them this is how being a Christian changes how a person acts? Sometimes loosing the battles graciously and letting others have their way will present a much more Christ-like witness that us winning and being able to implement the changes we'd like.

Because there are so many voices vying for everyones attention, most people have a quite short attention span for any group they are not already a part of trying to tell them something. This has serious implications for our witness. If we make ranting about the things we don't like the thing we communicate the loudest, people are not going to waste their time sticking around to hear more from us. We short change people when we use the short bit of attention they have granted us to tell them about our pet peeves rather than the gospel. Telling people to change the words they use to talk about Christmas celebrations does nothing to really help them. Even if we did get a non-Christian to completely agree with all those peeves (which is very very unlikely) without the gospel they would still be unsaved and in no better position than when we first got in their face. When there is actual sin involved (which i don't believe is the case here) the person will be in a much better position to hear and change once they have responded to the gospel and surrendered themselves to God.

Given what this kind of boycott does to our reputation and Christian witness I think maybe the thing that needs boycotting is not the stores but boycotts like this.