Should Christians Boycott Boycotting?

In 1873, a retired British Army captain became the agent for the 3rd Earl of Erne’s estates in County Mayo. It didn’t take long for the old soldier to find that he had taken the wrong job at the wrong time. Local tenant farmers, enraged at the high rents being charged by their English landlords, had begun to organize into a group called the Land League, and the movement was spreading across the Emerald Isle.

When the captain refused to reduce rents after a poor harvest season, the Land League began applying an unconventional tactic. Local residents refused to sell him supplies, tend his fields, or even to speak to him in passing. The landlord was reduced to depending on his wife and daughters to pick the crops while being protected by local constables. Eventually, he gave in and fled Ireland altogether.

The tactic was so effective that newspapers in Britain and America were referring to it by the landlord’s name: Charles Cunnigham Boycott.

More than 130 years later, boycotts have become a staple of nonviolent resistance and economic suasion. Christian groups, in particular, appear to have an affinity for the measure, often using it to apply pressure to wayward corporations. In recent years, conservative Catholics and Protestants have punished Disney for various sundry offenses. More recently, liberals activists have targeted the Komen foundation for defunding Planned Parenthood, while conservative activists objected to J.C. Penny because the company hired a homosexual woman, Ellen DeGeneres, as its spokeswoman.

Who Would Isaiah Boycott?

When deciding whether to use the tactic of boycotting, we tend to fall back on the pragmatic question, “Will it be effective?” Rarely do we weigh the more pertinent consideration: Should Christians even engage in boycotts? And, if so, when can they be legitimately used?

For many Christians in America, to even ask such questions is absurd. Because of their association with the era of civil rights and other laudable movements of the 1960s, boycotts tend to have an air of romance. But while the causes were just, Christians must always be mindful that nonviolence, like just war, can only be considered a necessary evil. As political philosopher Glenn Tinder has explained, the concept of nonviolent resistance never would have occurred to any of the ancient Hebrew prophets. It is worth remembering that while Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian, he learned his principle techniques from the Hindu leader Gandhi rather than from the founder of his own religion.

The tactic affirmed by Jesus, as Tinder correctly notes, was nonresistance, a way of refusing all power, and completely different from nonviolent resistance, which is always stained by the moral impurities inherent in the use of power. Nonviolent resistance also rests on the assumption that human evil is not so deeply ingrained that it cannot be overcome by a display of profound moral courage. The way of nonviolence requires only strength, fortitude, and a naive view of humanity. By contrast, the way of Jesus requires a willingness to be weak, reliance on his redeeming power, and a realistic eschatological hope.

Yet in our fallen world, uses of power—both violent and nonviolent—can sometimes be legitimate and necessary. If boycotts have any lawful role, it would be as part of a greater nonviolent resistance against a government or other institution that has a coercive control over a people. The boycott of public busing in Montgomery during the 1960s is a prime example.

Using such a tactic on a corporation trivializes whatever legitimacy the tactic may have. While Disney and J. C. Penny may be in the wrong, they are not committing evils that justify the use of coercion for their correction. Nonviolent resistance should be weighed carefully, especially in situations when violent resistance would be considered an absurd option. Unless we think that Mickey Mouse and Ellen are legitimate combatants, we should carefully consider why we believe it is necessary to use such a drastic coercive measure.

Rebuke, Don’t Boycott

The righteousness of a cause cannot be imputed to the tactics. Even when we have legitimate concerns about a corporation’s activities, boycotts are almost always an improper abuse of power. Rather than being a loving rebuke, boycotts become a form of moral extortion. By cutting off economic ties with a corporation or business, the boycotters are using coercion to force people to do something they would not willingly do on their own. 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.

To clarify, the term boycott here refers to the act of refusing to use, buy, or deal with a business as an expression of protest or as a means of economic coercion. The concern, for Christians, should be with the coercion part. Simply refusing to participate in an economic transaction with an individual or company is not a boycott. Our choosing not to spend money on lottery tickets is a values-based economic decision, but it is not a form of coercion. As Alan Noble recently said, “Whether it is through votes or dollars, coercing someone to accept our position is nihilistic: it suggests that real change—change of heart and mind—is impossible, or unlikely, and so the safest bet is to make it profitable to adopt our beliefs.”

Forcing someone to adopt our beliefs—whether by violence or economic threat—is a questionable use of our economic power. “Nonviolent resistance,” Tinder writes in his book Political Thinking, “is a way of using power and is thoroughly political.” Tinder’s claim brings to mind the claim of the brilliant Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz: “War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.” Nonviolent resistance may sometimes be a legitimate political act. But by mixing in the coercive tactic of boycotts we may be turning away from righteousness toward an unjust form of economic warfare.

  • bill royland

    What a timely article, i’ve had a few discussions on the whole Illuminati thing, and how we believers should expect sinners to act in these ways. I know it’s not the same as how boycott is defined here but it’s along the lines [ to me ] of not trusting in the preached word as change. thoughts

  • Ed Dingess

    Bravo! Excellent article that every Christian (in America anyways) should read and meditate on. I have always thought boycotting did far more harm to the Christian message and ethic than it did good.

  • Christopher Heward

    I disagreed for most the article but your explanation towards the end makes sense, but I would disagree with your definition of boycott. If I refused to shop at Tesco because of unethical behaviour in their production line and how they engage with their suppliers, and also their negative impact on local business, this is essentially me boycotting the company, even more so if I suggest to friends they do (presuming they’re doing so as their own decision). Sometimes the explicit desire of wanting that corporation to change their behaviour is a motivating factor, but it might simply be that I want that company to disappear and go out of business? Isn’t that a legitimate thing, a key part of the free market where we make decision on what goods to buy as a result of values we hold and the need we have for the goods and services they provide? Isn’t the implication if I refuse to buy there is that I don’t think anyone should buy there given the current state of the company, and therefore I hope they either change or fold? This is where it sounds we might disagree?

    In terms of agreement, I think what you allude to towards the end is spot on. We can change people’s practices but does that change their heart, either in terms of the ultimate question (faith in Christ) or in terms of their views of justice, mercy, humility, etc., what you could call Kingdom principles? To just focus on the outward and forget about their humanity and need for salvation of those in those companies, to demonise them and see them as worthless is completely wrong. But then on the other hand, think about the slave trade; if they waited for all individuals to voluntarily stop purchasing slaves then think of the misery for the slaves themselves; wouldn’t it be better to legislate against it and hope that by other means over time the slave traders have a change of heart and realise their practices were wrong. You can’t legislate against people’s sinful hearts, but you can legislate to protect the vulnerable from exploitation, which for me is the sole, Biblical purpose of Government (and any of us can be vulnerable at certain times in certain situations).

    This might sound irrelevant nowadays, but that’s what the whole FairTrade movement is about in a sense (is this movement well known in The States?). A lot of chocolate companies source their chocolate through supply chains that use either forced or child (or both) labour. So by boycotting those goods we can help incentivise them to change their procedures so that the lives of millions of other people are improved and millions of customers can then buy the kinds of products they want to buy (and this is important – perhaps without a boycott the companies wouldn’t know what their customers would prefer to buy?). For me the biggest concern is that the companies look good when in reality they’ve only changed because of, like you say, the profit motive, meaning, in my eyes, the company isn’t much better.

    So for me the issue is: is the issue relevant (your example about a homosexual spokesperson sounds like it isn’t, unless there are other circumstances making it relevant), is it for the benefit of others, is there some effort made to change the heart of the individual/company as well as the behaviour, and is there a constant reminder that the individuals are people, people who need saving and not demonising, and whom should always been seen in this light?


    • cory hentzelman

      I disagree with this article entirely. I am not bound by any moral obligation to purchase any product from any company. If I don’t like the color red I am free to boycott Kmart and Target. No company is entitled to my money,therefore if I withhold my money I have done no wrong.
      I have never participated in a boycott. It is naive to think that real live Christians believe that boycotts are an attempt to change the hearts of people within an organization. I have considered boycotting chocolate produced with slave labor. If I follow that course my intention would not be to change the hearts of individuals at a candy company. My intention would be to see that I am making the market unfavorable to injustice. If I did that I would have in no way wronged the company they are not entitled to a transaction with me. Just as those companies are free to advertise how delicious their chocolate is I am just as free to advertise how disgusting their slavery is. If in this case the company folds what has been lost?
      We live in a time when everything is being evaluated and reevaluated. Do not forget freedom in your evaluation. The Bible does not speak about boycotts.

      • Ed Dingess

        Choosing not to shop at a particular store is not a “boycott.” If you do decide to boycott chocolate produced with slave labor, don’t forget also to boycott everything produced with slave labor, oh, and child labor, oh, and labor where women are not paid the same wage for the same work, oh, and…….

  • Ed Dingess

    So here are the facts of reality when it comes to businesses and how they conduct themselves. In every business owned and controlled by unregenerate humans there exists ungodly and unethical practice and routines as well as philosophies. I cannot justify boycotting this business down the street while I fill my gas tank at the station across the street without displaying obvious inconsistency which others would be quick to call hypocrisy and probably rightly so. Where does one draw the line? And why draw the line there? The greatest sin any business engages in is its refusal acknowledge and thank God for its existence and health. Why would I boycott for other sins and not this one?

    Secondly, boycotting is rarely perceived as Christians standing for the truth. Rather, it is viewed as bullying. They think that if they don’t accept our views, we are going to punish them economically. They may wonder what other ways we would punish them if we could.

    • Christopher Heward

      Maybe you need to think about where you buy your gas from then, or how much you buy, depending on what the issue you allude to is? For me the issue is if it exploits the vulnerable, i.e. their decisions impact other people/creation.

      I agree that people should be concerned primarily about the heart of the individuals selling the goods, but if their activities harm other people then is it better to carry on buying their goods than to abstain and apply pressure to change? As to whether it is bullying, is it not (depending on the issue and the circumstances) actually peopel holding that company to account for their actions? If a teacher says to a child “if you don’t change your behaviour then I will send you to the headmaster’s office” would we call that bullying by the teacher, or would we could it holding the child to account for their actions? It doesn’t solve the issue in the sense the child might have underlying issues that need dealing with, but it means the teacher and the rest of the class can concentrate and the child can begin to think about whether their actions, behaviour and mindset is correct. Surely this is similar, in that we want to limit the damage of companies and hope they reconsider their behaviour in the future whilst they are being penalised?

      I definitely agree that if it is done as a ‘Christian campaign’ then care must be taken as to how loving and constructive the campaign is (and individual Christians joining another campaign must consider this also), but I really struggle to see why there’s reluctance to hold companies to account for their actions?

      • Ed Dingess

        Gasoline is a perfect example! Where do we get our gas from? Who profits the most from the gasoline we buy? And even for those small amounts that have their source outside the Middle East, do you honestly think they are clean? Why draw the line at hurting people? That is nothing more than a social concern. Why is it wrong to hurt people? It is wrong because it violates the law of God. What unregenerate person does NOT violate the law of God in one way or another? What business has not laid people off, not to actually keep from going out of business, but rather to make sure their profits don’t drop below x billion or million?

        My point is that the idea of boycott is not supported in Scripture itself. It actually serves as a distraction from the gospel more than draw positive attention to it. Finally, you can’t engage in it without being guilty of arbitrariness of method. It is a no-win proposition.

        All that being said, if a person wants to shop someplace else for personal reasons, they are free to do so. But that is not really what we mean when we say boycott. And this opens another can of worms: pride! People who boycott have a strong tendency to criticize others for not joining them. If you think that boycotting is a moral imperative, you have no choice but to confront Christians who do not go along with you. If it is the right thing to do according to Scripture, then you have no other choice. But if you are wrong, then you end up with dangerous legalistic practices that are more of a threat to Christianity than the sins of the object being boycotted. Make sense?

        • Christopher Heward

          I ride my bike everywhere so I’m not the best person to ask this question ;)

          I think the thing with dishonouring God is that God will make recompense for that, God can defend himself. I assume that you’re not saying we should have a Christian totalitarian regime to make sure non-Christians don’t offend God, and given that you say that it is wrong to draw a line somewhere, does that therefore mean that you think there shouldn’t be a line at all? If we’re not going to stop people offending God then we shouldn’t bother stopping people doing anything at all? Is this not the natural conclusion of what you say? Is the conclusion therefore that there should be no Government, police or suchlike at all because they’re skirting round the issue of an unregenerate heart?

          Now, I’m assuming that you don’t think this (after all Paul says God has appointed these forces/services) so clearly you think there is a line somewhere? I would suggest that it is to protect people who are vulnerable to exploitation. This would include unborn babies, victims of crime (burglary, rape, violence, theft, etc.), forced labour, to name but a few, and also some level of environmental degradation, as we are called to be stewards of the earth, and because a lot of the negative effects impact the vulnerable the most (those who through no fault of their own have been born where they can’t protect themselves from excessive heat, lack of water, famine, and suchlike).

          As to whether boycott is Biblical, firstly it depends on your definition. If it is withholding your money from buying somewhere then it is completely Biblical, as it is up to people where they spend their money in a free market, which is largely what is given in the Bible (with the caveat of the Jubilee and cancellation of debts, and how property is stewarded not owned). If it is about taking action to make those people to change their behaviour, then whilst I hear your concerns, there is one immediate example that comes to mind – Jesus in the temple courts. He didn’t just not buy from them, he turned the tables over. He knew it would anger the traders and others as well, but he knew it was a jusst cause and it was important to make a stand. Obviously not. He saw that they were exploiting the vulnerable (those without access to the temple) and took action to rectify the situation. Like I say, there are concerns to be had, plus I don’t think we can use this example and use it as an excuse to get angry at everything we want, but I think it’s wrong to say that boycotts of some sort weren’t used in the Bible.

          On your final point, that’s why I said assuming the people want to join in with you, rather than being compulsed. As the other Christians aren’t the ones committing the error (it is the company), this is where changing their heart might come before their behaviour. To explain what the issue is with what they’re doing, and why you feel it is right to make a stand. If the person then refuses then they’ll hopefully tell you their reasons and you can go from there in a relational manner and decide whether you want to pursue it or leave that person be.

          I think also we need to avoid saying that because an action is done in an unhelpful way by some Christians that that action shouldn’t be taken by any other Christians at all (I mean, if a Christian doesn’t tell his Christian friend that he shouldn’t be committing adultery and instead posts it on Facebook, which is clearly wrong, does that mean no-one should ever confront their friend about adultery? Doesn’t it just mean the methods used were incorrect?)

          Thanks :)

          • Adriana

            If an a corporation is “committing evils that justify the use of coercion for their correction” then I say overturn the tables!!! but using this tactic against the prostitutes and tax collectors because I see them as “combatants” the “Hillsboro” way is foolish at best and disgusting at worst.

    • Adriana

      Your comment is brilliant Mr. Dingess. I’ve always had the same concern as you ” where does one draw the line?” And yes, the message we Christians display to the world with this behavior is ugly and does more harm to the witness of the gospel. After all Jesus DID NOT boycott sinners! He ate dinner with them.

      • Wesley

        I believe what Mr. Dingess is doing is falsely setting all sin on equal ground. I’m not saying that one sin is any less punishable by God, because all unrighteousness will receive punishment “overflowing with righteousness,” as it says in Isaiah. I am also not disregarding Christ’s Sermon on the Mount i.e. that the issue lies in the heart, that unjust anger is the same sin as murder, and that lust in the mind actually is adultery; however, there are explicit warnings and curses to be found in the OT against those who are in power who abuse and fail to protect those who are needy, poor, widowed, and orphaned.

        A company that refuses to honor God, as in praising and thanking Him as the Creator, who is to be blessed forever, WILL be punished for that sin EXACTLY, so every company that is guilty of that will be punished equally. This doesn’t mean that Christians just disregard corporate practices. Why? Because actions actually DO mean something. I believe that the LORD actually does care how the poor, needy, widowed, and orphaned are treated, and when companies take advantage of those such as that, that they bring greater punishment upon their own heads. Not only have they dishonored and refused to acknowledge God, they abuse and refuse to acknowledge the responsibility with which He has blessed them, if but by common grace. I hold that each man will be judged and punished according to his deeds; Hell is bad, period, but I don’t believe that those particular sins are just thrown into one, homogenous sorting bin.

        P.S. He didn’t boycott sinners, but He did boycott, or at least rebuke, those who had the responsibility to teach those sinners the Law and the Scriptures.

        • Ed Dingess

          Nowhere have I said that all sin is equal. What I have said is that if one thinks it right to boycott, then how do you determine which sin merits the boycott. How can I boycott Ford over it’s homosexual policies and not boycott GM over it’s abortion policies? Or how do I justify boycotting Disney, all the while lining the pockets of big oil and the middle eastern oppressors with gold? When an skeptic challenges me on my boycotting method, how do I avoid the appearance of inconsistency and hypocrisy if, at the foundation, I am boycotting companies for violating God’s law? It is an impossible task. Moreover, if we are not careful, for the sake of consistency, we will not be able to trade with anyone if the rate of our moral decline continues along its present trajectory!

          Finally, I never said we are not to confront. I agree with the article that a Christian response is rebuke rather than boycott. Google respectable sins if you don’t have that book. It is well worth the read. It will change your life.

  • Ed Dingess

    Modern evangelicalism thinks we bring about change from the outside in. That idea is patently unbiblical. Change begins on the inside as God works the miracle of regeneration. Preach the gospel directly, without compromise, in love and God does the rest. We may plant, we may water, but it is ALWAYS God who produces the miracle. God chose a foolish method (preaching) coupled with a foolish message (the cross) to save! Read 1 Corinthians 1-3 for a great overview on Pauline epistemology.

  • http://TheGospelCoalition tn

    The authors comment, “The righteousness of a cause cannot be imputed to the tactics. Even when we have legitimate concerns about a corporation’s activities, boycotts are almost always an improper abuse of power.” Semantics…
    Another christian with a myopic vision of how we ought not to do anything but preach the gospel and make sure we don’t come across to the world as not to offend them or upset them, after all it might impede the spread of the gospel…
    So glad I wasn’t a Jew living in Germany during WWII and Mr Carter was my neighbor. Wouldn’t want to offend anyone. Thank you Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    • Ed Dingess

      Are you directing your comments to me or to the author? Your reference to the holocaust is irrelevant to the discussion. The question to boycott or not is a very narrow one. This has nothing whatever to do with offending or not offending. The gospel is indeed offensive. If you have heard a gospel that does not offend the unregenerate, you need to stop by my church. The true gospel of Christ is very offensive to the world.

      The question is rather simple: does the Bible support the concept of Christian boycotting? The short answer is, no, it does not! That does not mean that you don’t stand up for what is right and against what is wrong. That is not the question. Somehow, we are assuming that “not boycotting” equals “not offending” or “not taking a stand.” The Christian response to sin and injustice is rebuke, not some politically organized process designed to address external change. Christians aren’t interested, biblical Christians aren’t primarily interested in external change. We aren’t after justice. We are after your soul! If Christ captures the soul, the external change will come and it will be lasting because it will be founded on a deeper, more lasting internal change which is real change.

      If we spent half as much time preaching the gospel as we do meddling in politics, we would be doing well. We are not a political movement nor are we a social movement. Christianity is a supernatural movement of God in the world. We are His light! He chose the message and the method!

    • Joe Carter

      Another christian with a myopic vision of how we ought not to do anything but preach the gospel and make sure we don’t come across to the world as not to offend them or upset them, after all it might impede the spread of the gospel…

      Whoa, whoa. . . that’s not my view at all. I am certainly not one of those “since laws can’t change hearts, we don’t need to change laws.”

      And there aren’t too many people that know me or have read my writings that would think that I have an aversion to offending/upsetting people. If anything, my problem is that I am too prone to provoke.

      My point in this article is merely to point out that as Christians we should be careful about abusing our power. And, as many other commenters have noted, we have arbitrary standards for boycotts. Should we stop shopping at any company that has an openly homosexual spokesperson? What about if they have an openly homosexual employee? Pretty soon, we’ll reach the point where we have to rationalize why we boycott one company and not another that does the same thing.

      So glad I wasn’t a Jew living in Germany during WWII and Mr Carter was my neighbor. Wouldn’t want to offend anyone. Thank you Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

      I realize you are being facetious, but you seem to have missed in the article where I said the reason that boycotts should be avoided is because they “trivializes whatever legitimacy the tactic may have.”

  • Marty T

    Excellent….and about time the issue is addressed in a public forum. I remember the boycott over the release of The Last Temptation of Christ. The boycott brought media attention to the movie and drove thousands to go see it. Perhaps a full-page ad encouraging movie watchers to read the gospels for an alternate view might have been more effective. Thank you.

  • bill royland

    Maybe we should just grow our beards and move to Pennsylvania. When Jesus states that all institutions will fail except the church we all believe that. I guess the question that remains is how much we can force, enforce, coerce, compel the larger society and corporations CEO and it’s boards toward compassion, justice and stewardship of this world.But I think the argument could be made that the Quakers and Mennonites are far ahead [ or behind ] on we ipad bloggers.

  • http://TheGospelCoalition tn

    Furthermore, as a business person for over three decades, Mr Carter practices a form of boycotting for “personal” or “financial” reasons all the time and no doubt speaks to family and friends about why he does so even expecting to influence their financial decisions! Who hasn’t decided to no longer patronize a business because the employees have become unfriendly? How many have decided to switch their banking business to another due to high banking fees or outrageous interest payments? How many have read a consumer reports article touting the dangers of contaminated imported baby food or unsafe baby products or other consumer products and decides to no longer support those companies or businesses and even tells their friends in conversation why they have done so. Mr. Carter is practicing a form of boycotting whether he realizes it or not. Did Mr. Carter not observe the mass exodus of unhappy consumers when Netflixs decided to increase their user fees? So for a financial reason, or a safety issue, or personal issue, well that’s OK, but if a Christian believer decides to no longer patronize a corporation or business due to moral or ethical reasons, (exploitation of woman or children, the supporting of millions of dollars to fund abortion oversees, expansion of anti-family values here and abroad, etc, etc, etc.) and we give our friends or family this information as to why we could no longer support these companies (information that might be influenced to follow) …well Mr Carter is bothered with that. So its OK to do things for financial or personal gain, but we better be careful if we’re doing it for moral or ethical reasons? Please…

    • Ed Dingess

      I love it when people ignore the real subject and muddy the waters with issues that are completely unrelated.

      Boycott: to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (as a person, store, or organization) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions

      No one should understand boycott as simply a matter of preference due to poor service or a shift in fees that are no longer competitive. Give me a break. Here is another definition you may need to put on your list:

      Context: the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning.

      It is clear that the author is not talking about the free markets or one’s freedom to choose who they will do business with. When we think BOYCOTT, a very specific behavior comes to mind. And it isn’t firing my bank because they started charging fees for a debit card.

      • Eric Muraguri

        tn isn’t “muddying the waters” the word Boycott encompasses BOTH what tn, yourself and the author of the article are talking about. Yourself and Mr. Carter are only talking about a specific type of boycott not ALL forms of boycott as your definition says “…..usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions.” Those “certain conditions” could be financial e.g. bank charging fees on debit cards (the a moral case could be made for extortion) or moral e.g. Starbucks for Gay Marriage (since when did selling coffee have anything to do with lobbying for marriage rights?). No distinction is made.

        That’s why trying to separate them IMO is a bit of a false argument. Since when did engaging with a particular company become such a right that when I don’t engage with them it’s “punishment”? I don’t owe Starbucks or JC Penney my money every time I want coffee or clothes and whether I stop engaging with them because my wallet or my concious complains is inconsequential. Romans 14 is important here.

        • Ed Dingess

          Every conversation takes place within a specific context. The context of this conversation involves the standard definition of boycott. A boycott, in this context involves a group, first and foremost. Secondly, since we are talking about the consequent abuse of power, the idea has noithing to do with personal shopping preferences. When you leave Starbucks you are not trying to FORCE them to adopt your views. You simply prefer to do business with someone who shares your values. Free markets at work! The whole danger is the abuse of power via moral extortion in the form of consumer activism. This necessarily implies a GROUP of Christians rallying around Starbucks for example (hypothetical of course) and protesting until Starbucks gets in line and marches along with their beliefs.

          • Eric Muraguri

            This is why I think this particular context is at best incomplete and at worst false. The relationship between the consumer and company is nothing like was painted by the first story in the article. The Captain showed more abuse of power (or lack of any Social IQ and business skills) than his tenants.

            “The whole danger is the abuse of power via moral extortion in the form of consumer activism.”

            How is a group of people refusing to do business with a company “abuse of power”? That implies that power was initially given to take care of the company’s interest and was subsequently used to damage it. Which is clearly not the case. The group did the same thing as the individual they simply stopped dealing with a company that violated there values and have every right to do so. Like you said Free Markets. Nothing more or nothing else. Calling it “force” or “economic warfare” are for things like sanctions on North Korea or South Africa during apartheid (which hurt the poor in this countries and in the case of South Africa crippled the economy and…….ended apartheid). Not some Christians refusing to buy coffee from Starbucks. It’s just a company subject to market conditions like every other company not a Country (where boycotting financially might be an).

            Christians have a responsibility to ensure to the best of one’s knowledge the institutions they put there money in aren’t adding to the mess that’s already the world. Doesn’t mean one will get it right all the time but a line is better than no line. Besides having lines are a brilliant way of showing one where their heart truly is.

            • Ed Dingess

              This is the kind of standard I am talking about. Do you have any idea the number of companies that AREN’T contributing to this ungodly world’s ungodly condition?

              This means we need to review the policies and investments of every company we do business with. That is going to take some time. I would contend that such a view is rediculous and legalistic at its core. It is one more rule to follow that has nothing to do with a sinful heart. I walk into Lowes Foods and purchase a gallon of milk. I don’t realize that Lowes Foods supports some political idea that is opposed to biblical principles. This means I sinned? I wasn’t being a responsible Christian? I really think you need to step back and think about what your suggesting. It is a standard that you nor I, or anyone else can live up to nor should we be compelled to try. Sin comes from the heart, not by shopping at the wrong merchant, and not by getting involved in outward moral coercion of a culture that only God can change from the inside out. Go tell someone about Jesus. We spend time boycotting when we could be sharing the gospel, discipling someone, and serving the poor.

  • Steve Cornell

    On one level, I found myself thinking of a quote from M. L. King: “The law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.” The whole enterprise of lawmaking and policy building is a different matter in a democratic/representative form of government. And this is what I mostly thought about in relation to the concerns you raised.

    The line that really caught my attention was reference to something having “no obvious biblical warrant.” Herein lies one of our primary challenge. There is simply no explicit parallel in Scripture to the form of government we in the US of A live in/under. Biblical truths and principles about government reach God’s people in all places with both binding authority and overlapping application (e.g. Daniel 4; Acts 17:26-27;Romans 13:1ff; I Peter 2:13-14). We can look to the prophets and learn much about divine concern for justice and protection of the vulnerable. In Jesus, we find the teaching of non-resistance as a personal ethic for His followers (although, I am uneasy about binding this ethic too closely to how the followers of Jesus function in the context of government).

    But, at the end of the day, none of this instruction was delivered to people who lived in/under the form of government I experience. So what does responsible citizenship look like for Christians when they are part of “We the people….” Am I called (by God) to be a voice at the table as a matter of responsible citizenship? Does non-participation equal disobedience? More importantly, what does Christian participation look like in attitude, posture, voice, and overall influence? Perhaps this is what you are most concerned about.

    And how does all of this apply to the recent uproar over the Obama Administration refusing religious organizations exemption from purchasing health insurance that covers abortion related drugs and procedures. I just posted about my uneasiness over this. (see: )

    • Ed Dingess

      I have gone back and forth over the issue of Christian responsibility within a democracy like ours. I hold to a balance of involvement at the direction of one’s conscience. For example, if there were laws compelling one to vote, then refusal to vote would be unlawful and contrary to God’s law since voting in no way violates God’s law. But I fear that Christians in the demoncracy begin with what makes for a good citizen in that democracy and proceed from there to tell us what makes for a good citizen Christian in that democracy. The temptation to legalism is great here.

      For example, I am very attuned to the political landscape. Personally, I think it is terrible not to exercise one’s right to vote.

      The right to participation is not the same as the requirement to participate. Our freedom extends to a right not to participate, even though I abhor, personally, the exercising of that right. I am unable to criticize non-participation from a Biblical perspective, even though I desperately want to at times.

  • cw

    only took 11 comments for Godwin’s law to come into full effect…'s_law

  • Phil Schomber

    I tend to agree, whatever one’s opinion on the legitimacy of boycotts in general, more thought ought to be given to what we decide to boycott. The possibility of trivializing a cause and/or inconsistent application are real dangers we ought to avoid.

  • Adriana

    If an a corporation is “committing evils that justify the use of coercion for their correction” then I say overturn the tables!!! but using this tactic against the prostitutes and tax collectors because I see them as “combatants” the “Hillsboro” way is foolish at best and disgusting at worst.

  • Roger Patterson

    I had posted a similar line of thinking back in November of 2010 on my blog–specifically calling the boycotting tactics “Christian Extortion.” One of the commentors remarked that we can’t call it extortion because extortion is illegal. Not exactly a solid argument, but I do agree that we are using coercion to get behavior that we want to see.

    More significantly, it becomes moralistic and behavioristic, not focused on bringing the Gospel into the conversation.

  • Marie

    So I should get my lampshades from Auschwitz? Really?

    • Ed Dingess

      Purchase them from wherever you like. You are free. No one can rightly criticize you for your decision, nor should you criticize others for their decision.

      But this isn’t how it works. What we do is not only boycott, but we judge others for doing business with merchants that we would not. In so doing, we have just placed our personal preferences down as universal laws and judged our brother or sister. May it never be!

      • mel

        Can I chose not to consider a fellow Christian for my inner circle of wise counsel if they think the thing that I think is ridiculous to support with money is not worth considering? Is that considered judging? How do we decide who is wise enough to have input with our spiritual lives?

        • Ed Dingess

          I think it is wise to have a diverse set of counselors in your inner circle so long as they are genuinely saved and walk in the way of Christ. In your specific case, to render a concrete judgment is impossible because I do not know the situation. However, if you only disagree on a particular cause or matter of conscience, I do not see that being enough to justify separation. Only unrepentant immorality and heresy can justify such actions according to Scripture.

  • Ed Dingess

    On the one hand, if you engage in the practice of boycotting, you cannot defend the necessary arbitrary nature of your boycotting policy. Consistency is impossible to maintain. No one seems to want to deal with that spotlight shinning in the face of this argument. Why this evil and not that one?

    Second, what is worse, mistreating human beings -or- being a blasphemer? Mistreating humans or mistreating God? If you are going to boycott for human mistreatment, shouldn’t you boycott for mistreatment of God also?

    What about the opposite effect? Suppose people think you boycott companies because you oppose the values reflected in their policies. Does this mean you endorse the values reflected in the policies of the companies you don’t boycott?

    The more I think about about boycotting, the more I think it is a really bad idea. And we have just been talking about this for a hour or two. Imagine if we really sat down worked through all the ethical questions involved. Wow.

  • Adriana

    One thing that wasn’t discussed was the impact of such behavior on the non-Christian being singled out and targeted by a boycott. While I could understand not doing business with a company that you know oppresses or abuses people yourself, I don’t understand the rallying of Christians to the shunning of a person for being “a sinner ” as in the case of Ellen Degeneres with Jcpenney. It was disturbing because it threw a spotlight on an individual and that is hurtful. So are we supposed to go down the line and boycott every company with spokesperson that has committed adultery, fornication, gossiped, etc. Ya lets do that…..It reminded me of when kids in a cafeteria get up from a table and leave when a kid they reject sits down to eat with them. It’s just plain mean. We are called to draw the line and stand up against evil but not to go down the line pointing our fingers at individuals yelling “sinner!” …..or getting up from the table.

    P.S. well you could get up from the table yourself but to rally all the kids around you to do it together….that’s another story.

  • Ed Dingess

    I just watched an entire PCA Presbytery permit an illicit divorce, watch the husband file charges after 2.5 years of pleading with the former spouse, watched that spouse resign the church, watch the session allow it, and then watched the presbytery do nothing about it. I spoke with the pastor and a man on the presbytery, two men with over 60 years of ministry between them. Both of them told me 1) Reconciliation between that couple is not necessary in order for the wife to genuinely repent and 2) She resigned anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

    My point is that the church is in desperate need of getting her act together if she ever wants to really shine the true light of the gospel to a lost world. We are worrying about boycotting and we can’t even carry out the simplest, clear cut cases of church discipline.

    • bill royland

      Ed, that is a sad story. It sounds like some good ammo for the pro gay crowd.Ichabod

      • Ed Dingess

        That is the very question I asked both of those teaching elders. If this man’s wife can repent without reconciling with him, then what of homosexual behavior? They would not answer me. The one told me I was an intellectual bully just trying to correct the whole world. I told him I wish every pastor approached their job with the goal of changing the whole world. We might just experience another reformation. Sadly, he did not get it at all.

        • Sad

          But you aren’t God Ed. You need to remember that when you try to apply rules

          • Ed Dingess

            Thanks for reminding me. I always seem to forget that. Why is that when I apply prohibitive rules (something everything MUST do), that I need to be reminded that I am NOT God while others who prefer unrestrictive rules don’t need to be reminded they are not God?

            If you want to engage in the merits of this discussion based on the principles of Scripture, that is great. But leave the empty and rather foolish insults out of the conversation. They have place here to begin with and secondly, they can and often do lead to sin which is something we all prefer to avoid I’m sure.

  • Rachael

    Something seems just a bit off in this article. I think Mr. Carter is misapplying certain principles one would want to heed when being persecuted for one’s individual faith. He is comparing apples to oranges when he talks about what Jesus would have done in regards to boycotts…Nonresistance? I don’t see Jesus as a pacifist when it comes to anything–in fact, he advised his disciples to take a sword with them on their journeys, and obviously Peter was “packing” in the Garden. And, we’re told to stand for truth and to be salt and light! I don’t know of any Christian who thinks they can force a heart change, but we certainly can make a difference in our culture and promote goodness and purity by speaking out, whether it be with our lips or our pocketbooks. Part of the reason America has slid as far as it has is because Christians cave on so many things. We’ve got to be vigilant, standing for the good. Besides, why would I WANT to give my money to sodomite-promoting businesses or baby-killing research firms employed by food companies? If we know who to avoid, we ought to put our money elsewhere, supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ who are trying to make a living.

    • Ed Dingess

      Jesus’ instructions to the disciples should not be taken too literal here. The point that He is making is that extremely desperate times are approaching. The saying would have arrested the attention of the disciples. Giving up one’s garment in order to purchase a sword would indicate seriousness of a very dire situation ahead.

      If you don’t see Jesus as a pacifist, then what was He? He bowed His head and died when He could have called legions of angels in an instant. Jesus was not after social reform. He was no moralist. Modern Christianity has become filled with religious moralists who rarely bother themelves with the real gospel. Christianity is used as a means to ease their wicked conscience. They attend church regularly, have a cool pastor, with cool music, and they even be involved in social good. But inside, they are corrupt deceivers who know not Christ and their good works does nothing to offset their carnality which is always laid bare before God.

      Ever since Christianity became enamored with politics (4-5th century), she has been distracted by the glamour, the power, and the fame that comes with it. Such is the nature of man.

      You will never make a difference in a person’s life until there is a heart-change. What good is changing the culture if you have no heart change. The people who are the hardest toward the gospel are those moralists who “try to do as much good as they can.” We have to get the culture lost and damned before we can get her saved. She has to realize she is miserable, under judgment, in need of a Savior first.

      There must be a fundamental change in Christianity before she can even begin to affect the culture. We are so baptized in American culture that we cannot even begin to recognize the scope of change we must do before we can get to the culture. 30 years of seek-sensitive, emeergent nonsense has almost destroyed the church. If Christ had not guaranteed to preserve her, I would hold little hope. But thank God He did. And He will, even if she is reduced to .5% of the entire population of the world. Who knows, we may be there now. I believe that the overwhleming majority of people who name Christ do not know him, at least in American culture. Boycotts are going to fix our problem? That is the answer? Paul said that God saves the world (changes cultures) through the foolishness of the preaching of the gospel, not through moral coercion using economic punishment as a means to get our way. Punishment belongs to the domain of God.

  • Rachael

    It’s not moralism to do the right thing and keep God’s law if your heart is right, doing it out of love for Christ. Yep, it’s the Gospel, not rules, that changes people’s hearts, but a Christian’s heart’s desire is to see God glorified with the beauty of holy living, not for culture to become a moral cesspool which encourages more wickedness and ruins people’s lives.

    • Ed Dingess

      Only God can change the culture. The question before us is what does God expect of us in a culture like this? This culture is filled with the same sin that Paul’s culture was filled with. Where in Scripture did Paul actually teach the early Church the principle of boycotting? He didn’t. He instructed them to proclaim the good news of the gospel. He told them that God specifically chose a foolish method to communicate a foolish message to save foolish people SO THAT no one could boast!

      Does the NT Scripture teach that Christians should reprove, rebuke, exhort, and correct? Yes, and it does so unambiguously. Our goal is not to create a morally good society in terms of uniformity to the Christian ethic. The goal of the Christian society is to enlarge itself by preaching the gospel of Christ and reaping the reward of God’s regenerative power in the lives of His elect. When we focus on surface issues like boycotting and political distractions to the extreme, we forget our purpose. The culture is changed by a city that is a light on the hill, living the life Christ set before her and proclaiming the that Jesus saves, redeems, and delivers!

      We have people out there boycotting corporations who, at the same time, are engaged in sex outside of marriage with their boyfriend or girlfriend. And they think they are doing something good by being involved in the boycott. We have churches who won’t discipline a soul if their life depended on it and yet they will organize and execute a boycott because of some corporations policies on homosexuality. If people are not careful, boycotting can be the fast lane to legalism on one hand and hypocrisy on the other. I see it every day.

      • Adriana

        Shepherds are required to discipline their sheep to reconcile them to God with a fathers love. We are to hold our brothers accountable for their actions and strive to bring them to repentance because we love them. We are not called to go out and discipline the world through coercion and rejection tactics. That’s not our job. Our responsibility is to preach the gospel and you can’t do that while rejecting the unsaved.

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  • Jack Van Fossen

    The reverse of boycotts can also occur. I actually went out and shopped at JC Penney February 18th to show my support of their decision to use Ellen Degeneres as a spokesperson. Companies who do the right thing shouldn’t risk being spanked by the right wing of Christiandom when there are reasonable/rational people out there who don’t share the same view.

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  • Jeff Rossignol

    The only answer is to preach the Gospel and hope Christians will earn positions in coporations that keep the companies somewhat Biblical moral.
    By the definition of ‘boycott” above, Christians SHOULD NOT avoid strip clubs or adult bookstores. We should lovingly support them, right? Abviously Not.
    With that said, in the consumer / producer world you “vote” with your wallet. Purchasing is consumer feedback to the company that is providing you a service. If your company blatantly promotes evil, not only will I not buy from you but I will tell everyone to avoid your company.
    May companies that promote evil, either change their ways or go out of business. That is what the free market system is all about.

  • john

    Are you kidding me? Of course we should boycott companies that are promoting anti-Chistian ideas. The gays do it. That’s why it getting to be in our society where the abomination is Christianity instead of homosexuality. Christians need to be less materialistic. Boycotts are often no fun, but if a company promotes things that are ani-Christian then it is our duty not to give the money God gave us to them.