If you follow the news or even pop culture, you know that public bathroom usage as it relates to gender identity is a hot topic as of late.
In response to new laws and countermeasures, Target has taken a stand saying it will now allow customers to use restrooms that best relate to one’s perceived gender. In other words, men can be in the restroom with women and vice versa.
As is typically the case with any national issue, social media has been ablaze with opinions on both ends of the spectrum. On the side I’m on, one social call to action has stood above the rest: Boycott!
Chances are you’ve likely seen or been invited to join an online petition to boycott Target. I understand the sentiment and appeal of such an action. Hit board members where it hurts – their wallet. Stand up for truth. Click a few petition links and play a part in being the salt of the earth.
It sounds like an easy and impactful way to take a stand, but is boycotting a corporation the best way to reflect Christ in light of the issues at stake? I propose it’s not. In fact, I think a strategy of cultural engagement that has boycotting as its nucleus is doomed to undermine the true effectiveness of biblical evangelism. Here are a few reasons why:
Boycotting Ignores the Real Problem of a Gospel-less Culture
Boycotting typically focuses its efforts on reducing the ripple effects of the real problem. Think of it like this: You have a leak in your basement that’s causing water to drip into a bucket you’ve placed underneath. You call in a plumber but instead of focusing on the pipe where the source of the leak lies, he spends his time addressing the bucket. He tries multiple containers and experiments with different ways to reduce the aesthetic effects of each drop hitting the surface.
While this approach may temporarily reduce the irritation of your problem, it’s only a provisional fix. Because the source of your leak hasn’t been addressed, your new bucket will eventually fill again. The plumber has only disguised the root problem.
This is a picture that illustrates boycotting’s impotence to affect change. It looks at a problem, in this case, a population that’s unsaved and thus has an unbiblical worldview, and tries “a new bucket approach” by taking a stand against a corporation with our wallet. The best case scenario in this effort is that Target goes back to its long-standing bathroom policy. While this would be great news, you could only call it a tempered victory as no disciples of Jesus would be made and the real underlying problem of sin would still exist.
While angels and the hosts of Heaven are celebrating the news of salvation coming to men, is the American church shuffling to the beat of boycott success (or the illusion of success)? Perhaps we’ve forgotten that the real goal of being salt and light is not to affect the restroom policy of retailers, but to bring men and women out of darkness and into the marvelous light of Jesus’ gospel.
Instead of merely signing petitions and getting our toilet paper from Walmart over Target, we need to be engaging our culture with conversations that gracefully illuminate the reason for the hope we have. “Because the Bible says so,” reasoning doesn’t win many followers to Christ. Rather, let’s grow comfortable explaining why we trust the Bible. This then gives us the opportunity to share the Bible’s greatest story, the gospel. The gospel lends itself to a conversation about the cost of discipleship and the Lordship of Christ. And this in turn, leads to passages of Scripture that construct a Christian’s worldview on issues such as sexuality and gender roles.
Boycotting as a sole strategy for culture engagement bypasses these helpful conversations. It jumps right to shouting, “you need to act like us!” without explaining why we act the way we do. It leaves the gospel out and heralds morality agreement as the ultimate goal of a Christian’s cultural aim.
Boycotting is Playing Ping-Pong with the World
Another reason boycotting isn’t necessarily a great tactic is that, in the case of the church, it’s rarely effective. If you look at the history of church-driven boycotts in the Western World, you’ll find few long-term success stories. Take the somewhat-recent church boycott of Disney in response to their “gay-days” at Disneyworld’s theme park. This boycott began in 1997 and lasted for eight years. Yet almost twenty years later, this event is now one of the largest gay celebrations in the nation, no one’s worldview has changed, and Christians are now dressing their kids in Frozen, Avengers, and Star Wars gear (properties all owned by Disney).
Not only is it rarely effective, boycotting is really only a mirrored response to the world. Bruce Springsteen boycotts the state of NC? Well then, Christians will boycott Target. Christians celebrate Chick-fil-a Day? Well then, the government will light up the White House in rainbow colors. These back-and-forth “cultural stands” play out like a game of Ping-Pong between Christians and the world. Once again, it’s gospel conversations, not a better spin move in this cultural game of Pong, that truly builds up the Kingdom of Christ.
Boycotting Hurts the Local Community (the very people the local church is called to love and serve)
Lastly, boycotting primarily hurts people who have the least effect on change within their company. If all Targets in the South dropped topline sales 3% next month due to Christian boycotts, guess what would happen? Front line employees would get their hours cut to compensate for those stores’ bottom-line figures until things blow over. Do you think a CEO is sweating his six-digit bonus over a 3% decline in a certain cluster of stores for a quarter? Not at all.
But I’ll tell you who does suffer. The single mom or college kid paying his tuition by working the late shift at Target. I’ve worked in retail long enough to know that adjusting personnel expenses at the frontline level is the quickest and most controllable way to counter a decline in sales. When you boycott a retail corporation, you’re not sticking it to the man; you’re hurting those who live paycheck-to-paycheck in your neighborhood. As such, retail boycotting is actually one of the most hurtful things you can do if you want to be a witness to your community.
It’s possible to hold onto truth and hold one’s bladder in a store at the same time
Let me be clear. I’m very much against Target’s stand. Not only does it present a policy that goes against a biblical worldview, I believe it also harbors a very real safety concern. I’ll do my best to represent these concerns and use local, state, and national politics as an avenue to give God glory. I will strive to balance grace and truth in conversations that address the heart of issues at stake. However, for the love of my community and the sake of the gospel being proclaimed, I will not boycott in the name of evangelism.
Boycotting as it turns out, is just too easy. Christians are not called to avoid the culture out of disgust, but rather to engage it in wisdom, love, and truth. In light of current events, it’s worth asking if our shopping habits and social media posts reflect that calling to a world whose ultimate need is not gender-defined bathrooms in stores, but a crucified, buried, and resurrected Christ who offers salvation from sin.