The battle over a proposed sale of American evangelism’s ‘Missions Pentagon’ raises questions of missionary strategy and nonprofit accountability. What responsibility do ministries have to their founder’s vision—and to those who sacrificed to fund it?
On April 19th, the 241st anniversary of the start of the American Revolution, the Target department store chain announced a transgender policy by which male, female, and confused customers and employees may use whichever restroom (or fitting room) they choose. The American Family Association quickly responded with a “pledge to boycott Target stores” that by April 29 had gained 1 million signatures.
To sign or not to sign? Assuming you don’t want your daughters walking into a women’s room where men might be lurking, that is the question. Market systems are based on peaceful trading growing out of economic interest. Boycotts are an act of economic war. Once boycotts begin, counter boycotts are inevitable, and a society’s divisions become more intense. Do we really want a country, like Spain in the 1930s just before its civil war began, where you can look at a person’s shirt or shoes and instantly know his politics?
“Just war” theory offers a way of analyzing when it’s right to go to war, so let’s work through a parallel checklist for boycotts:
Protecting the innocent: Innocent people must be in imminent danger. Abortion providers are good boycott targets. But when Breitbart.com headlined an April 23 article, “Top 25 stories proving Target’s pro-transgender bathroom policy is dangerous to women and children,” only one of the stories seemed connected to new transgender rules. How big is this problem? Is a Target boycott premature?
Comparative effects: While all sides of a conflict may display rights and wrongs, the suffering by one party must significantly outweigh suffering by the other. If this problem is big, we might concede that the rare guy who doesn’t feel like a guy could prefer a women’s restroom, but does that justify upsetting many women and girls?
Last resort: Since boycotts do have a downside, it’s often better first to try other approaches. What about stockholder action, behind the scenes or at annual meetings? What about a class action suit brought by women who now view Target restrooms as hostile environments? What about electing more leaders willing to stand up to LGBTQ pressure? (So far, portraits of cowardice outnumber those of courage.)
Probability of success: Boycotts should not be used in a futile cause, since evil shot at and missed becomes even stronger—but success is more likely when alternatives are available. The family of one WORLD staffer has shopped regularly at Target, spending about $2,000 per year there. If 1 million similarly spending families boycott Target, its annual revenue of $74 billion falls by $2 billion—not a bankruptcy-inducing hit for a chain with $3 billion in net income, but painful, and a cautionary tale for other companies.
Right intention: Boycotts should be used only in a truly just cause, not for material gain. The American Family Association has done good work over the years, but some organizations fundraise by turning little into big. Sometimes a boycott can be an attempt to plea bargain with God: I buy products made by slave labor or in dictatorial regimes, but since I boycott X I’m still righteous. And Christians can easily overuse boycotts, since so much of contemporary society reflects a pagan outlook.
Consistency: Once we start boycotting, when do we stop? Football fans: Since the NFL uses Super Bowl pressure to support the LGBTQ agenda, will you not watch its games this fall? Do we boycott Edward Jones, Express Scripts, Marriott, MasterCard, Monsanto, Nestlé Purina, and Pfizer, which are among the big companies fighting religious liberty legislation in Missouri? What about Apple, Dell, Disney, Dow Chemical, Time Warner, Twitter, Yelp, and others that convinced Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to surrender?
Similarly, do we boycott the companies of CEOs and executives who have called for “all legislatures to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes”? That list includes Airbnb, Cisco, Dropbox, eBay, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Groupon, Intel, Intuit, LinkedIn, Lyft, Microsoft, Netflix, Pandora, PayPal, Pinterest, Twitter, Uber, Verizon, Yahoo, Yelp, YouTube, and Zillow. Corporate leaders from Adidas, American Airlines, Citigroup, Gap, JetBlue, JPMorgan Chase, Levi Strauss, Nordstrom, Orbitz, and PepsiCo are among signers of a statement opposing religious liberty bills that purportedly “could allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”
Jeremiah advised the Israelites living within Babylon’s pagan culture, “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.” How do we apply that in America today? WWJB: What would Jeremiah boycott?