A Longer Word on Boycotts
I’ve written broadly on the idea of boycotts and the church as a “culture warrior” here, which you can read or ignore at your leisure. I am now as I was then. That is, against the idea of boycotts serving as weapon in the church’s arsenal.
But since I dipped my toe in the water on Facebook and encountered some very welcome and cordial disagreement, let me spill a little ink expounding my position. For clarity’s sake.
I’ll state the obvious here at the outset. I find the idea of “transgender,” that is, someone being a man in a woman’s body or vice versa highly implausible. It rests on a spindly premise (that there is some emotional, mental space that is “male” and one that is “female” and that the two are distinct enough to be so thoroughly separated that a man must never “feel” like a woman, nor a woman like a man) and dangles from an even more precarious grip (that someone can be self-aware enough to properly and completely asses what their mental/emotional space is versus what it ought to be and do so in a way that thoroughly sifts out the erroneous assumptions made and passed-on my society). All that to say that there are many factors that could theoretically lead a person to identify as transgender and that they are an actual man trapped in an actual female body is very far down the list, if it’s there at all.
Enter on the scene Target who, in response to a rather banal, toothless, and possibly ill-advised piece of legislation passed by the North Carolina legislature (which was passed in response to, well…never mind) announced that their bathrooms were open to visits from customers who identified as the gender on the wall-plate, even if their biology doesn’t match (I say “ill-advised” because how are they going to enforce it? Ask for people’s ID as they enter the restroom?)
Uproar ensued. Pearls were clutched, papers were thrown skyward, and, of course, boycotts were organized. Aww…the ever-popular boycott. An action Webster’s defines as a response designed as protest and “punishment.” I’m fine with the protest aspect (more or less), but less okay with “punishment.” And there’s a couple of reasons for that.
First, what, exactly, did Target change? The short answer is nothing. They just made it “official.” In a sense their announcement is kind of like the legislation that caused it, more empty posturing that substantive change. Transgender people could already use the bathroom of their choice at Target. They largely can do this anywhere, if they choose. Except in North Carolina, it would seem. Think what you will of that, but let me ask this as you do. Would you rather businesses be able to choose to follow their own conscience in these matters and let the people “vote” with their dollar? Or is conformity by legislation better?
But let’s end on the idea of boycotts as punishment, that is, as a way to keep people or businesses in-line. It has been a go-to for Christians for a good while. Unfortunately so, in my mind. But I know many Christians who got very upset when the shoe was on the other foot and Disney/Marvel threatened to pull productions from Georgia in response to their Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Even more have scoffed at people like Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and even the state of New York for boycotting North Carolina. And for good reason. The whole “I’ll take my ball and go home” schtick was already old in third grade. It is utterly unbecoming in adults, businesses, entertainers, and state governments.
This is a particularly troubling mindset among Christians who are called to love their enemies and also called to fight with weapons not of “flesh and blood,” but with the powers behind them.
As an endnote I’ll clarify (again) that principled stands are not synonymous with boycotts. The former is about following your conscience as guided by the Word and Spirit of God. The latter is about coercion and conformity. If your conscience demands that you not shop at Target, or anywhere, because of their stance on bathrooms then, by all means, do not shop there. It would be a sin for you violate your conscience.
But it is also, to my Word and Spirit-guided conscience, a sin to collaborate with others – with other Christians, even – in an effort to bring harm and suffering to someone because they’ve chosen to disagree with you. That’s not what the church is called to do or how we’re called to bring about change. And if your conscience is guiding you to be vindictive or belligerent in a desire to see your ideological opponent suffer, well…you might want to ask for your guide’s ID.