In response to new laws and countermeasures related to restroom usage and gender identity, Target has taken a stand saying it will allow customers and employees to use restrooms that best relate to one’s perceived gender. In other words, biological males who identify as women can be in the restroom with women and vice versa.
Social media lit up with opinions on both ends of the spectrum. From the side I’m on, one social call to action has stood above the rest: Boycott. The American Family Association’s online petition to boycott Target has garnered nearly 600,000 signatures, and the petition continues to circulate on social media.
I understand the sentiment and appeal of such an action. Hit board members where it hurts – their wallets. 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 worry that a strategy of cultural engagement centered around boycotts is doomed to undermine the true effectiveness of biblical evangelism.
Let’s Focus on the Real Problem
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. Instead of fixing the dripping pipe, the plumber sets up various containers and buckets to contain it. But 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.
Similarly, boycotts may make a statement, but often fail to trigger lasting change. We see the problem, in this case, a population that’s unsaved and thus has an unbiblical worldview, but instead try “a new bucket approach” by taking a stand against a corporation with our wallets. In the best-case scenario, Target goes back to its long-standing bathroom policy. While this would be great news, you could only call it a tempered victory—no disciples of Jesus would be made and the real underlying problem of sin would still exist.
If you look at the recent history of church-driven boycotts, you’ll find few long-term success stories. In response to Disney World’s “gay-days,” Christians began a boycott in 1997 that lasted eight years. Almost 20 years later, this event is now one of the largest gay celebrations in the nation, no one’s worldview has changed, and Christians are dressing their kids in Frozen, Avengers, and Star Wars gear—properties all owned by Disney. (See also: Starbucks, Apple, Amazon.)
As we’ve seen recently, boycotts and statements mirror the world’s response. Bruce Springsteen boycotts the state of North Carolina over its new legislation? 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, that truly build up the Kingdom of Christ.
Despite the allure of boycott success (or the illusion of success), the real goal of being salt and light is to bring men and women out of darkness and into the marvelous light of Jesus’ gospel. Instead of signing petitions and getting our toilet paper from Wal-Mart over Target, we have the opportunity to engage our culture with conversations that gracefully illuminate the reason for our hope.