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9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— 10not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. 11But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. 12For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13God will judge those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you.’ – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13

To boycott, or not to boycott - that is the question!
Painting a Target on Target.
Tarring and Feathering the Tar Heel State

It must have been frustrating for the Apostle Paul as he tried his best to offer spiritual guidance to the church in Corinth. After all how could he make sure his message was clearly understood and that he had covered all his bases? Apparently it was a challenging task indeed as we see in the text example from 1st Corinthians that I have quoted. The first verse (verse 9) indicates that Paul had already written a letter to the church, (a letter we do not have in the Bible) and apparently there was some misunderstanding in which the members at Corinth were perhaps overzealous in separating themselves from various sinners. To this Paul now writes back as if to say, “Now, hold on a second, what I meant was that you should not associate with people who are brothers and sisters (i.e. fellow Christians in the church) who habitually and willfully commit such sin. I mean let’s face it, if you try to avoid ALL sinners, well then your only option is to somehow leave the world. No, what I am telling you is to remove those from among you who claim the name Christian, but in their actions and deeds reject the Christ.”

Important Note: To understand the deeper context of the situation in Corinth, you should know that there was a philosophy going around in those days known as Dualism. In simplest terms, Dualism taught that the physical body and the soul/spirit of a person were totally separate from one another. Plato (a major proponent of Dualism) thought of the physical form as being of no real account, compared to the soul/spiritual form which was the true center of one’s being.

This Dualistic philosophy would later be interpreted by some to mean that you could do whatever you wanted with your physical body without it having effect on your soul/ spiritual nature. This is what naturally leads to problems in Corinth as some dualistic Christians reason that they can have all the sex, alcohol, greed, and debauchery that they want, because while their physical body engages in sin, their souls/ spiritual bodies are still saved through Jesus Christ.

Of course Paul strongly rejects this dualistic philosophy. He boldly shows the connection between the physical and the spiritual by reminding those who commit immorality that they are sinning in BOTH body and spirit (“do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?”). Paul also purposefully points out that Jesus himself became flesh (was born of the Virgin Mary) and physically went to the cross (suffered for US) to redeem us; which is in itself a very physical AND Spiritual act, the two of which cannot and should not be separated. Paul also combats dualism by lifting up the importance of the body as a metaphor for the church – saying that each of us are different parts of the body/church and each of are given different gifts that benefit the body/church, which is itself the “body of Christ.”

Now you may be wondering just what does all of this mess have to do with boycotts?

Well, the truth is that there is no Biblical command for Christians regarding the boycotting of stores or businesses; however, the notion that Christians should separate themselves from those places or people which stand against the body of Christ does certainly have biblical support (i.e. 1st Corinthians 5).

Even so, the question of whether or not to boycott a store or brand is often a complex issue, particularly because of the ways in which boycotts are framed or practiced.

So for instance, if you have been watching the news lately, you may know that there is a boycott controversy between Target and the American Family Association due to Target’s anti-discriminatory policy that, among other things, would allow for a man who self-identifies as a woman to use the women’s bathroom.

(It should be noted that no one seems up in arms about a woman who self-identifies as a man going into the men’s room – Thanks social double standard!)

Now, the fear/concern which has promoted the boycott according to the American Family Association is of course that a male sexual predator will use the gender “loophole” to enter into the women’s bathroom in order to commit some horrendous act upon some woman or female child.

Unfortunately, the collateral damage of this boycott is that Transgender folks are caught up in the middle of it, and it unwittingly empowers the mythos that Trans-women (a transgender person who was assigned male at birth but whose gender identity is that of a woman) are likely sexual predators.

From a different angle, you may also be aware that the state of North Carolina is also facing business boycotts from various companies (Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Levi Strauss, and others) and entertainment boycotts by celebrities (Bruce Springsteen, Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato, and others) due to recent decisions from lawmakers there which would allow for open discrimination against the LGBT community.

With all this boycotting, it gets confusing and it makes me wonder, “Are Target stores in NC are getting more or less business now?” I’m not sure.

What I am sure of is that both of these situations (Target and North Carolina) are complex cases that affect more than just the Transgender and LGBT community; they are cases that can ultimately affect all of us.

Because of that, and as Christians, there is much wisdom to be found in trying to seek out and understand what is really at the heart of the matter before entering into any boycott.

For instance, some basic questions to consider:

1. Is the boycott based on loving ones neighbor, or is it based in fearing the stranger?           

2. Who truly benefits from the boycott and who will ultimately suffer because of it?

3. Is the boycott truly a moral action, or is it simply a political statement for someone’s personal gain?

4. Does the boycott encourage further conversation and seek compromise, or does it end conversation in entrenched narrowmindedness?

The true power of a boycott lies in the hope to bring about change that works for everyone (or at least the majority involved). That kind of change does not happen when boycotts are mean-spirited, based on fear mongering, full of uninformed rhetoric, or carelessly ignoring the possibility of collateral damage. Instead true change comes when a boycott encourages further conversation towards compromise, watches out for collateral damage, and seeks out equity rather than privilege.
(For example of peaceful protest boycotts, consider the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the Delano Grape Strike of 1960)

As I said, it’s a complex world, and as Christians we don’t get a free pass with always having easy choices to make.
To boycott or not to boycott, that is the question, and the answer is ultimately between you and the Lord. However, whether one chooses to boycott an issue or not, that should never prevent one from engaging in open conversation, otherwise we might miss out on the opportunity of reaching a better place through change or compromise.

Your brother in Christ,
Pastor Michael

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