Wal-Mart has been the favorite target of the left for some years. Most of the time the fire has been rooted in criticism for how it treats it workers. Now the retail giant is under fire for the right for its corporate response to homosexuals. The protest comes from the American Family Association, which asks its supporters to boycott Wal-Mart stores during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the entire year, this Friday-Saturday. A second group, Operation Save America, plans prayer-and-preaching rallies outside Wal-Mart stores.

What triggered this response? Wal-Mart paid $25,000 this summer to become a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and donated $60,000 to Out and Equal, which promotes gay-rights in the workplace. Some conservative Christian groups see these actions as a betrayal of the family-friendly stance of Wal-Mart. One minister accused homosexual groups of “extorting” stores with their radical agenda. Maybe, and maybe not, is my response. My guess is that there is much more to this than people on either side understand.

Wal-Mart’s spokesman said the company’s outreach to the gay-rights groups was part of a broader effort to serve its diverse customer base. The spokesman said, “We do not have a position on same-sex marriage. . . . What we do have is a strong commitment to diversity. We’re against discrimination everywhere.” The president of the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce says conservative activists misunderstand the group’s real goals.

I have one question for serious missional Christians: “What on earth does this kind of boycott have to do with our advancing the kingdom of Jesus in this world?”

Must we always politicize the good news into a partisan and public protest against this and that group? Don’t misunderstand me. I oppose same-sex marriage on entirely different grounds, grounds that in the public arena can be articulated without reference to the gospel. But this issue is not really about same-sex marriage at all.

I wonder how multitudes of shoppers will feel about the Christian faith when they encounter these protesters, intercessors and preachers outside Wal-Mart this weekend? Somehow I can’t believe that this effort will incline one person to consider seriously the grace of God revealed in the incarnate Christ. The last I checked this was our corporate calling in this world, to deliver the good news to sinful people, not the bad news of negative political protest over policies that we find personally objectionable.

Engaging public policy issues is important for Christians, as I have argued for some years now. But this is not really about engaging public policy issues. It seems to me that it is more about losing a culture battle and not liking it. And it also seems to be about a form of intimidation and reaction that only harms our collective witness, which gives me another reason to want to tell my neighbors: “I am not that kind of Christian.” This all makes me want to explore how to become a “new kind of Christian.” Lord knows we are going to need such Christians more and more given the old kind of Christian and the witness they have given to the world.

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  1. Rich November 22, 2006 at 10:06 am

    Dear John, I could not agree with you more! I wish I had the power and influence to call for and implement a successful boycott of the American Family Association. Unfortunately, AFA has already won this round. Check out http://www.afa.net/Petitions/Issuedetail.asp?id=223 On the bright side, this means there won’t be a bunch of crazy Christians preaching outside of Wal-mart. On the dark side, it demonstrates why so many unbelievers fear the influence of groups like the AFA.

  2. Adam Shields November 22, 2006 at 10:20 am

    The email that I recieved (forwarded by my brother) from AFA wrongly accused Walmart of donating 5% of online sales to the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. When my wife looked into it (because she assumed that it was a internet email hoax) she found that Walmart was in fact giving 5% of on-line sales to this group. But only if you shopped on a link through the website of the LBG website. This is just a shopping affiliate program. Like many other online stores, if you refer a shopper from your website and the shopper buys something you get a cut. And there were a couple dozen other large stores that also had links on the site.
    Boycotts are not a Christian activity. They are a tactic from community organizing which often is a very un-Christian activity. The “religious” community organizing group in my area uses tactics that explicitly say that they create an enemy by forcing a complex situation into a black and white one then they fight against the enemy to force them to change. This included hanging someone in effigy a few years ago (in full disclosure many people were upset at this and pulled out of the organization).
    We as Christians should not be about creating enemies. We should be about bringing reconciliation. Any activity such as this that is explicitly using conflict is not bring the reconciliation that we as Christians are commanded to bring.

  3. Phil Wyman November 22, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    I suppose this means I should go to Wal-Mart on Friday and Saturday. That way I can be sure to be among the people Jesus came to love most.
    I am no longer surprised to see how Christians separate themselves from everyday life experiences, and end up nominalizing our faith. Avoiding Wal-Mart over tiny donations (these are miniscule for Wal-Mart) is a terrible way to make a statement of faith. It states nothing about our faith. It only establishes our moral/legal standards, and shows us to be people of “the law.”

  4. Adam Shields November 22, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    You will be happy to know that the AFA has canceled the boycott after a statement from Walmart.
    This was in an email from the AFA:
    “You have made a difference! Wal-Mart has announced they “will no longer make corporate contributions to support or oppose controversial issues unless they directly relate to their ability to serve their customers.” AFA is pleased with this announcement.
    Wal-Mart made the announcement Tuesday afternoon.
    In response to Wal-Mart’s statement, AFA has decided to cancel its efforts of encouraging people to not shop at Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club this Friday and Saturday.
    We believe that Wal-Mart will remain neutral in cultural battles.”
    I am not sure that it helps them be more neutral in cultural battles, but it is does show a win for these type of tactics.

  5. K. Darrell November 23, 2006 at 11:04 am

    To me, this is just another issue of Christian confusion. Are we supposed to engage culture or not? If so, what practically? If Wal Mart was giving their money to the Ku Klux Klan, I guarantee that everyone in the response section and John would give a huge applause to any group protesting and boycotting, including preaching, etc., outside their stores. This would be considered “Christian culture engagement at its best.”
    Adam concludes that he doesn’t think it best for them to be “neutral” in cultural battles, but what are we suggesting them to do. Rich concludes that these Christinas are “crazy” and he wishes to boycott the AFA, which seems a bit contradictory of his repulsion to their boycott, but this demonstrates, I believe, the very basic nature of our confusion. Phil, ever so gently of course, suggests that these individuals are Pharisees and bringing in his anachronistic Lutheran hermeneutic concludes they are people of “the law”. The “Missional” Christians willingness to throw stones at their brothers for whom Christ died never ceases to amaze me.

  6. Adam Shields November 24, 2006 at 9:34 am

    My point isn’t about walmart. They can be neutral or not, but the AFA is asking them to be “neutral” on their terms. My point is about the church and how we choose to engage culture. We can do it confrontationally or we can do it we every attempt to be loving first. There will be times where we have to put our feet down, but when you ask the general non-Christian what they think about Christians, judgmental is right at the top. Loving should be right at the top. That was my point. Sorry if I made it poorly.

  7. Adam Shields November 24, 2006 at 9:35 am

    Sorry that line should be “we can do it with every attempt to be loving first.”

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