I recently received an email from a certain Christian organization which was calling on pastors to encourage their congregants to boycott a very well known restaurant chain for its supposed stand on a particular hot-button political issue; the issue of same sex marriage.
The trouble with a boycott of this type, as I see it, is that a company does not have a voice as such. It is made up of many individuals with varying political and religious ideologies. The spokesperson for the company has a voice which reflects the opinions of the leadership of the corporation, but what of the countless employees of this restaurant chain who are merely working to earn a living? Do they have a voice? Did the corporation poll all of its employees to find out what their views on this divisive issue are? I suspect they did not.
Restaurant chains do not have opinions, people have opinions. In this email, same sex marriage was referred to over and over again as SSM, which, previously unbeknownst to me, has apparently been adopted as the official acronym. I served several years in the military prior to entering the ministry.
Seeing this acronym over and over again, in this boycott solicitation email, reminded me very much of the over usage of acronyms in the military. Acronyms have a way of dehumanizing whatever they refer to. It occurs to me that their repetitive and long term use also allows us to forget the human element of this controversial issue.
Here is another acronym; PAC, Political Action Committee. Is that what the Church of Christ has been reduced to? It seems that, at times, the Church looks much less like Christ on the Cross than it should and much more like a Political Action Committee at election time than it ought.
I am certainly not saying that the Church should not be involved in social issues. What I am saying is that when we are involved in social issues we should take care to always look like Christ. For example, what looks more like Christ, picketing an abortion clinic or loving a young girl through a pregnancy, giving her shelter, clothes, and food so she has an alternative to the abortion readily available?
This particular boycott may even have some merit. That is not my point. What I am much more greatly concerned with is what appears to me to be the willingness, even the preference, on the part of the Church to forfeit looking like Jesus in favor of looking so much like the world.
It is as though in our very efforts to fight the ideological wars of this age we are boycotting the love of Christ. Jesus ate with sinners as a way of loving them into the Kingdom of God. He did not make picket signs against their sin; he loved them in spite of their sin, and even died to forgive their sin.
I am deeply saddened that Christianity has been reduced by so many to merely another social ideology, yet another encampment on the landscape of an already scarred, bruised, and overpopulated culture war. Christians have not been called to be culture warriors as such; we have been called to be active participants in God's plan of redemption and grace in this world! Our task as believers is not primarily to go on the offensive against opposing world views as much as it is to aggressively love others with the radical, unending, unrelenting love of Christ! We do well not to define ourselves according to what we are not but according to what we are.
Boycott if you choose to do so but in all that you do, as a follower of Jesus Christ, remember that we have been called to look like Christ, act like Christ, and love like Christ! The Church, while being a large and influential organization, is so much more than that. We are the hands through which God embraces this hurting generation and world. Above all, let us never boycott the radical love of Christ; let us focus primarily on loving people into the Kingdom of God rather than boycotting them out of it.
Chris Surber is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Peru, Illinois. A graduate of Liberty Theological Seminary, he is known for his compassion for people and his passion in the pulpit.