The Best Kind of Protest

Last week, on the way home from classes at TEDS, I listened in on a radio conversation on Moody Radio (90.1 FM). The host was my friend, Chris Fabry. Chris told the story of a listener who wrote in to express his appreciation for Christian radio. The man had come across Moody in a roundabout way. His car was in the shop for repair and the mechanic had not done the work in the time the customer thought appropriate. So he berated the mechanic quite forcefully.

What caught this angry customer off guard was the response of the mechanic, a Christian. He didn’t return fire. He responded with kindness. This unusual display of love completely threw the customer off guard. Upon leaving, he noticed a “fish symbol” somewhere in the shop. And after starting up his car to go home, he heard Moody Radio playing on the stereo. Somewhere after this time (I wasn’t clear from Chris’ telling of the story), this angry customer, who berated and verbally abused a Christian businessman, put his faith in Christ.

This story made me think long and hard about my response to injustice done to me. It particularly made me think about the current brouhaha over gay marriage. Like most evangelicals, I hold to the biblical position of marriage and am offended when those who disagree consider me a bigot or hateful. I am offended by the words of Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz, who essentially told us we can “take our money elsewhere.” Starbucks is a company and a brand that prides itself in diversity, a biblical, kingdom value, so I’m curious about the intolerance toward conservative Christians.

But there’s another side to this we need to consider before we take up a protest against Starbucks. I respect those who will say, “I choose to invest my money elsewhere.” That’s a perfectly legitimate and biblically defensible position. I’ve done this with some of my investment choices over the years. But here’s the rub: however we handle Starbucks and other such controversies, we have to ask ourselves the question: how does the Great Commission inform our public engagement?

Somewhere at a Starbucks is a lonely, seeking, hurting employee whom God just may want you or me to love into the Kingdom. Perhaps there is a family member struggling with same-sex attraction who is looking for someone to walk him through these struggles–with both truth and grace. Somewhere there is an unbeliever watching our public pronunciations and asking himself, “I wonder what Christianity is about?”

There is a place for firm resistance to unbiblical values. You can oppose gay marriage because in loving your city and community and country, you hope for a culture that embraces the family unit. And yet, we must ask ourselves the question, always, “How does what I’m doing fit the mission of God to seek and save those who are far from Him?”

I think this informs the way we engage. Personally I’m choosing not to boycott Starbucks. You may choose differently. We can disagree on that charitably. But what we must not do is allow our protest against values with which we disagree overshadow our responsibility to show Christ’s love for the world. Our posture, when offended and maligned, should be like Jesus’ response. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). It should not be to “return evil for evil” (1 Peter 3:9) and seek to win short-term cultural skirmishes that surrender the long-term battle for someone’s heart.

Like Jesus we must hold truth and grace in tension (John 1:14). We must be both courageous and civil (1 Peter 3:15). Because it may very well be the person who offends us the most in that moment is the person whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life.

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3 Comments

  1. Darren says:

    Question –

    What about those of us who don't drink coffee in the first place?

    As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, coffee was off the table long before this all took place.

    And even if I did drink coffee, I find Starbucks' price-per-cup to be staggering compared to the price-per-cup of at-home instant coffee.

    Does that mean I already count as protesting the company? And if so, what would I be considered as protesting? Their prices? Their policies? Their very presence in my town?

  2. Thomas says:

    Love the post! Generally, I am not a fan of boycotts as I don't know that helps much with furthering the gospel, but if others feel differently, that is between them and God! I would not say they are wrong. I will say that in our sound byte culture, that things are often slanted further than the original intent of the speaker to fan the flames of a boycott. In the case of Howard Schultz & Starbucks, I think it is a stretch that Christians are making to accuse him of saying "take your money elsewhere." The context of the statement was to a stockholder and in my view was stated with fairness and firmness to that particular question and was about owning or selling stock. It is the kind of fairness and firmness that someone like Kirk Cameron or Ryan Anderson showed with Piers Morgan on CNN and the GLBT crowd blew it up like some kind of hate speech. So, let's keep being winsome and loving in our approach to people. We may not win over the Piers Morgan crowd, but maybe the next customer in our store or next door neighbor, or barista at Starbucks will see that Christ has really made a difference in our life and we will be ready to give an answer to the hope that we have in Christ!

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