Thursday, April 28, 2016

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Why Christians Shouldn't Boycott—or Embrace—Target

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(Photo: Flickr, Mike Mozart)

Since Target proclaimed that transgender customers can use whichever bathroom they want, the conservative response has been confused: Some insist boycotting the superstore is the only option, while others have proudly declared that they’ll still shop at Target (and stop for a coffee at the in-store Starbucks, another highly liberal company, while they’re at it). 

This isn’t the first time Target has been the target of boycotters—but, somewhat ironically, it was left-wing customers who protested the company in the not-so-far-off past. In 2010, after Target donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a political action group that supported an “anti-gay” Republican candidate’s bid for governor of Minnesota, democrats and gay rights advocates demanded that their followers boycott the store. The mother of a gay man was applauded after posting a YouTube video of herself shopping at Target for the last time, then cutting up her Red Card. 

In response, the company spokeswoman—get this—apologized: “Our commitment right now is in letting people know that we’ve heard their feedback and we’re really sorry that we’ve let them down. We want to continue doing the many things that Target has done as a company to foster our inclusive corporate culture and then look at ways of doing things better in the future.”

Something tells me that won’t be the response this time.

In fact, over the past years, Target has taken its pledge to practice “inclusiveness” pretty seriously—well before the bathroom policy began drawing conservative ire. In 2014, Target declared its support for gay marriage; in June 2015, the company launched a #TakePride campaign, including a video montage of gay couples and rainbow flags and a line of “Pride products” sold in select stores. Apparently, “inclusiveness” doesn’t include people with conservative values, even though only 30 percent of Target customers identify as liberal, according to a Public Religion Research Institute survey. 

So, as a Christian friend recently pointed out to me, if we were going to boycott Target, we should have been doing it a long time ago. 

The problem? Conservatives who insist on boycotting liberal companies—more specifically, those that support the LGBT lifestyle, like Target—are pretty much going to have boycott shopping altogether. 

Each year, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation puts out a Corporate Equality Index, grading companies on their tolerance toward and accommodation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. (Criteria include things like providing transgender-inclusive health care, supporting transgender employees who are transitioning—yes, that means accommodating their bathroom needs—and showing public support for LGBT, by, for example, donating to LGBT-friendly charities or actively recruiting LGBT employees.)

The 2016 report gave perfect scores to a staggering number of companies: 3M, Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Airbnb, American Airlines, American Express, Anheuser-Busch, Apple, AT&T, Avon, Bank of America, Barnes & Noble, Coach, Coca-Cola, CVS, Facebook, Gap, Google, Hershey, Kellogg, McDonald’s, Nike, Pfizer, and, of course, Target—just to name a very few. In other words, if you’re going to boycott Target, you better be prepared to boycott pretty much every business, except maybe Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-a. (Walmart only scored marginally lower than Target, BTW, with a rating of 90 out of 100.) 

Still, I don’t think the other extreme—embracing Target like an unrepentant prodigal son—is  much better. Since Target’s announcement, I’ve seen Christians, pastors included, proclaiming on social media that we should keep buying into the bullseye, because, as Christ-followers, we should love, not shun, those who think differently than we do. And that is absolutely true—if Target were a human being with a soul in need of salvation. But here’s the thing: Target is a corporation. A profit-making, money-driven machine, not a lost soul who might be further led astray if Christians respond to Target’s new policy with disdain, rather than tolerance. 

If you want to continue shopping at Target, by all means, grab a cart—but let’s not fool ourselves into believing that plundering Target’s Dollar Spot is an act of unconditional love and Christ-like non-judgment, because, sorry, consumerism can’t be equated with evangelism. The truth is, you’re just another customer who likes Target’s trendy home decor and cheap diapers—and that’s okay. Just don’t call opening a Red Card a display of Christian piety. 

So how can people with the same beliefs land on two totally different responses to Target’s policy? It hinges on how you answer a larger question: What does it mean to be in the world, but not of the world? This oft-repeated phrase comes from Christ’s prayer for his disciples, in John 17: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

In other words, we’re sent to this earth to mingle with our fellow sinners—and ultimately, reveal to them the love of Jesus Christ, while resisting the temptation to let worldly values overpower heavenly ones. Obviously, living in a sanitized, “sin-free” bubble won’t accomplish that. But will roaming the aisles of Target—or daring to drink a cup of coffee brewed by a bunch of liberals—really help us win souls? Conversely, are we to stay away from non-Christian stores altogether? Or shop at the liberal stores, while somehow distancing ourselves from their values?

This is a question I haven’t yet answered. But I do know this: We subconsciously absorb the values of the places we frequent. This is why we embrace church and shun strip clubs; send our kids to Christian schools, instead of secular ones; eat at Chick-fil-a, but not Hooters. Exaggerated examples? Yes. But just because Target doesn’t purposefully hire big-breasted cashiers doesn’t mean we’re exempt from the influence of its corporate culture, however gradually or subconsciously. 

If you're not convinced, consider Chick-fil-a—just walking into the place feels wholesome: The speakers play instrumental versions of Christian songs; the cashiers are exceedingly polite; and the restaurant makes life easier for moms, with little touches like disposable placemats for kids and the best indoor playgrounds around. (I consider this last point salient to the conversation, considering the central position of children in the Target bathroom debate.) 

The new Target bathroom policy probably won’t change my experience of the store that much, since I live in a small, fairly conservative town—but I do think the policy is one indicator of increasingly blatant, in-your-face liberalism that will color the company culture to a growing degree. Eventually, I believe, Target’s values will be on less-subtle display, forcing us to decide: Can I inure myself against the company’s values—or do I protect my family from overt displays of secularism? 

Personally, I’ll probably keep shopping at Target, albeit on a much more casual basis, not because I think the CEO will spot me, realize a Christian is non-judgmentally roaming the aisles, and rescind the transgender policy. I’ll go there because I like the diapers. 

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