Shall We Boycott?
Updated: Jun 17
For several years now, I have thought that targeted boycotts should be a major component of any protest against systemic moral, social, and economic injustices. For example, when an African American man dies at the hands of callous and depraved white police officers, as in the case of Mr. George Floyd, if regional or federal authorities do not provide adequate/proportional redress it is then that a financial penalty must be exacted from the major levels of the system that tolerates such a travesty of justice. When a large multinational corporation seeks to control local water supplies or attempts to manipulate the natural ability of plants to produce seeds in order that farmers and consumers are obliged to buy the corporation’s genetically-altered produce, it is then that we should withhold our money from that corporation and its subsidiaries.
All methods of protest are not equal. Violent demonstrations, looting, and destruction of property are like ferocious wildfires: they suck the very oxygen out of the life of the protest. Though we may be outraged by injustice we must control our anger and direct our efforts at peaceful solutions. Peaceful methods of protest such as marching, picketing, and public statements are very important in that they draw attention to injustices. However, a well-disciplined boycott has the ability to compel the establishment to make significant and enduring change because of the threat of a huge economic withdrawal. Boycotts require from protesters the sacrifice of immediate gratification for a future good and probably the biggest downside
to boycotts is the lack of discipline of the protesters. Some people may yield to the appetite for immediate gratification and not follow-through with the protest. However, one of the upsides to boycotts is that protesters do not have to march or picket if they choose not to do so out of conviction or caution. This point is apropos and noteworthy especially during a time of social distancing in wake of the Corona virus pandemic.
It is important to underscore that boycotts are more effective when they are specific rather than general in the targeting of companies, businesses, and institutions. Accordingly, we should list the names of the companies, businesses, and institutions that we are targeting whenever we call for a boycott. Rather than targeting all those who have a track record of injustice, it is prudent to first target the mayor players and allow a domino-effect to occur. When we do this, we will observe a build-up of angst and frustration in the unjust system and thus the inequitable ecosystem will either change or suffer financial upheavals. In addition, we should judiciously match the severity of our financial withdrawal with the enormity of the injustice. In other words, reserve the most drastic measures for the most drastic cases.
Some believers argue that Jesus did not seek to overthrow the oppressive Roman government or address systemic injustices; therefore, Christians should not seek to change the establishment but only focus on changing the hearts of human beings. However, this argument errs in some significant ways.
First, the argument mistakenly places Jesus’ unique mission to save humanity as a model for how Christians should conduct their lives in all aspects. However, no Christian will ever be called to die to save humanity. This was uniquely the mission of the Messiah. Jesus focused on fulfilling this mission within a timeframe that required the exclusion of other important things that Christians may very well be called to do. For example, Jesus did not get married, why? Although marriage is an essential component of God’s plan for humanity, it was not necessary for the accomplishment of Jesus’ mission—a mission that was centered on dying to save humanity within God’s timeframe. This specific aspect of Christ's mission is not an example for all Christians to follow. Some Christians may be called to be eunuchs and martyrs for the sake of the gospel but this is definitely not a requirement for all. Likewise, the fact that Jesus did not seek to address systemic injustice under the Roman government is not a pattern for Christians to follow.
Jesus also did not publish a book yet He is the primary focus of myriad books. Should Christians not write books? There are many Christians who live under democratic governments in which principles of freedom and equality are enshrined in those nations’ constitution. Should these Christians not use peaceful protest to influence the government to adhere to the nation’s laws?
Second, properly understood, both Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy encourage believers to address issues of systemic injustice. In reference to ancient Jerusalem, God said in Ezekiel 22:29 “The people of the land have used oppression, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger.” In this appalling climate of oppression and injustice among God’s ancient people in Jerusalem, God sought for someone who would defend the victims of such cruel and unethical practices but He was disappointed by the lack of courage and conscience among His people: “So I sought for a man who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30 NKJV). Consequently, God brought punishment on the active perpetrators of the injustices and, by implication, the passive citizens in Jerusalem who neglected to defend the oppressed: “Therefore I have poured out my indignation; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,’ says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 22:31 NKJV).
Psalm 82:2-4 states, “How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked.” We cannot deliver the poor and needy by merely praying and preaching about their struggles in our local churches. These verses call for actions that will address systemic injustices.
Jesus emphasized that the two core principles of the Ten Commandments are: (1) to love God with our entire being, and (2) to love our neighbor the same way that we love ourselves. It is impossible to genuinely love our neighbor and neglect to address issues that impact our neighbor such as racial discrimination, injustice, oppression, and police brutality. Moreover, once be we begin to care for the person who is suffering from these issues, the power of love compels us to focus on the systemic causes of these problems. In other words, once you begin to care for the slave and to protect him from the injustices of the slave master, the power of love drives you further beyond the individual to confront the system that subjugates him. Consequently, you recognize that you need to do more than merely care for individual slaves, you need to protest for the abolition of slavery.
Ellen G. White encouraged Christians to do more than merely pray that the human rights of others be protected. In 1860, she boldly called on Adventist Christians to disobey the fugitive slave laws. Notice her statement: “The law of our land requiring us to deliver a slave to his master, we are not to obey; and we must abide the consequences of violating this law. The slave is not the property of any man.” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 202).
It seems clear to me that peaceful protests are not discouraged in the Bible or the writings of Ellen G. White. Again, not all protests are equal. I recommend targeted boycotts because they allow persons of faith to protest in a manner that can have maximum impact on the perpetrators of injustice while maintaining social distancing in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic; it also allows us to avoid scenes where a peaceful protest may be coopted by anarchists and others who seek violence, looting, and destruction of property. More can be said on this topic however time and space are limited. Suffice it to say: Let each person be persuaded by truth and the dictates of their own conscience. But if we err, let us err on the side of love and mercy.