With nearly three-quarters of a million people signing on to boycott Target over the retailer’s transgender restroom policy, evangelical leaders are discussing whether consumer boycotts are an effective means of cultural engagement.
Many conservative evangelicals apparently disagree with Target’s policy of allowing customers to use whichever restroom or fitting room corresponds to their perceived “gender identity.” Yet some – like the American Family Association (AFA) and the watchdog group Faith Driven Consumer – have urged a boycott while others – including Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity heads R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Russell Moore – have discussed the limitations of boycotts and asked whether one is appropriate in this instance.
The discussion stems from an April 19 news release from Target stating, “We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”
The release added that Target “supports the federal Equality Act.” In a separate release, Target stated the proposed federal legislation “would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and ban discrimination in areas including employment, housing, access to credit, public education and accommodations.”
In response, the American Family Association launched an online campaign seeking commitments from consumers to boycott Target. As of late afternoon April 26, more than 760,000 people had signed the pledge, which is being promoted with the hashtag #BoycottTarget.
“Corporate America must stop bullying people who disagree with the radical left agenda to remake society into their progressive image,” AFA President Tim Wildmon said in an April 21 news release. “#BoycottTarget has resonated with Americans. Target’s harmful policy poses a danger to women and children. Predators and voyeurs would take advantage of the policy to prey on those who are vulnerable.
“It’s clear now that many customers agree. Target shoppers are leaving their allegiance to the store behind – and by the thousands every hour. No store can withstand that sort of loss,” Wildmon said.
Faith Driven Consumer (FDC) launched a campaign urging consumers to shop at 10 alternative stores “offering products in competition with Target,” according to an April 26 news release. The campaign particularly encourages shopping at Walmart and is being promoted with the hashtag #BUYcottWalmart.
“There’s a critical business lesson to be learned with Target’s recent decision,” FDC founder Chris Stone said. “When including one group, don’t expressly exclude another. In its statement explaining why it is allowing men in women’s bathrooms and changing rooms, Target pointed out that inclusivity is at its core, and that everyone deserved to be protected equally.
“However, hundreds of thousands of consumers around the country are expressing frustration because they specifically feel excluded by Target’s actions and, more importantly, unprotected and unsafe in Target stores,” Stone said.
Each of the 10 suggested alternate retailers received a higher score than Target on FDC’s Faith Equality Index, which uses a 100-point scale to evaluate companies’ engagement with faith-driven consumers. The top three retailers on the list are Hobby Lobby (57/100), Walmart (51/100) and Aldi (47/100).
Still, Walmart received a 90/100 rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index, which evaluates companies’ engagement with the homosexual, bisexual and transgender community. HRC credited Walmart with, among other so-called accomplishments, including sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policies and being willing to support an LGBT employee resource group.
Such realities led Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to conclude April 26 in his daily podcast The Briefing, “There is no perfect economic stance from which to operate without some complicity in larger moral questions in the economy.”
A Target boycott may be an appropriate step, Mohler said, but it should be undertaken with full knowledge “that there is no safe business in which to shop” morally speaking.
Mohler explained, “Even if we know the owner of the shop and we know how he or she organizes the business, there is a supply chain behind and a web of relationships beyond” that likely includes some morally questionable business dealings. “That doesn’t mean this isn’t important. It does mean that it is complex, and you can’t reduce faithfulness to something as easy as the question of ‘boycott: yes or no?’
“Should Christians boycott Target? That’s a question that I do not believe has an answer. Should you boycott Target? That is a matter of your Christian conscience,” Mohler said.
Gene Mims, chairman of the 2005 SBC Resolutions Committee that proposed ending the convention’s eight-year boycott of The Disney Company over some of its products and policies, said it is “always appropriate for anybody to boycott according to their convictions.” It’s also appropriate for evangelical denominations to “consider” more official boycotts with specific aims.
But he said it appears premature to declare whether the SBC should call for a Target boycott.
“Right now I think what people are feeling [about Target] is not as measured as it should be,” said Mims, pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville. “A denomination like the SBC has a Resolutions Committee that can really grind away on this and get to the purpose” of any potential boycott.
The SBC already has spoken to transgenderism in a 2014 resolution on “transgender identity,” Mims said, and positioned itself well to address the topic going forward with or without an official Target boycott.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, pointed on Twitter to a 2012 blog post he wrote on a potential Starbucks boycott as applicable to the Target situation. In 2012, the Starbucks board cited support for same-sex marriage as a core value of the company.
A Christian boycott, Moore wrote, is not “always evil or wrong.” But with some boycotts, “Christians are tempted … to fight like the devil to please the Lord” by entering contests with their cultural opponents over “who has more bullying power.”
“We don’t persuade our neighbors by mimicking their angry power-protests,” Moore wrote. “We persuade them by holding fast to the gospel, by explaining our increasingly odd view of marriage, and by serving the world and our neighbors around us, as our Lord does, with a towel and a foot-bucket.
“We won’t win this argument by bringing corporations to the ground in surrender,” Moore wrote. “…We’ll engage this argument when we have a more exalted, and more mysterious, view of sexuality than those who see human persons as animals or machines.”
The SBC’s resolutions on the Disney boycott and transgender identity are available at sbc.net/resolutions.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)