In the growing culture war battles over same-sex marriage, economic boycotts seem to be the weapon of choice.
Earlier this week, the conservative Christian American Family Association announced that it was calling off its five-month boycott of McDonald’s after the fast-food giant ended it relationship with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. AFA has led boycotts against Ford, Disney and Hallmark for similar reasons.
Meanwhile, “Californians Against Hate” has called for a boycott of two San Diego hotels owned by Doug Manchester, a devout Catholic who said his faith inspired him to donate $125,000 to support a ballot issue that would ban gay marriage. CAH says it is considering boycotts against other donors such as Intel and Bolthouse Farms.
(This morning, CAH called off its Bolthouse Farms boycott after the food company announced plans to start a diversity program and extended benefits to same-sex partners of gay employees.)
Do boycotts work? Do you join faith-based boycotts?
Christian Right-led boycotts often get a lot of attention (who can forget the Southern Baptist boycott of Disney?), but economic boycotts are a time-honored tactic of religious groups everywhere. Gandhi led boycotts of British products. King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. “A boycott is not an end within itself,” King wrote. “It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and challenge his false sense of superiority.”
I’m not sure corporations can experience shame (we’re not seeing much evidence of it on Wall Street these days), but I do think they work. Over the years I have joined faith-based calls to boycott Exxon, Taco Bell, Blockbuster and Wal-Mart (not to mention lettuce and grapes when I was a kid, thanks Mom.) I’ve also engaged in counter-boycotts when I thought they were wrong or just silly. For example, when the SBC announced its Disney boycott, I told my kids we were going to Disney World.
Even if the boycotts I join don’t work, I think there are times when my faith — meaning my understanding of what is right and just — compels me to try. I’m not looking to awaken shame. I am trying to avoid it.