Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Yahoo! The Boycott's Over!

Two days ago I was thumbing through the stack of magazines on my desk, most of them from Christian publishers. I noticed that most of them have some article or content relating to the upcoming Disney release of The Chronicles of Narnia. Like all of you who have read the Narnia series in your younger days, I’ve been waiting anxiously for this movie to come out. After the success Peter Jackson had with depicting the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I can’t wait to see what Disney does with The Chronicles of Narnia.

But then it occurred to me that two of the magazines were from Focus on the Family. Both Magazines prominently feature publicity shots from the movie on their covers. My first thought was “cool.” But then it occurred to me that Focus was one of the larger Christian organizations that only a few years ago spent much publicity, radio time, and pages in their print publications calling on the Christian public to boycott Disney. So was the Southern Baptist denomination, the American Family Association (AFA), and a host of others.

A quick search of their website revealed to me that I was right. But then I discovered that sometime in the summer all of these organization called off the boycott on Disney. Most all sited changes in their leadership as reasons for calling off the boycott. They felt the boycott had made significant enough impact on Disney to warrant the end of the action. One of the below listed articles (the one on the Southern Baptist’s site) stated that the fact that Disney was going to finance and distribute C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was a big reason why the boycott was called off.

Check out these related articles on each of their web sites detailing what I’m talking about:
Focus on the Family
American Family Association
Southern Baptist Convention

OK, so Disney dumps a few leaders (Michael Eisner and the Weinstein brothers who led Miramax) and then they decide to release one of C.S. Lewis’s classics on the big screen and they are suddenly OK? Are you kidding me? Have they taken a look at the movies that Disney’s Miramax is going to be releasing in the near future? Most are no better than their past releases that the Southern Baptists, Focus on the Family, the AFA, and others were calling for the embargo of Disney in the first place. And just because the leadership has changed do you really think that the company as a whole has?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing Disney. I never have. The are a large entertainment corporation. The vast array of their holdings no doubt might eventually mean one of their companies would produce a product or entertainment option that would differ with the values we hold as Christians. It’s inevitable. But to their credit, they also produce an awful lot of stuff that’s completely wholesome and perfect for my four year old to watch, listen to, and fill his young mind with. Kudos to Disney for that! I supported them during the boycott and I still stand by them now that the boycott is off.

Now I’m not upset that the larger Christian organizations have called off the to boycott of Disney. I say it’s about time! And good for them for getting behind the Narnia film. I hope it is a smashing success.

My indictment comes on the leadership of the large Christian organizations that called for the boycott of Disney nine years ago. Ironically, as these same Christian organizations recently called off the boycott on Disney in time for the Christmas season, they have called for a boycott on any company (Target stores mostly) who says “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” to its customers. How ironic that we now are being asked boycott Target store for something so silly as that, yet Disney’s boycott is off and their Miramax film company is still cranking out movies that are definitely not family friendly.

The problem lies in the fact that the boycott should never have been called for in the first place. When we as the Christian community begin acting as a political or economic force to be reckoned with, then we are acting less like the Church and more like conquistadors. Aren’t we supposed to be about loving people into the kingdom. We aren’t supposed to be legislating Christianity. We aren’t supposed to be about threatening the financial stability of legitimate secular companies just because they function in culturally acceptable ways, even though those culturally acceptable ways differ from what the Church teaches.

When the leadership of the major Christian organizations function like this they are acting in the same way as that of the Pharisees, the Jewish leaders who led Israel, in Jesus’ day. They used their considerable political weight to try to sway the Roman government. They squashed anyone who operated contrary to their manmade rules and plans. They turned the economy so that it functioned around their world, not the other way around. And as a result, Jesus condemned them and their self-righteous ways. He accused them of making rules that no one could live by, of tying the people down with heavy burdens they never were intended to carry. In fact, Jesus outright condemned them for it.

In a very real sense, that’s exactly what the leadership of these organizations has done to Christianity in North America. They should never call for boycotts in the first place. When they do that they put unrealistic burdens on the Church. They ask our people to speak with their wallets, to not purchase products from companies that might produce some sort of product that seems counter to our beliefs, or that might have donated money to an unwholesome non-profit organization. And isn’t that an unrealistic task? Who could keep up with that? For instance, should we not drink Pepsi® or is it Coke®? Both have donated funds to organizations that I would consider questionable. So then that means we only drink RC Cola®, right? Has anyone checked them out? Maybe we just go with a generic brand (if we can stomach it). No wait, has anyone checked out the generic brand to make sure they aren’t donating to unwholesome organization? Oh, then maybe we’ll just drink iced tea or juice or bottled water. Oh, but wait. Lipton® and Aquafina® are owned by Pepsi® and Minute Made® and Dasani® are owned by Coke®… You get the picture. It’s a mind field trying to navigate a boycott of a major corporation like this. And it’s an unnecessary guilt trip.

Furthermore, doesn’t it smack a lot of hypocrisy to have had a boycott going for nine years (which, realistically, not many in the Christian community where buying into) and then suddenly it ends? And the end is being justified because a few executives parted ways with Disney, and because they are now releasing the Chronicles of Narnia into theaters? Come on! As I said before, Disney hasn’t changed it’s stripes much from how it was operating when the boycott was in full swing. What’s the real reason for the change? I’d really like to know. But it sure looks suspicious that as soon as the marketing hype started this past summer for Chronicles, suddenly the boycott is ended.

In the end, calling for boycotts makes the Church look stupid, narrow-minded, and out of touch with reality. And then repealing them after nothing’s really changed and, oh by the way, there’s a really great movie coming out that we’d all love to see looks contrived, hypocritical, and suspicious.

Wouldn’t it be far better to make change in the world by overwhelming it with unconditional love? Call me crazy, but I think so.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Enough is Enough

Ok. I’m a Christian. Been one for a few decades now. Been on staff as a youth pastor for a number of years. From there I moved to Kansas City to serve in our denominational headquarters. I’ve been a published author in the Christian world. I’ve had articles published, curriculum published, even books. Four years ago I was asked to leave my position in our denomination’s headquarters structure to oversee the formation of a new youth ministry publishing company for the Nazarene Publishing House, Barefoot Ministries.

It’s been a great ride, but unfortunately, all that work in the Christian church world has done one thing to my personality. It’s made me safe. At one time in my life I spent a lot of time giving people a piece of my mind. I didn’t give a rip if people thought I was right or wrong. What did it matter anyway? I knew I was right, and that’s all that mattered. As you can imagine, I’ve managed to hack a few people off over the years. Realistically, at one time in my life I was a real jerk. That’s a part of my personality that I’ve worked hard to change, to keep in check and to allow God to work on. For the last fifteen years or so, I have calmed down significantly. While I do have my occasional flare, I usually manage to not explode in the public sector like I used to. And I really try to keep the collateral damage of destroying people along the way in check.

But I’ve recently begun to wonder if I really need to keep my mouth shut as I’ve learned to do after all. I was born with the personality I have, given it by a creative, brilliant God who knew me before I even existed, and knew the kind of person I would become. He endowed me with the fiery personality I have had from the beginning, the personality that I feel like I’ve abandoned rather than shaped.

To be quite honest, there are things about modern, North American Christianity that I really just don’t like, but I’ve stopped spouting about it. Regarding North American Christianity, there are times, in fact, that I just don’t even want to identify myself as being “Christian.” Yeah, you read it right. I don’t want to be Christian a lot of the time. Before you judge me let me explain what I mean. What I mean to say is that I don’t want to be identified by what modern, North American Christianity has been defined as. In many ways Christianity has been defined as being a narrow-minded, uncompassionate, political movement that wields much power, and condemns many a sinner to hell. Sure, many Christians like to spout the adage that they “love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Unfortunately, that often becomes an excuse to degrade others in the name of Christ. Modern Christianity has become more of a white collar country club than the healing, forgiving, compassionate love monster Jesus always intended the Body of Christ to be. A lot of Christians reading this right now just got their dander up and are now ready to brand me a heretic. Sorry if I’ve offended you, but I think it’s time we faced facts.

Don’t get me wrong. There are Christian congregations and organizations that are doing exactly what Christ called them to do. But unfortunately, they are in the minority. For example, our company’s facility is located in an area of Kansas City that has seen better days. We have hookers that work right on the corner of our main building. This last summer I personally was almost caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting between rival gangs on my way back to the office from a meeting I had attended. We are smack in the middle of the hood. Our facility is also sandwiched between two fantastic ministries: The Kansas City Urban Youth Center and St. Mary’s Daycare Center. Both organizations do an incredible job of reaching out to the lonely, the lost, and the outcast people of the world in a variety of ways. They reach out to those whom the world does not esteem. They are truly the body of Christ to the people they minister to. And I am proud that our company has fantastic relationships with both organizations and that we try to do all we can to support their worthy ministries, either through our employees volunteering their time, financial assistance to them, or other means of support. These are the kind of organizations whose causes we should be championing! But you never see their humble work getting headlines and overwhelming support.

Then this last week I heard that many Christian organizations are calling for boycotts on companies who have used “Happy Holidays” as a greeting in their marketing, or have asked their employees to greet customers with “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” This last week I heard no less than three different radio shows that devoted their entire time slots to this subject. It’s not just on the Christian radio shows, but it’s being heard on the conservative radio shows such as that of Bill O’Reilly and Shawn Hannity. Groups like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association are calling for the boycott of Target Stores, or any others who say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.”

My question is, why are we devoting such energy to rallying the troops around something so ridiculous as this? And don’t give me the line “they’re trying to take ‘Christ’ out of ‘Christmas’” routine. So what if they do! Let them. They are secular companies. While they hopefully have Christians working in their organizations, the companies themselves aren’t Christian. If it was a church or a church ministry that was calling it’s people to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” then I might understand this. But why are we politicizing and focusing on this so much? It really isn’t a worth it. If the leaders calling for the boycotts spent the same amount of energy calling Christians to actually go out and feed the hungry, seek the lost, and healing the dying world they live in rather than turning such mole hills into mountains, then this Earth would truly be a better place.

So what if there is an agenda behind it? Call it a conspiracy if you want to. What if they are trying to subversively wipe out Christianity by systematically removing anything religious from the public sector? If the Church in North America was actually doing what the Church is called to do, then it would mean nothing at all. Let the secular companies do what they want. They will never wipe our Christianity, or Christ, or God. Remember Ancient Rome? Rome tried to squash Christianity. The Romans were pretty blatant about their intentions. They failed. The growth of Christianity exploded in Rome, and it eventually became the capital of the Catholic Church. What about modern-day China. It is following the same pattern as that of Ancient Rome, and the Church is growing exponentially in that country.

I say enough of turning Christianity into a political and economic movement. If we ever want the chance to sway the opinions of the far-left liberals into calling on Christ to be their Savior, it won’t happen because we beat them over the head with a mandated morality that doesn’t align with the values they currently live by. It will happen because we love them unconditionally, where they are, as they are. Beating the secular world up with economic boycotts only serves to drive a wedge deeper between the Church and the secular world.

Enough is enough! Be the Church, not a political party!