Sunday, August 27, 2006

Walmart and the Culture War

As part of its initiative to expand beyond its traditional customer base, Walmart has partnered with gay activist groups. It appears that the substance of the partnership involves Walmart's desire to attract suppliers with gay and lesbian persuasions. As expected, there are protests from Christian family oriented groups like Family Research Council (FRC).

I'm often grateful for the activism of groups like the FRC but I do wonder how I should evaluate the merits of battling corporations like Walmart over internal corporate policies.

Part of my apprehension stems from the sheer volume of issues pertaining to moral or ethical positions that we are faced with everyday. With the rapid pace of communication today enhanced by email blasts and blogs, information from the front lines of the "culture war" can be absolutely innundating. If you don't believe me, check out sites like the Family Research Council and American Family Association. You'll soon discover that there is a continuous stream of issues pertaining to sanctity of life, media standards, homosexuality, sanctity of marriage, ... the list goes on. The problem isn't with fine groups like FRC but rather how an individual Christian should interact with such information. The subtle danger in responding to every clarion call of the culture war is that we can be distracted from the primary purpose of our lives to proclaim the gospel and live in the good of it everyday. There are going to be critical issues like the pro-life position that require a definitive stand but not every issue carries that weight and importance.

Another consideration is the manner by which we engage the opposing position. Protests or threats of boycotts are acceptable approaches to make our point but not the only ones available to us. They may not even be the most effective ones in every instance. Using phrases like "culture war" is useful in rallying the Christian base but not always helpful in thoughtfully and humbly engaging the opposition. Too often the rhetoric accompanying the approach seems adversarial rather than engaging.

Finally, I believe that looking for opportunities for the gospel is vital. The apostle Paul upon encountering widespread idolatry in Athens is described in Acts 17 as "greatly distressed". His response? "He reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there" (v. 17)
He looked for opportunities to present the gospel from the context of the culture. He used the evil practice of idolatry as a window to preach the gospel. (v.22 - v. 31).

Back to Walmart and their current initiative - not every Christian will judge this as a weighty matter to contend for, since the policy is not explicitly externalized to the buying community. However, if we choose to respond, making our position known by humble appeal rather than adversarial threats will not only be more effective, it'll render a better testimony of the grace we've received.


Anonymous said...

Why is it Think Christian is so quick to publish what they said "surprised I haven’t heard more of an outcry from the conservative religious community about this. Maybe I missed it."
"I’d ask you to refrain from posting comments. We all are very familiar with that voice." Does Think Christian look for issues for shock effect?
It does make me think we protest too much for them, "Free Speech" not allowed anymore. Then why is it that Gay Promoters and activists are allowed and Christian Promotions are not? As in the case of Walmart omitting Christmas this year? Is anti-Christian retoric the norm nowdays?
What good does it do

andre said...

Charitably speaking, I believe that ThinkChristian was seeking to solicit other views since the views of groups like FRC and other Christian activists are well known.

Walmart cannot omit Christmas this year since I believe it's probably going to happen. :-) I think we need to be judicious about the kind of issues we take up. There's probably a wide variance with regard to how individual Christians interpret the weightiness of an issue and we should respect and allow for that variance.

Thanks for posting a comment.

Meng said...

I am in 2 minds about this issue; while it is true that a less adversarial approach maybe more winsome and reflective of the Grace which we have received...I am not sure if it will be more effective.
Walmart, like any other corporation is a business to make profit and enlarge market share. If a corporation compromises moral standards or insults a particular religous group in a business decicison, then it is up that group to do whatever they think is needed (ie. boycott) so as to encourage them to reverse that decision. To corporations like Walmart, it is then a business decision as to which market they are willing to forgo.

Having said that, I do not expect corporations to make moral decisions because they are there for the sole purpose of making money and expanding market share. Likewise,America is not a Christian nation as it is a secular nation founded on Christian principles and therefore should I expect the government to be making moral decisions all the time? We live in a world that is counter culture and thats just part of the struggle for Christians to live a holy life in Him. In so doing, we hope to win some over to the Kingdom!

tricia said...

Thoughtful post - thank you!
I agree that we need to be judicious in what we choose to "fight" and even more importantly agree that we have to be so gracious in how we communicate our displeasure with a policy that we disagree with.
I used to be very active in those issues, but was disturbed to find that many of the groups just wanted me to second their position, rather than providing information and allowing me to come to my own conclusions.

andre said...


Thanks for your comment. I think thoughtful, winsome engagement with those who disagree with us is a lost art. However, we can start by practicing this with our coworkers and family members when they may take a position inconsistent with our own views.

andre said...


I agree that corporations will typically make decisions based on economic parameters only. However, do we have to just accept it or isn't it appropriate, for the right issue, to challenge their decision making priorities?

For instance, if a retailer started using pornographic images and themes in their marketing programs, targeted to teens...shouldn't we oppose that?

Just making a point that we can and in some instances should influence businesses.

von said...

One thing that might help is if we began to organize 'procots'... ie publishing the details of organizations that are doing things well, and encouraging Christians to patronize them. This could be an encouragement to those organizations.

andre said...


Good idea. Offering a positive reinforcement, rather than only focusing on negative positioning is helpful


Anonymous said...

The problem with supporting the positive gets a yawn at best. It doesn't have the appeal of the negative for the Main Stream Media. They have raings you know. And oftentimes you get opposition to programs like abstinence until marriage for children and older youth. The virtuous thing often receives criticism in an "enlightened" culture.

andre said...


Thanks for your comment. Your comment is probably a realistic assessment of von's suggestion but somehow the current default mode of protest is not always effective nor is it appropriate. At times, it exactly what's needed but other approaches warrant attention and consideration too.