Friday, December 15, 2006

WWJS - Where Would Jesus Shop?

An anti-Walmart group called Wakeup Walmart has enlisted the help of over 130 pastors in its fight against the company's business practices. A new television ad launched last week, features Pastor Joe Phelps asking the question - "can we continue to shop at Walmart without insulting God?". He also explains his rationale for participating in the ad in a special article to the Courier-Journal.

At the heart of the debate are allegations that Walmart has violated child labor laws, underpaid its employees, condoned gender based discrimination and failed to provide health coverage for half of the 1.3 million U.S. employees. However, the rest of the story is that Wakeup Walmart is backed by labor unions who have an interest in convincing Walmart workers to unionize.

This anti-Walmart sentiment is not new - this just happens to be the latest episode involving Christian activism. It's interesting to me that a number of pastors have involved themselves in a broad anti-Walmart movement. Some believe that they are on a mission from God to save Walmart from moral decay, while others like Pastor Phelps are focused on opposing their business practices related to fair pay and benefits.

In a prior post, I've blogged on whether this Christian activism is actually the best way to engage those who have an opposing view. I often wonder if taking a confrontational posture by default is effective engagement.

However, the pastors' participation in the Wakeup Walmart movement and this ad raises the stakes even more. I cannot help but wonder the following -

As a corporate entity, doesn't Walmart have the right to compensate their workers as they deem advantageous to the business provided that they do not operate unethically or unfairly discriminate?

Isn't part of management's responsibility to their customers and shareholders as well as to their employees? Customers desire greatest value for goods and services. Shareholders desire greatest return for their investment. Both desires operate for the common good of society.

Does this well intentioned activism actually mitigate against the advancement of the gospel? At the very least, such activism can dilute the essential message of the gospel which has the power to do far more than simply improve our payscale or health benefits. It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. It's a message we must both guard with vigilance and proclaim with joyful confidence.


L.L. Barkat said...

Your last question is an interesting one... for, it brings up another question... what is the gospel... what is the good news? I suppose that how people answer this influences their actions (and activism :)

A Jewish friend of mine recently commented to me that God's salvation is inextricably tied to his world. I found that very fascinating. (and plan to ask for some further explanation :)

Mark Goodyear said...

This reminds me of a story I read somewhere. I think it is St. Augustine.

A town had been cut off from traders due to weather. A trader traveled to this town with his goods. He knew that many other traders were on their way and would arrive in a few days. Did he have a moral obligation to lower his prices in line with what the future supply would be? Or could he keep the knowledge of the future supply to himself and thereby take advantage of the greater demand for his own goods?

St. Augustine (I believe) said he should not feel guilty for accepting the fair market price for his goods--even if that fair market price would decline in a few days due to an increased supply.

What do you think, Andre? Are market forces amoral?

andre said...

Excellent point, LL

I think the question you raise -"what is the gospel" may be the most profound of all questions - it is the key to right living. I agree with your suggestion that it influences our actions.

I think the Bible informs us that the gospel is about a person - Jesus Christ who died as a substitute to bear the punishment of our sins against God and to impute to us a righteousness before God.

As an answer, it may seem simple and perhaps unoriginal but it is profoundly life changing. The reason it so greatly influences our lives is because the subtexts of the gospel anchors our life around powerful truths like the fact that our greatest problems are actually found in the reality that God is holy and we are sinful. If we don't see this as the ultimate problem, we won't see the gospel of Jesus Christ as the ultimate good news.

Just consider how our daily lives would change if we lived in the reality of this good news.

andre said...


I love your comments because you never let me off easy - you insist that I think!

Here's how I would answer your question - having pondered it for all of 3 minutes. Generally, market forces are ammoral based on this principle - the morality of market forces depend on the means and agency of those forces. So, in your example, the trader was responding to a situation created by an act of God.

The fact that he is acting out of self interest isn't necessarily wrong either. Although, were he to raise prices to a point whereby it harmed the townsfolk, his acts would be wrong.

This is off the top of my head and not well thought through so I welcome other points of view, even dissenting ones. Meanwhile, I'll look into what the bible might say about your situation.

Love the questions, Marcus...keep them coming...but it wouldn't hurt if you supplied some answers too! :-)

L.L. Barkat said...

And now, since you seem to be a person of good humor, shall we play a little more with this?

What does it mean to be Sinful?

andre said...


I am indeed a person of good humor but only theologically sound humor. (I'm kidding)

Your question - what does it mean to be sinful is the natural question to my prior comment. The first and principal measure of what it means to sinful starts with God and his holiness. I believe to be sinful is rebel against God's moral law. We might do this overtly in actions or covertly in our thoughts and attitudes.

L.L. Barkat said...

Ha! I love the comment about "theologically sound" humor. :)

God's moral law... do you mean the ten commandments? Or something broader? In other words, how can I tell when I've been "sinful," when I've rebelled?

andre said...


Great question - you have me thinking. It's amazing how we think we understand something until we're asked about it.

I believe God's moral law is principally represented by the ten commandments but not exclusively so. Jesus shed light on what it means to obey the ten commandments by drawing attention to the responses of our hearts. In Matt 5, Jesus points out that the sin of adultery isn't just a physical act - to lust is to do the equivalent in your heart.

Jesus also said that all the Law and Prophets "hang on" two basic commandments - Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength and Love your neighbor as yourself.

L.L. Barkat said...

Thanks, Andre, for continuing on with me. Yes, this is the best way I can understand it too... so, now to your original question... Where Would Jesus Shop?

andre said...


I'm not sure where he would shop but he would definitely not pay retail... so my guess is he'll be ok with Walmart. :-)

L.L. Barkat said...

Thought this was a conversation worth extending (the sin aspect), so that's what's happening at Seedlings today. Thanks for starting something!

Ted Gossard said...

Andre, At the heart of the gospel is the work of Christ for us, but the gospel includes the good news (of course, "gospel") of the kingdom of God invading the world in Jesus. This is pervasive and means, for me, more than just personal evil. It extends to systemic evil, and pervades all, and everything in God's created world. Bringing Christ's redemption, potentially, to all people and entities. So that we need to engage them.

Yes. If we lose the passion to see people come to Christ, we've lost the heart of God's work. But this heart extends into all things. Eschatologically beginning now, in this "already/not yet" existence.

Good post. Good to make us think. (Great job in avoiding the question, uh?.)

andre said...


Thanks for stopping by with a very thoughtful post. I definitely agree with your comment that the good news should engage the problem of systemic evil. The gospel is redemptive, not only for us personally but also in restoring order in the world.

I do wonder how to keep the balance between the gospel message focused on reconciliation and the effects of the gospel extended to impact the world.

Your comment is provoking me to think some more. Thanks.