Beware Burning Bridges

Debates on sexual morality in our culture happen frequently these days in the news and on social media. I usually tend to steer clear of such debates, not because sexual morality is unimportant, but because there is almost nothing to gain by throwing in my opinion into a hot mess of entrenched opinions. That usually only serves to add fuel to the flames. Besides, openly attacking people’s sexual practices or beliefs does not typically help them be more open to hearing about the good news of Jesus.

So this past week I’ve been disappointed to see a prominent Christian figure, Franklin Graham, urge Christians to boycott Disney on his official Facebook page. He did so, in part, because some people have reported that Disney’s upcoming movie Beauty and the Beast features a character who is openly gay.

I agree that Christians should want to be aware of a movie’s sexual content, particularly those who are parents of young viewers. But if Graham’s primary aim was to alert Christians to objectionable content, then he would have done better to simply explain his disagreement with the film and his displeasure with Disney. That would have been plenty of incentive for many Christians to investigate further, determine if the reports were true or false, and make a decision whether they or their children should go see Beauty and the Beast.

But Graham went further than urging Christians to avoid this particular movie or to watch out for other Disney content. He advocated a boycott of Disney, saying that “as Christians we also have the right not to support their company. I hope Christians everywhere will say no to Disney.”

I think Franklin Graham’s organization, Samaritan’s Purse, does a fine ministry to needy kids and people around the globe. But I have a problem with boycotts like the one suggested by Graham. At best, such boycotts are unwise. At worst, they are downright foolish, at least for any follower of Christ who wishes to maintain a dialogue with the wider culture.

Boycotts do much more than make an impact over a particular product; they aim to punish an entire company over their handling of a particular issue. Boycotts magnify the power of consumer choice, and so it’s tempting for influential leaders to call for a boycott on their hot-button issues. But if I join a boycott, particularly over a disputed cultural issue, then I lose the opportunity to reach out to anyone who might disagree with me on that issue.

In other words, before I grab my bow and fit a flaming arrow to the string, I’d better make sure it’s worth burning the bridge between me and all the people on the other side.

Are there issues where I’d be willing to join a boycott? Sure, but those issues would probably also bring serious litigation to any company doing business in the U.S. Most of the time, my consumer choice is simply focused on whether the product itself is good or bad. Sometimes I do make discerning choices based on how a product is produced or marketed. But unless the company or organization specifically claims to be honoring Christ, I usually don’t concern myself over the morality of those who create, produce, and deliver a product. That would be both impractical and hypocritical; I certainty don’t want people to refuse my work just because they disagree with my opinion on an unrelated moral issue.

I also try to remember that we live in a broken world. All human creativity, beauty, decency, and good work–including my own–is stained with sin. Yet even though I’m sinful, God reached out to me and showed me extraordinary grace through Jesus Christ.

For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8 CSB)

A perfect Jesus had no problem reaching out to imperfect sinners, even those who were shunned by their culture for their actions. So as Christ’s representative in the world, I should seek to build bridges towards people whenever possible, and not go looking for reasons to burn those bridges down. I’m even supposed to bless those who are hostile towards me, because Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies just as God his Father did.

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” –Jesus (Matthew 5:43-45 CSB)

Of course, if we are are trying to obey Christ and show God’s love towards others, that doesn’t mean we should consume harmful content, or start calling things good just because they are accepted by the culture. But we should always keep in mind that Jesus didn’t go around burning bridges to sinners. If he had, none of us would have ended up with Jesus.

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