In 2013, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz made a statement reaffirming their support of same-sex marriage. Though the actual quote was far less controversial than it was made out to be by various news outlets, the situation still set off a series of boycotts from those such as myself who were opposed to the movement that would ultimately lead to the Obergefell vs. Hodge supreme court ruling in 2015. Personally, I haven’t spent a penny at Starbucks ever since.
In April of 2016, Target announced a new transgender-friendly bathroom policy that would allow any of their customers to use whichever bathroom matched the gender they identify as rather than their biological sex. Again, a massive boycott ensued including an online pledge that roared past 700,000 signatures within days and eventually climbed to almost 1.5 million. I haven’t set foot inside the store or bought anything from them online ever since, and I won’t as long as their bathroom policy remains in effect. Neither will I go to any business that lets men share a bathroom with my nine-year-old daughter.
I don’t bring this up to flex my conservative muscles and impress people with my boycotting skills. I bring it up because, over time, I’ve started to see a return of Target bags and Starbucks cups in the hands of people that I know were among the first to call for the boycott. What used to be “I’ll never go there again” has slowly devolved to “I’ll go, but I won’t take my kids”, and then to “I’ll take the kids, but I won’t use their bathrooms”. Why? Because we need our third-daily Venti Mocha fix. Because Wal-Mart is an extra two miles away. Because the only Coffee Bean nearby is in the mall and not a drive-thru.
Sometimes I wonder about the backbone of many Christians in America today. We’re quick to be outraged and quick to organize boycotts or post angry rants on Facebook, but when the days drag on and the reality of what it means to boycott one of your favorite businesses begins to settle in, we are just as quick to find ways to rationalize going back on our pledges and moving on to the next outrage.
This isn’t a political concern for me. We’re fighting a spiritual and ideological war that cannot be won with boycotts or hashtags. Rather, it’s a concern for the wellbeing and endurance of the western church in the face of opposition.
In Revelation, we are given a chilling detail of the Antichrist’s rule and the extent of his power:
Since I hold to a pre-millennial interpretation of Revelation, I believe that this scene is still to come; that one day in the future every man, woman, and child on earth will be forced to decide: “Ally yourself with the Antichrist or starve.” I should qualify that since I also hold to a pre-Tribulational understanding of Christ’s second coming, I do not believe that the church, as it exists on earth right now, will be among those who will be required to make such a choice. However, I am also honest enough to admit that there are many people, far more intelligent and more highly-trained than myself, who disagree with that position and that I may very well be wrong. While I do not believe that the church, including myself, will find itself in that position, I am also open to the possibility that it will, and myself with it.
Consider this. If we can’t hold to our principles about not shopping at Target because we can’t stomach going an extra two-miles down the road to shop at Wal-Mart instead, how will we ever survive a literal life-and-death decision like that portrayed in Revelation? If our values go out the window when we “need” a booster shot of caffeine to get through the day, how will they fare when holding to them means watching our children starve rather than bowing to the Enemy?
Perhaps that is too far off, though. After all, there are many who believe Christ may come back in our lifetime, but Jesus also said that no one knows when he will return except God (Matt 24:36, Mark 13:32). It may be another hundred years, or even thousands. Should we get our panties all in a bunch about something so far removed? Yes, and for two reasons.
First, the bible’s repeated message concerning the return of Christ is that we should always be watching and waiting, living as if he could return at any moment. That means that, if we are to be honest, we need to prepare our hearts and minds for the possibility that we could find ourselves witnessing the rise of the Antichrist as early as tomorrow, and all that will come with it. Second, any Christian even remotely aware of what is going on in the news over the last decade knows that western culture as a whole, from Burbank to Berlin, is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity and the values that it retains. Not only do we face an assault on freedom of speech, freedom of religion and conscience, and even freedom of thought by the powers of secular media, politics, and academia, we also are increasingly faced with the two-fold threat of Islam. Terrorists in the name of ISIS are gunning people down in our streets while “moderate” Muslims in the political and educational arenas are slowly working the foundations of Sharia law into formal legal systems of otherwise free countries. American Christians may often tell themselves that “those things will never happen here”, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that moves to criminalize Christian values and teachings are already being made.
Recently I’ve been going through the I Am N devotional produced by Voice of the Martyrs (I also highly recommend Tortured for Christ by VoM's founder). It contains a great deal of ink dedicated to forgiving those who harm or persecute us (which, as an American, makes it somewhat foreign and not relatable – I’ve never faced the sort of persecution that our family in Iran or Sudan face), but, characteristic of a VoM publication, also includes many, many stories of Christians who have spent their lives on the run, fleeing for their personal safety, being beaten, whipped, tortured, starved, ostracized and martyred for their faith. It is hard to be a Christian in such countries. Every single day brings the threat of death or dismemberment simply for daring to believe that Muhammad was not a true prophet. Christians in communist China and North Korea face torture and execution for what they believe. The horrific stories that come out of these and other “closed countries” over the last hundred years are alien to those of us who throw up flags and claims of persecution whenever someone is mildly rude to us at work.
Sometimes I wonder how much worse it will get before it gets better, if it gets better at all. Will the US become yet another country where it is illegal to be a Christians?
I fear that it is going to get a lot worse and I fear that the church – the American church that has been raised on sappy worship songs, feel-good sermons, and entertainment-based youth groups – is simply not up for the challenge.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.