In recent decades, a number of prominent Christian organizations and denominations have called for Christians to boycott businesses that are associated in some way with non-Christian ethics. Over the years, these groups have called for boycotts of companies and products such as American Airlines, The Gap, Burger King, Clorox, Crest, Ford, Hallmark Cards, Kraft Foods, Microsoft, the Walt Disney Company, IKEA, Pampers, Target, the Campbell Soup Company, and many more.
Homosexuality and abortion have been the major issues that have inspired these boycotts. For example, some of the boycotted companies give employee benefits to homosexual couples, advertise in pro-homosexual magazines, or donate to pro-homosexual advocacy groups. Numerous companies financially support pro-abortion organizations such as Planned Parenthood.
These calls for boycotts stem from a belief on the part of some Christians that all believers have a moral obligation to boycott any company that supports sinful behavior such as homosexuality or abortion. Their motivation is a noble one, for they are attempting to follow the biblical mandate to obey God's Word and to not love the things of this world (1 John 2:15–17; see Eph. 5:11; James 4:4).
Other Christians argue that Scripture does not place such a moral obligation on all Christians. These Christians point out that the aforementioned commands deal with love of the world's system of thinking—that is, its evil worldview. They say that boycotting any business that is associated with non-Christian ethics in any way goes beyond the biblical meaning of separation and, if taken to its logical conclusion, would require that Christians abandon the world. Christians would not be of the world—which is good—but neither would they be in it—which is not good.
What shall we say to these things? First, let us note that people on both sides of this issue believe that we may not compromise the holy standards of God. We all agree that we must not capitulate to our culture's definition of right and wrong, and that we must resist calls for Christians to redefine biblical ethics.
However, it is one thing to stand strong on what God defines as sin, but it is another to say this requires us to boycott any business that is involved tangentially with sin.
Paul gives an essential principle regarding associating with non-Christians:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." (1 Cor. 5:9–13)
Note that Paul clarifies some teaching that he had previously delivered to the Corinthians. Apparently, some in the Corinthian church took Paul's admonition to separate from immoral people as a command to separate from all immoral people without distinction. But that is not what he meant. He clarifies his point by saying that the ones from whom we must separate are immoral people who bear "the name of" brothers (v. 11). The Apostle is referring to individuals who insist on calling themselves Christians while living in grievous, impenitent sin. Separation pertains to the visible church. Paul wants the church to present a good witness to the world around her by remaining as pure as possible on this side of heaven. That means removing from the visible church anyone who claims to be a believer and impenitently bears the fruits of wickedness and not the fruits of regeneration. The entire chapter is dealing with a church discipline issue, with a problem among those in Corinth who professed the name of Christ and not every Corinthian citizen.
To be sure, we are to refrain from personal sin and to encourage godly living, but that is different than staying away from impenitent sinners who make no claim to being Christians. The only way to do that, Paul notes, would be to remove ourselves entirely from the world (vv. 9–10). Paul's clarification on the matter shows that he does not want us to remove ourselves from the world. He wants us to associate with sinners—not in endorsing or joining in their sin, but in making ourselves available to them so that they can hear the gospel. This is what Jesus did (Mark 2:13–17), and the Apostles did the same as they took the gospel to pagan sinners (1 Cor. 6:9–11). Therefore, because we are not to separate from the world into a Christian ghetto, we have to participate in the world's economy and do business with our non-Christian neighbors. There is no way around it.
That is all well and good, you might say, but should we not distinguish between non-Christians who promote immorality openly and those who do not, and then take our business to the former? Does not our purchasing from those who promote sin make us responsible for sin because our dollars might be going to the promotion of evil? There are two passages that bear on this subject. In Romans 13:6–7, Paul explains that Christians are to pay their taxes, thereby echoing the teaching of our Lord in Matthew 22:15–22. This is significant because the specific government to which Jesus and Paul commanded Christians to pay taxes was the Roman government, which supported and condoned heinous activities. In fact, Jesus commended the paying of taxes to the very authorities He knew would soon crucify Him. The Roman Empire was not merely non-Christian—it was anti-Christian. And yet, both our Lord and the Apostle Paul instruct Christians to pay taxes to that government. Since Jesus and Paul would never tell us to do anything that involves us in sin, we may deduce from these passages that Christians are not morally responsible if their tax dollars are used for sinful purposes. And if we are not morally responsible for what the government does with our tax dollars, we are certainly not responsible for what companies do with our purchasing dollars. We do not intend to support sin with our purchases; we simply need a good or service. When we buy chicken from a supermarket that supports Planned Parenthood, for example, we are not trying to fund abortion. We just need food for our families.
We are to be in the world, and being in this world means participating in the economies of this world. So, we must respectfully disagree with our fellow Christians who insist that all believers are morally obligated to boycott any company that supports sinful behavior. Therefore, we choose to do business with non-Christians. We choose to live among them. We choose to do so in order that we might call them out of darkness and into light. We do so in imitation of our Lord who did not abandon us when we were His enemies, and who came and lived among us and died for us that we might live.