/ 1 Corinthians / Planned Parenthood and the “Spiritual Discipline” of Boycotting

Planned Parenthood and the “Spiritual Discipline” of Boycotting

This week saw the release of the 7th horrifying video detailing the practices of Planned Parenthood’s abortion and “harvesting” practices.  Personally, I cannot watch it.
 
While the vast majority of Christians are rightly opposed to abortion, the question of how best to respond to Planned Parenthood is complicated.  On the one hand, some Christians recognize that Planned Parenthood provides a number of important services like free or low-cost cancer screening and other types of medical services that are especially needed by the poor in our communities.  On the other hand, we know that there are other organizations that provide these necessary services that would likely step in to fill the gap in the event of Planned Parenthood’s dissolution.  Some Christians also might consider that Planned Parenthood provides thousands of jobs that would be lost in the event of their dissolution and would not wish to see such hardships visited on so many employees, especially since many of these positions are occupied by people who have no involvement with abortions. 
 
My point in sharing this is simply to point out that the issue may not be quite as cut-and-dried as some assert and the question of how to respond might be more complicated than at first blush.  
 
Let me be clear:  abortion is wrong and profiting from abortion is clear-cut evil, but there are legitimate reasons why even Christians who are adamantly opposed to abortion might struggle with how to think about Planned Parenthood and how they should respond.
 
Many Christians are choosing to protest not only Planned Parenthood but also to boycott those companies that contribute to them.  Is this the right response?  Is it a required response from faithful followers of Christ?
 
The bottom line for many Christians, myself among them, is that Planned Parenthood is responsible for ending the lives of hundreds of thousands of children every year.  My concern for jobs and other necessary medical services is overshadowed by this atrocity and I long to see Planned Parenthood cease to provide abortions.
 
But how do we work for this?

 

Congress has not acted to de-fund Planned Parenthood and it appears that they will continue to provide approximately 45% of their operating budget ($540.6 million in 2013) but as you may know, Planned Parenthood also receives a great deal of their support from for-profit businesses.  The list of corporate sponsors is depressing in that it includes many companies that have become an integral part of our daily lives (Adobe, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon, Fannie Mae, Bank of America, Progressive Insurance, etc.).   

If you should choose to withhold your patronage from such businesses and to let them know why, it may be that your actions would have an unexpectedly large impact.  Several large companies have withdrawn their support of Planned Parenthood in the past few weeks because of continuing revelations of Planned Parenthood’s activities and the resulting outcry of customers.  Little rocks can make big ripples when placed into God’s hands for His purposes!

Of course, this suggestion essentially constitutes an encouragement of a boycott.  And if you're like me, you might have mixed feelings about boycotts that target companies because of the way they use their profits.  On the one hand don't want to contribute to an evil that the company supports, but on the other hand:  Is boycotting such companies a moral obligation?  Is it sinful NOT to participate in such a boycott?  What happens when we work for such a company?  Do we have to quit?  

So I thought it might be useful to provide a little study on the biblical principles that apply to this boycotting issue. 

A Brief Biblical Evaluation of the Practice of Boycotting

Now, to be fair and balanced, there are some theological “options” in this matter of whether we can patronize companies that, in turn, support Planned Parenthood.  In 1 Corinthians 10:25, Paul says this:

1 Corinthians 10:25-28   25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience' sake;  26 FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S, AND ALL IT CONTAINS.  27 If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience' sake.  28 But if anyone says to you, "This is meat sacrificed to idols," do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience' sake;

Paul is dealing here with an issue that is, to some degree at least, analogous to the Planned Parenthood issue.  In his day, believers were faced with the question of whether or not they could buy meat in the marketplace that came from the sacrifices made in pagan temples.  Such purchases had two potential moral entanglements:  1) by eating meat sacrificed to idols (though obtained in the marketplace rather than in the temples themselves), Christians might have wondered if they were somehow actually participating in idol worship and 2) by purchasing such meat, they were presumably allowing at least some of their money to be passed on to the pagan temples.

Notice that Paul begins this section of text by telling the Corinthian Christians that they could “eat anything that is sold in the meat market…” regardless of whether or not it originated from a pagan sacrifice.  He backs up this permission with an Old Testament quotation that acknowledges that everything on earth is the Lord’s.  Why does he say “without asking questions”?  Does this mean ignorance is bliss?  Not at all!  The point is that if a Christian were to ask an unbelieving provider if the meat came from a temple, was told “yes” and then bought it anyway, this would communicate to the unbeliever that the Christian was supporting the pagan religion.  In other words, by not asking questions about the meat’s origins, the Christian shopper was intentionally working to avoid the mistaken perception of support of pagan idolatry.

Similarly, Paul goes on in this passage to say that we can eat meat at an unbeliever’s house even if it originated at a pagan temple, but that if the unbeliever informs us of the meat’s origins, we should not eat it.  Why?  Because when the nonbeliever informs us of the meat’s origins, he or she is essentially casting the meal as a participation in paganism and watching to see whether or not we will “buy in”.  

The principle seems to be something like this:  paying for a commodity that is ultimately God’s does not automatically constitute a sin, regardless of the motives of the earthly provider or the use to which they put their profit, so long as the earthly provider does not have reason to see your patronage as support of that which is immoral. 

Applying this principle to our own day, we might say, for example, that the radio waves that our cell phones use are the Lord’s and paying AT&T to provide access to them, even though AT&T may use some of our money to support Planned Parenthood, is morally permissible…as long as AT&T does not have reason to think that we give them our business because we want to contribute to their support of Planned Parenthood.

All of this is to say that I do not believe that boycotting AT&T or Microsoft or any of the other companies that provide support to Planned Parenthood is an absolute moral requirement.  I do not believe that keeping your insurance with Progressive or your computers running Windows is a sin.  By doing so, you are not directly participating in a sinful practice or knowingly communicating to those companies that your patronage constitutes an approval of the way they use their profits.  By extension, I believe the same principle also means that those of you who work for a company that contributes to Planned Parenthood are not necessarily committing a sin by remaining an employee.

How Then Shall We Live?

While boycotting companies that provide access to non-sinful resources is not required by Scripture, there is no question that it is a good thing to avoid, as much as possible, putting money into the hands of those who are known to use that money to support evil.  So if you find that your conscience is troubled by the thought of putting your money into the hands of companies that are known to support Planned Parenthood, especially when it is easy to avoid doing so, I would encourage you to consider ways to avoid this.  

I can tell you that my wife and I are daunted by the process of extricating ourselves from these corporations, since so many of them are part and parcel of our daily lives, but we are in the process of doing so.  Our process is threefold: 

1) to immediately discontinue patronizing companies that are non-essential (Expedia, Bath & Body Works, etc.),

2) to contact the companies on which we are substantially dependent (Microsoft, investment companies, etc.) and express our unhappiness with their support of Planned Parenthood and ask that they discontinue it,

 3) to find alternatives to these key services and switch to these alternatives where possible.

If you are interested in joining us in this process and wish to see the whole list of businesses that support Planned Parenthood financially or otherwise, you can find the list here: http://dailysignal.com/2015/07/21/meet-the-41-companies-that-donate-directly-to-planned-parenthood/

I hope that you will find this article neither a hateful, unthinking, knee-jerk reaction nor a justification for a stick-your-head-in-the-sand kind of attitude but rather a careful, biblically-sound and wise encouragement to respond appropriately to the presence of evil in our country…an evil that we may have some ability to combat simply by our daily choices.

Questions or comments?  Leave us a note below!

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  • August 21, 2015

    Thank you. This speaks to more than just Planned Parenthood (Lord come quickly).

    Kelly Jerrold
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