To Shop Local or Corporate?

I was recently asked about our stance on walmart and if those principles actually extended to all corporations who support gay rights.  The short answer is yes, we avoid spending our money with any corporations.  But unlike the Christian activists out there, the driving principle behind our family choices are based on a biblical understanding of corporations not on what those corporations do.

As I said in the walmart series, corporations are not a biblical concept.  I want to be clear about the principle here, this is not a “salvation issue”.  In other words no one is going to hell for buying baby food at walmart, I don’t think :).  However, the purpose of this dialog and attempting to understand these principles is a feeble and belated effort by Christians to understand what has gone wrong in our culture and how to return to the favor of God by following the patterns he gave us in His word.

Because of our belief as to the unbiblical nature of corporations and our desire to reform the culture by example we avoid spending money with any organization that would use it to promote evil (corporate or private).  Since we are unable to control, or in most cases know, what corporations are doing with our money, we avoid them all where it is possible.  We instead make a conscience effort to use our money to support local families we know, who live in the community we are a part of, as opposed to sending our money to some corporate headquarters in Delaware or Bentonville, AR.

I should point out that there are two parts to this principle.  First we must define the principle biblically despite of where we are as a culture or how pervasive these ideas are in our culture.  By some reports there are over 46 million corporations just in America, so it is a fairly pervasive issue.   This alone makes it sound absurd to even mention the notion that maybe, just perhaps corporations are not a good thing.  But I would claim that part of the problem to begin with, is that the church has been unwilling to ask tough questions therefore she has found no answers to our tough problems.

Secondly we must decide how we put into practice the principle(s) we have determined to be biblical.  There are a couple aspects to the implementation.  Since many of us will not start a corporation, the first and most far reaching implication is how do we interact with these entities that are a part of our culture and that we are dependent upon in some cases for the very necessities of life.

I know the easy approach would be to say something like, “this is not a biblical government and I’m not part of the government so I’m going to continue just the way things are and I’m not going to concern myself with what corporations are doing”.  The problem is that as Christians we are part of this world and we are called to make moral choices within the age we find ourselves in.  In other words we will stand before our Creator and give an account for everything we do, including where we spend our money.

Would someone claim that it is OK to spend money with a store that makes and sells pornography just because they have low prices on regular DVDs?  But this is the kind of morally absent decisions many make when shopping at the local mall.  I’m not throwing rocks in the glass building here, we have been to those malls and spent our money there many times.  But for the last several years, we have begin to ask ourselves about our own responsibility in this moral free fall our nation finds itself in.  We have read, studied and prayed and here are some of the conclusions we have come to for our family.

First, God began to show us the importance of the local community.  When you move out of the big city and live around other folks that depend upon your patronage to literally feed their families you look at your purchases a little bit different.  By that I don’t mean that they are poor and if you don’t shop there they are going to starve. I mean that when you shop there you know the money being spent is going to fulfill the basic needs of life, or maybe if they are really doing well you may help them buy a swimming pool for the children or grandchildren.  The point is not really about poverty or prosperity.  The point is your money is blessing someone you know, and it is not being shipped off to some corporate office to support some morally abject cause that will work to destroy the values you hold dear.

Through this process we began to see that purchases were more a matter of relationships than economy.  True, you can’t spend what you don’t have.  That is a pretty basic point of commerce.  So I’m not saying that cost has nothing to do with the purchases, just that it is not the most important aspect of the exchange.  There has never been another time in history when you can receive the things needed for substance without knowing who was providing them.  We try to shop with people we know and avoid the big Blue, Yellow, and Red signs that have come to mark every major commercial district in America and in most cases around the world.

Instead, we buy our groceries from a small local market that supplies us with food from local farmers.  (They do import grains and other items that are not grown here from some of the northwestern states, but where it is available it is all local)  There are no apples from China or honey from Argentina.

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We do not eat fast food and the few restaurant’s we eat at when we go out are locally owned.  Some use good local meats and produce and some still buy it from corporations such as Sysco.  We are talking with the owners of our favorite places and building relationships with these folks.  We hope to introduce them to some of our good friends who grow organic pasture raised poultry one day.

We buy clothes at second hand stores.  Which technically originate from the same large corporations, but the money we spend stays local.  There are just not a lot of local seamstresses and weavers available in today’s economy.

So far the only corporations we have found it difficult to avoid completely are the utilities and oil companies… but we are working on the Vaughnshire distillery and lots of folks have figured out how to produce their own electricity. 🙂

These are all high ideas and for the most part they are 100% true.  However, there are a few exceptions such as buying close out clothing items at the end of the season or traveling and finding limited choices for food or needed items.  We do not think there is some kind of moral requirement in all of this, but it is following the basic idea of loving our neighbor and doing them no harm.  In our global society we have lost an understanding of what a neighbor is, and how important the local community is.  We read the scriptures through our own individualist worldview and miss the fact that when the scriptures were written people lived in community.  They were dependent upon one another for the very basics of life.

The irony here is that the organizations who are pushing for boycotts don’t understand the concept of the local community either.  They try to fix something nationally that can only be fixed locally.  Everything in the scripture, presupposes relationships.  Very few people have relationships or the time needed to develop them. 

A new acquaintance I made recently shared with me about his last 6 years in Turkey as a missionary.  He was lamenting the church of the west and its inability to understand the eastern culture that is based on relationships!  He explained that the community relationships are so strong in Turkey, which is largely non-industrialized, that when a Muslim converted to Christianity there was a 90% chance that he would revert to Islam due to the response of the community.  He said the western Christians did not provide a community for the believers to be a part of, therefore they went back to the only community they knew.  To quote directly, “Western missionaries are busy trying to make them see their point of view on the scriptures and get them ‘saved’.  Friendship ‘wins’ more converts than right ideas.  Why can’t we get that into our heads?”

I would echo that quote to those who want to change the world whether by boycott or other means.  Friendship wins more converts to biblical ideas than national campaigns.  Friendships, for the most part are found locally, not nationally or internationally.  A person can have more of an impact by investing in friendships and discussing the ideas I have mentioned here than a whole list of e-mail activist who don’t know the principles they are fighting for or against.  What this really means is that the local church is the answer for the problems that plague our nation.  But when the church is sick we need people who will labor within the church to fix her, not exploit that sickness to build national ministries.

6 Comments

  • For anyone who may be struggling with your presuppostion that there is something inherently wrong with the corporation concept, This may be a good starting point. Published in 1893 and authored by William W. Cook, the title of the book is “The Corporation Problem”. He provides some useful an thoughtful analysis and cites particular cases of how the corporate entity is free from any real moral accountability. He writes:

    And yet notwithstanding all the advantages, material, intellectual, and moral, which have been derived from corporations, there is much to be said against them. And they have two peculiarities which have led to these abuses. These are, first, the ease with which all responsibility for bad acts is placed upon the corporation itself, while the real perpetrators are concealed; second, the separation of the stockholders from the corporate agents, of the investor from the investment, of the principal from the agent, with the expectation on the part of the investor, the principal, the stockholder, that profits will be made, honestly if possible, but that profits will be made.

  • PaulTN says:

    Thanks for the resource Keith. It looks like a great read. Looking forward to spending some time going through it!

  • Stokes says:

    AMEN BROTHER. WE SECOND THAT AT OUR PLACE.

  • Jana says:

    Thanks for writing about this. I love hearing about the “local” idea from a Christian perspective. We, too, have become more conscious of where we spend out money, how it affects our community, etc. What we’ve found is that the extra cost is WORTH it in more ways than one.

    The only way for us to get “local” produce is to get it through a delivery co-op. I pay a bit more, but I don’t have to go to the grocery store, either. More money, less stress, no pesticides, etc. and I get to support locals who are friendly and are actually getting to know me and my family.

    We’re developing relationships with REAL people. If we need service, we get it. The quality of what we buy is FAR superior. And we feel really good, knowing that we’re benefiting people like us, or people who really need it, or people who use our money in an honorable fashion. It makes us feel like we’re more a part of something that MATTERS, rather than a pawn in some stranger’s pursuit of wealth.

    Anyway, thanks again. I really liked your article.

  • […] articles with some great resources I wanted to pass along.  Keith mentioned in his response to the Shop Local post a great book which I am reading now entitled, “The Corporation Problem“, written in […]

  • […] raising our own beef and chicken, and milking our own cow.  These in a nut shell are the two economies we live in.  On the one side, we are exploiting the folly of the industrial model by leveraging […]

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