A sometimes-effective tool in creating social change involves the act of boycotting. It creates social awareness of an injustice and, when successful, can often result in change to correct the injustice.
Perhaps the most volatile issue in American history has been abortion. It has divided political parties, professional organizations and families. It has inspired peaceful marches, violent attacks and smear campaigns. It has touched the retail and corporate cultures within our society. So it is only natural that a “boycott” can be used as a component in the arsenal to create change. Opponents of abortion have used it to defund abortion, and advocates have used it to hold its support close.
Over the years I have fielded questions on the work of the March of Dimes, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Target stores, Wal-Mart, Pepsi Cola and most recently the American Cancer Society (ACS) and its “Relay for Life” fund raising event. I will use this installment to focus on the “Relay for Life” with thoughts that would apply to the broader issues of boycotting and disassociating with agencies that have any connection with abortion.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) does admirable work, and for those of us with loved ones who have had cancer or who have died from cancer, we hope cancer-fighting agencies succeed in their goal of curing cancer in its many forms. Sometimes in a world of sin, however, commendable work can become a little fuzzy around the edges.
Advocacy and research groups walk a precariously thin line between accomplishing the greatest good for the most people and not aligning itself with anything that would distract from its core mission.
The 2012 debacle that occurred with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure agency is a terrific example. The focus at Komen is clear – to cure breast cancer. The organization began as the result of a promise made by the sister of breast-cancer victim Susan Komen to eradicate the disease forever. So Komen funds research and education programs consistent with that mission. That is what led to their relationship with Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood, the largest single provider of abortion services in the United States, conducts other health and wellness programs. One of those programs involves the instruction on breast self-examination. Komen provided grant support for this wellness program at Planned Parenthood. Because of Planned Parenthood’s place in the abortion industry, the Komen support became a public relations disaster. Komen takes no position on abortion, and the organization tightly restricts its grant money to solely support the cancer-awareness program of the Planned Parenthood operation. Nevertheless, the tie between the two organizations resulted in bad publicity and some lost jobs – and it is my understanding also Komen lost some support for its otherwise laudable efforts.
Some high-profile health agencies, such as March of Dimes, have adopted a policy in which they only fund research which falls under the guidelines established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Because NIH is supported by all of us through our tax dollars we are essentially already supporting research as it pertains to those guidelines. Such guidelines, which ebb and flow with the changing political culture, currently permit the funding of research that includes the destruction of embryos in stem cell research and refuses to fund research on or directly in favor of abortion – though research grants may go to abortion-advocacy or performing agencies to use in restricted research projects (i.e., instructional or diagnostic programs on breast cancer which may be performed by agencies that happen to also provide abortions).
From what I can find, the ACS does not directly fund research of embryonic stem cell science, and it does not directly fund research related to abortions. The ACS does, however, provide grant money to Planned Parenthood to support its anti-smoking education programs.
The ACS also provided grants to a department at the University of Georgia which conducts embryonic stem cell research. The ACS grants, however, do not directly support that research.
For purposes of further illustration I will only reference the abortion issue – though applications can be made to all activities that are contrary to the will of God.
If I correctly understand the issues involved with the ACS and other agencies which do good work but have the occasional “fuzzy” connections, I distill three areas of concerns:
- Fungible Funds – “Fungible” involves money that can be reallocated and moved around. In this context the idea would work like this: Let’s say Planned Parenthood establishes an annual budget of which $50,000 is allocated toward education on the cancer risk associated with smoking. It often takes months to receive confirmation of a grant award, and at times the money is received during the middle of a fiscal cycle. With these facts in mind, assume Planned Parenthood learns the ACS has provided a $30,000 grant related to the smoking instruction program. That means $30,000 originally allocated in the Planned Parenthood budget can now be reallocated. The fear is that the money will be reallocated to its abortion program. Because of this “fungible” nature of budgets, some construe the restricted $30,000 grant to Planned Parenthood’s instruction on smoking as essentially freeing up money that can be used to promote abortion.
- Guilt by Association – If Planned Parenthood engages in the killing of children the ACS, through its granting and the fungible nature of budgets, becomes an accomplice or enabler in the business of abortion. Furthermore, participation in a fund raising ACS activity, as the reasoning goes, would determine that the participant, by association, is an accomplice with the ACS in its work, and therefore an accomplice with Planned Parenthood in its work.
- Our Light – Christians take the calling seriously to be shining lights in a sin-darkened world (Matthew 5:16 and Philippians 2:15). We worship God when we do not do wrong things and also when we do right things. While God judges the authenticity of our faith by our hearts the world judges our faith by the “reality” of our actions (i.e., those things we do and those things we avoid that can be observed) and by the “perception” of our actions (i.e., how others see and interpret what we do). Christians take care that the reality and the perception they leave with others always points to their love for God and their love for others.
It is easy and simplistic to say that we do nothing that is contrary with God’s will, and we do nothing to support things contrary to God’s will. The primary concern is to provide a clear testimony to sin and its dangers, as well as God’s will on the matter. A Christian has no choice. It is wrong to sin or to advocate sinning. It is wrong to blur the counsel of God.
For example, we will not give unrestricted donations to the work of Planned Parenthood. Failing to restrict a gift to Planned Parenthood is a tacit endorsement of their operation, including the killing of unborn children.
To some degree, the Hyde Amendment recognized this principle by making it illegal to use tax money to pay for most abortions.
The Hyde Amendment did not prevent the federal government from awarding grants or subsidies to Planned Parenthood. Federal money for Planned Parenthood came with the restriction that it could not be used for abortions. Planned Parenthood would have to raise its own money through donations, grants, endowments and fees to do its dirty work.
While I realize this opens a “can of worms,” this simple logic compels Christian legislators to act in a way in which the testimony of God’s will on a matter is clear. It is plausible that a Christian legislator might find himself/herself in a position to vote on matters that are contrary to God’s will because society’s “hardness of the heart,” but it is not plausible to cast such a vote without offering the clear testimony of God’s judgment on the sin. A spineless testimony that “I could not have an abortion, but I don’t think I can restrict others from having an abortion” is not a clear testimony.
The clear testimony should be consistent in seriousness and concern, with the warnings provided in Scripture (such as Ezekiel 3:17ff, Philippians 2:15 and Jude 4-7). The testimony should clearly state the will of God and the eternal consequences for violating that will. While I cannot imagine how one could justify a vote in favor or abortion rights such an affirmative vote compels a Christian to clearly state, according to God’s Word, abortion terminates a life and involves the killing a human being for whom Christ had died. Killing, as with all sin, creates an eternal wall of separation between the sinner and God. A Christian is always and foremost concerned about the eternal consequences of all actions.
Degrees of Culpability
As I stated earlier, the ACS does not directly support abortion or embryonic stem cell research. It is a matter of record, however, that the ACS has given money to agencies engaged in these activities with the restriction that the money not be used for those unethical purposes.
On the one hand, we wish the ACS could find other agencies to support with its research money. Lacking the time to research the details and reasoning behind each grant I presume a logical decision was made in providing restricted grants to agencies that otherwise perform unethical or controversial work.
The issue is where to draw the line. There are some agencies which support Planned Parenthood with unrestricted funds. Are they more culpable than agencies, like the ACS, which provide support through restricted funds?
If we reject agencies like the ACS because – even with restrictions – we feel the relationship is too cozy with an abortion-performing industry, then where do we then draw the line? They may buy items and hire workers from community stores and service agencies that we also patronize. Do we boycott those agencies and services as well? What about the road leading to the abortion clinic? Since it was created with our tax money, are we providing support that helps get people to the door of Planned Parenthood? Are we culpable for failing to show up at plan commission meetings to speak against building the road or granting the zoning variance?
Back to Clear Testimony
As I see it, the problem with boycotting agencies, especially second- and third-degree culpable agencies, is whether or not we are providing the testimony that best communicates our concerns. Will a boycott of the ACS “Relay for Life” shut down Planned Parenthood? Will it even convince the ACS to stop providing restricted grants to Planned Parenthood? In the end, will our public testimony really result in saving lives at the abortion clinic, or inhibit research to fight cancer, which potentially saves lives?
The answer to the question of involvement in relay races, community fund raisers, etc. for agencies with collateral connections to Planned Parenthood cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or a “no.” It depends on the effectiveness of the action, who is listening to our concerns and who is helped by participating, who is harmed by participating and who is helped or harmed if we don’t participate.
In other words, we must consider the message or testimony we are communicating by our decision. Will it come off the way we want it to come off?
Sermon for the Choir
Sometimes in our conservative circles we preach a lot of sermons to the “choir.” You know that habit – always telling the people who are in church Sunday after Sunday (i.e., the “choir”) that they should come to church every Sunday. Sometimes we fashion our protests and our public displays to appeal to those who are already with us on these issues.
Sometimes we do these things as a statement of solidarity. We want the other side to see that the number of people opposed to abortion is sizeable and a force to be reckoned with.
Sometimes we do these things to be martyrs – to bring about the consternation and attacks of our opponents. There is something about suffering for the cause that lends further credibility or at least fosters increased commitment from those who stand with us.
Sermon for Those Who Need It
To provide a clear testimony is our most important concern. What decision and what action will provide the clearest testimony – for the right audience?
When it comes to the Relay for Life and other comparable events with other agencies like the ACS, we need to ask ourselves about the testimony we give, for whom we give it and its effectiveness. By my own reasoning, people who do not support already have no voice of objection. People who do support and express concern often get the attention.
I think recruiting people to run in the Relay for Life adds strength to the numbers. Sit down with those you recruit to run with you and explain your concerns about the ACS connections to Planned Parenthood and embryonic stem cell research. Nevertheless, run the relay and raise money to fight cancer. What a commendable cause.
Then, when you send in the check, write a letter of concern about those connections. Express your support in the fight against cancer and even suggest your determination to be back for the next relay. Then have your entire team of runners sign the letter.
Then, next year, raise a bigger group of runners and explain to them your concerns again. Raise more money. Again, write a similar letter as the previous year, and have everyone sign it.
If necessary, repeat the process again – and again. Depending on the responses you get you may finally determine that your concerns fall on deaf ears, and you will have to take your support and your corps of fellow runners elsewhere. But if the agency responds to each letter listen carefully to their reasoning. You may find the grants are already committed to extended amounts of time (3-5 years, for example) and cannot be easily revoked without causing a Komen-caliber disaster.
Better yet, you may get an audience higher up on the organization’s “food chain.” You may find your supportive attitude and non-judgmental concerns have touched their consciences and impressed them with your measured approach.
This suggestion does not bring with it all of the fanfare of an outright boycott. It likely earns for you the criticism of those who see the world in a more black and white way. Remember this, however: it is the Word of God that says that “love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) and that we are to “correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience” (2 Timothy 4:2). Fight to beat cancer and create for yourself a credible forum to voice an objection.