For-profit companies are locked in a race to outdo each other in demonstrations of social responsibility and acts of kindness. Provoked by Trump’s immigration ban, Starbucks have committed to hiring 10,000 refugees, and Airbnb are providing free accommodation to those barred from entering the US. Buy your coffee from Kenco, and you’re helping to keep young men out of gangs in Honduras. Buy a t-shirt from TK Maxx and they’ll donate to Comic Relief on your behalf.
To a certain degree, I don’t care that consumerism is the real reason for their activism. But don’t let it become yours.
As Christians we shouldn’t be fooled by this convenient activism. God doesn’t call us to give as long as keeps us comfortable and doesn’t require us to sacrifice anything.
Luke 21 tells the story of the poor widow’s offering. Despite the substantial offerings made by the wealthy, Jesus notices the woman’s offering of two small copper coins: “And He said: ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.'” (Luke 21: 3-4)
While these companies’ generous donations are an undeniable good use of their spending, it’s important to remember that under the activism it’s still marketing. If it wasn’t good for their business, Kenco wouldn’t pay for an expensive programme to train those at-risk young men. Airbnb wouldn’t offer free accommodation if they didn’t expect the publicity to positively increase their bottom line.
What these companies give out of their surplus is not of higher worth to God, in fact, it’s less. True godly giving is done out of joyful sacrifice; it costs something. If we allow companies to take responsibility for our giving we miss out in two ways.
First, only the popular or ‘trendy’ causes will be supported. Companies will only spend their ‘charity’ money where the most amount of publicity and support is. Starbucks aren’t going to donate to Open Doors. Kenco aren’t going to donate to your local homeless shelter. These causes are so close to the Father’s heart, but they require His people to be active on behalf of the oppressed and homeless. If your only charitable giving is done when you by your non-fat, no-whip caramel latte, then you let someone else choose what cause your money is going to.
Second, you miss out on true giving. Godly giving is supposed to mean you have to go without your customised caffeinated beverage because you donated the entire £3.20. When we give out of our need, and not our surplus, we put ourselves in God’s hands. We live in an attitude of this money is not my money, it’s God’s. We are not entitled to being Lord over our money if Jesus is Lord over our lives.
Let’s celebrate that brands, companies and corporations are tapping into social responsibility. Amazing work can be done with their donations. And looking at their ethics, and how they spend their profits is a great deciding factor in where to spend your money.
But let’s not get consumerism and activism confused. Don’t give the responsibility for your giving over to a company whose priority is making money, not giving it away.