What Target’s Troubles Indicate About Politics, Markets & the Future of the American Christian Church

Men errecting Gay Pride flag

Until recently, the fact that a very small minority of the American population felt like they were not equals was a subject of debate but not much else. With the SCOTUS decision to legitimize same-sex marriage in 2015 this all changed as sexuality was suddenly shifted from a matter of personal preference, to an orientation which required protection under the 14th Amendment. From there it has been a wild ride as we have seen every form of sexuality begin to emerge from the closet looking for the affirmation of the American people, and countless everyday Americans uncomfortable with the idea that Nature no longer has the final say on matters of biology and psychology. On a number of occasions this has resulted in law suits being brought against businesses for discrimination and repeatedly these businesses have been punished by the courts for transgressing the new norms.

Most recently, Target chose to set the precedent of publicly announcing that their bathrooms had never been and would never be restricted to only those people whose biology (sex) lined up with the sign on the door; but that for them restroom usage is based on the individuals gender identity. Needless to say this has created a firestorm for Target among conservatives. Now in my opinion this was more a PR thing for Target than anything because I have never once been in a Target and witnessed someone checking, TSA style, as people went into the restrooms so as to insure that they were using the right one. In fact I have never seen this anywhere and frankly I am pretty sure that those who are upset about Target’s announcement are not calling for TSA pat downs either.

TSA-Pats-Down-Santa-Clause-600x337

The reality is that despite what outlets like Think Progress may assert, the concern here has far less to do with those who feel they are transgendered and far more to do with protecting those who are disproportionately impacted by the inherent dangers of allowing Men unfettered access to women’s restrooms. Sadly, it is now the “progressives” who once decried the callousness of “conservatives” regarding the realities of violence against women who are now demeaning women who voice concern over this issue. Never the less it seems that there is a grass-roots movement among conservatives, and especially professing Christians, to boycott Target; a decision which according to FRC has cost Target $2,500,000,000 and a 6% drop in stock prices.

These events are fascinating on several levels.

First there is the Political. With the SCOTUS decision there has been a strong sense that the Sexuality as an orientation is a settled issue scientifically and therefore government has had to lead the people to accept it. The American Democratic system however was not designed to operate from the top down, so an unsettled issue can never be settled by political power plays; in fact whenever the government tries to use its power to move the people in a particular direction it only works to agitate the opposition. Consider the way the Emancipation Proclamation led to civil rights abuses that took another 100 years to resolve. Or consider the fiasco of Prohibition in the 1920s or the War on Drugs. Consider the way Roe vs Wade ignited the pro-life movement, or the way the public has responded to Target. Despite the way certain groups may employ the vocabulary of dismissiveness to try to marginalize opponents as ignorant or hateful or anti-progress, the point remains that politically speaking this issue is far from settled.

The second fascinating thing about these events flows directly from the first and it has to do with how markets work. Basic economics here, markets are the way we understand the production of goods and services, and their consequent values. America was founded with a strong degree of free market thinking in that private businesses were just that, private. You did what you wanted with your stuff, including serving who you want and not serving who you don’t want. Obviously this means that at times goods and services were denied to individuals for terrible reasons. However there was another side to this concept of free markets and that was that anyone one could buy and sell with anyone else whom they chose. Thus in a free market the business that meets the needs of the customer and appeals to the values of their community is the business that is ultimately successful.

Over the years an alternative to free markets has vied for dominance. This alternative has many names and can be found in any economic philosophy, but regardless of its present name it is always essentially the same; it is politically driven markets. Politically driven markets are what happens when the government decides that it suits its own interests for one business to succeed and another to fail. The government then places regulations on, or fines, or brings litigation against, those businesses it finds undesirable.

This is what has happened with this issue. Wherever private businesses have voiced concerns about the implications for this new norm regarding Sexuality, they have been labeled bigots and have been punished by the government. But the government only has power over the businesses side of the market not over private consumers so it cannot force Americans to shop at Target to prove that they are not bigots. Thus the financial hit Target has taken is an example of the free market at work, and in this the community has spoken quite loudly.

The third and final thing about all this which fascinates me is how much it is an indicator of what lies ahead for the Christian Church in America. While conservative groups are busy patting themselves on the back for this display of solidarity, they are in fact hurting their brand because there is no consistency in their indignation. Without consistency they look more like children throwing a temper tantrum than adults engaging in civil disobedience and conscientious objection to societal trends which threaten the wellbeing of the most vulnerable in our society, as well as the very fabric with which it is woven together in the first place.

One must ask themselves, if conservatives, and especially self-proclaimed Christians, are truly concerned about Target’s stance on this issue then why are they not boycotting other groups who hold to similar views? Why not boycott Hollywood entirely considering it’s full on embrace of the LGBT movement? Or what about Facebook or Microsoft, Amazon or Google, Budweiser or Martha Stewart, Marvel or Star Wars or Disney? No the reality is that conservatives really do not care that much because if they did the free market would have resolved the issue along time ago.

All of this reminds me of something that the half-brother of the Lord wrote, “…the wrath of Men does not produce the righteousness which God desires…” (James 1:20). And this is precisely the problem: while many self-professed Christians are congratulating themselves; they are simultaneously destroying their witness with their inconsistency and their lack of intentional, compassionate outreach to the broken and hurting in this world. And when the Salt of the Earth ceases to be able to do what it was created to do (Matthew 5:13), well let’s just say that the executives at Target won’t be the only ones crying…

Bridge burning

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you…’”