This morning, I was goofing off on Facebook and ran across a troubling article. It said that Jelly Belly chairman Herman Rowland Sr had donated $5000 to Privacy for All Students, an anti-trans campaign dedicated to the repeal of California Assembly Bill 1266. AB 1266, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in August, allows students K-12 to choose restrooms, sports, activities,etc. based on their gender identity rather than their plumbing (the students plumbing, not the bathroom’s). As the father of a transgender teen-ager, I’m not happy about this. My first reaction was “Well, no more Jelly Belly’s”, which really sucks because Jelly Belly’s are the freakin’ bomb. But, is another boycott really the way to handle this?
It’s not the first time a business whose product I like has gotten in bed with people I don’t. Last year, it came to light that Truett Cathey, head ofChik-fil-A (arguably the best fast-food restaurant on the planet) had troublesome views on marriage. And, if that’s where it ended, I would still be eating those delectable sandwiches of theirs…, but, it didn’t. It turns out that the Cathey family’s WinShape Foundation regularly donates to the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and Exodus International, all groups who have said and done some pretty heinous things concerning the LGBT community. After that story broke, people started talking boycott, which stirred up conservative evangelicals, who declared Chik-fil-A Appreciation Day. The early result was a 12% rise in sales for the year. I’m guessing that’s not exactly what the boycotters had in mind.
Which just goes to show public boycotts can be an iffy strategy; all too often, they run the risk of making the object of the boycott appear persecuted, like Chik-fil-A. That’s not to say they don’t work, though, just ask Guido Barilla. Besides, where do the boycotts stop? As much as you may want to, you can’t boycott every company that does something you disagree with. If only because, eventually, there won’t be any company you’re not boycotting.
What happens when the offender is not a company, but an individual? And, that individual is an artist, a writer, an actor,etc.? Take Orson Scott Card, for example. Card, author of the influential Ender Saga has some…, let’s say less than savory views on LGBT issues (for more on that, go here). Because of things he’s said, there are those who say that, by reading his books or watching his movie, we are encouraging hate speech. The thing is, his works have risen above their pop culture roots and become pretty damn good literature. Where do we draw the line? I mean, it’s one thing to stop eating jellybeans or chicken sandwiches; neither are any big loss. Can we actually say the same of art and literature?
All this brings up a question: as progressive Christians, how should we respond to such acts? It would be great if there was a checklist that you could go down to see what response the offending statement or action merited. Unfortunately, I don’t think life works that way. Well, my life doesn’t work that way. If I’ve learned nothing else in my 52 years on this planet, it’s that every situation is different and each one requires a thoughtful reaction tailored to its specifics. Will a boycott against Jelly Belly be as effective as the one against Barilla or will it be a repeat of the Chik-fil-A episode? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I plan to handle it the same way I did the previous offenders: I don’t care to help folks who say nasty things about my daughter, so I won’t be buying jelly beans anytime soon.