I’m the last guy to stand up for Wal-Mart. Sure, they sell stuff cheap, but it’s because they pay substandard wages, offer few full-time jobs, stiff employees on health insurance and force suppliers to sell below market or lose huge contracts. But I have to admit, I feel sorry for them for the grief they’re getting from the radical Christian right over the company’s ties to gay and lesbian groups.
Last week, the American Family Association (AFA) and Operation Save America (how could they be wrong?) forced Wal-Mart to change its policy of funding gay and lesbian groups by threatening to call for a national boycott for the two days after Thanksgiving—prime season for shopoholics.
For the last few years, Wal-Mart has taken lumps from social justice groups for its substandard employment practices. In response, the company has pulled out all the public relations stops—selling cheap generic prescriptions, spending millions on local little league baseball and trying to forge better relationships with diverse groups such as the gay and lesbian community. After being beaten up by the social justice advocates on the left, the “pro-gay” policy means punches are now coming from the religious right.
Operation Save America spokesperson Flip Benhan (yes, that’s his real name) told the Associated Press Wal-Mart has been Christian families’ favorite store, but now it’s heading down a slippery slope other corporations have slid on, adding that Wal-Mart’s being extorted by a “radical homosexual agenda.”
Radical homosexual agenda? What about the radical Christian right’s agenda? In their antigay hubris, groups like AFA and Operation Save America have conveniently overlooked the most important teachings in the Bible. For the handful of ambiguous mentions of homosexuality, there are dozens about social justice.
Jesus’ three decades on Earth were not spent on an anti-gay tirade. Even though he never used the term, Jesus’ most frequent teachings challenged his followers to fight for the human rights of the least among them. What did he mean by human rights? Food, shelter, medical care, education, a job.
The public relations stand-off between AFA, Operation Save America and Wal-Mart illustrates the perilous journey that so-called Christian family values groups have embarked upon.
According to AFA’s website, they “believe in holding accountable the companies which sponsor programs attacking traditional family values.” Where were the AFA or Operation Save America on raising the minimum wage? On universal healthcare? On ending homelessness? Not a mention on either group’s website. If you believe Flip, Christian families think keeping people out of poverty is a less-worthy cause than keeping gay cashiers from ringing you up.
What would Jesus say?
In his first public sermon, Jesus laid out what we would now call his platform. In Luke 4:18 he quoted Isaiah, saying, “He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives.” Jesus also chastised those who shunned the poor and helpless, saying, “You did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
Not unlike the Pharisees, current right-wing religious leaders have largely ignored a doctrine focusing on the poor, the mistreated and the rejected of society for one focusing on the so-called moral issues of homosexuality, abortion and other “family values.”
Bible researcher Arnie Fisher argues that “Sodom wasn't destroyed because of sexual immorality; it was destroyed because it ‘had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease’—and isn't that a pretty good description of America?—and it ‘did not help the poor and needy.’”
The Operation Save America website brags about the sneers and other persecution group members suffered when they protest outside Wal-Mart. Apparently, fighting homosexuality is a divine cause.
But how many Christian political leaders today are willing to stand up for the people Jesus spent most of his time talking about? The homeless. Illegal immigrants. Drug addicts. The answer is very few—probably because most of those at the margins of American society don’t or can’t vote.
It’s no wonder so many non-Christians look up to Christ but look down on Christians. They’re baffled by the radical Christian right’s interpretation of his teachings. Did Christ really think fighting same-sex marriage was more important than fighting for affordable housing?
Even if one believes homosexuality is immoral according to the Bible, is it really the most important moral battle for Christians? What about poverty, discrimination, hunger, war, social justice? Was Christ’s biggest message really “Thou shalt fight the gays?”
So will Christians and other people of faith get back to basics? Will the religious right fight as valiantly for an increase in the minimum wage or for a just immigration policy as they do against gay marriage?
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus never mentioned “fighting the radical homosexual agenda.” He did say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Perhaps it’s time we all, including conservative Christian leaders and Wal-Mart executives, pull out our Bibles and look back at what Christ talked about most. Maybe we’ll realize that Jesus’ ideas of social justice are not so radical. Like him, maybe that’s where we should be spending most of our time and political energy.