You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the LORD, and it be sin to you. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)
You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)
When I became a Christian six years ago, I was drawn to the Bible because of its moral laws. This passage comes from Deuteronomy, which forms one part of the five books of the law (the Torah) in the Bible. Laws like these, as well as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, amazed me far more than any other philosophical moral code I had ever seen. I agreed with the Psalmist: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
As I grew older, though, I was surprised to discover many Bible-preaching churches in America lacking in this type of compassion for the poor and needy. I’ve visited churches where the mere mention of “social responsibility” was enough to raise eyebrows. Even the respectable leaders of the church, the elders and pastors, considered social responsibility nothing more than a “hippie movement started by guilty liberals.” Compassion, someone once told me, isn’t compatible with the laws of modern economics.
I press the issue, but I only get intellectual excuses in return. “We live in different times now; that was the old law.” Other times, the blame is shifted around. “Other people do it, too.”
It’s hard to miss God’s call for social responsibility. Not only is it in the law, but it’s also present in the prophetic writings, the poetic works, the gospels, and the apostolic letters. I’m not surprised, given what Jesus taught about materialism. He once taught a disciple,
If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me. (Matthew 19:21)
Meanwhile, I did meet some Christians who didn’t agree with businesses exploiting third-world labor with sweatshop conditions. However, these Christians mistakenly believed there were no alternatives, so they kept patronizing the same bad businesses. But since I started doing research, I discovered that consumers actually have plenty of other choices with whom to do business. It just takes some effort.
My personal tactic is to be minimalist. It’s far easier to shop responsibly when I hardly shop at all. But for the rare occasions when I do need to purchase, I try to buy used. Classified ads and online auctions are great places to get items used. Thrift stores are even better, since the proceeds can go to Christian charities. Thrift stores carry almost anything you could need, from clothes to electronics to kitchen appliances to mattresses. When you buy used, no waste is produced.
I’ve also heard about the Fair Trade label. The idea of certification sounds promising, but I’m not sure if I can completely support the principles that Fair Trade stands for (for example, funds may be used for family planning, which may include abortion (1)). I’m also wary of marketing scams and fraud when it comes to certification programs (2). The best way to ensure responsible shopping is to do your own research and learn more about the individual businesses you shop from.
Responsible Consumption.com is a listing of businesses directories that can aid your research. Many of these businesses also produce sustainable products. For example, the directory includes the Eat Well Guide and Local Harvest, two sites I frequently use to search for organic food.
As consumers, we have a choice. We can shrug off responsible consumption because it’s too expensive. We can dismiss social responsibility as nothing more than a fringe movement. But before we do, let’s remember that it was God himself who wrote the proverb:
The righteous considers the cause of the poor,
But the wicked does not understand such knowledge. (Proverbs 29:7)
Do you think socially responsible shopping is too much work?
- Abortion is equivalent to infant murder. The whole point behind social responsibility is to give others a decent quality of life, not to take it away.
- Organic food from China currently can’t be trusted: http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_6357.cfm