I have to admit—I’m a big fan of Starbucks. They make great coffee, and I live within walking distance of one. I even have the app for my phone, that lets me in on good deals and gets me free coffee every once in a while. So on Saturday, when I started to see headlines saying “Christians upset with Starbucks,” I was curious to say the least.
In some part of my naïve, idealistic mind, I assumed that Christians were upset because of some business practice of Starbucks, so I wanted to read more. One of the reasons I like Starbucks is because they make an effort to use sustainable, fair trade products. They’re not perfect, no large corporation is, but they seek to support coffee farmers and not exploit those whose labor provides my coffee. Did you know they gave Lutheran World Relief $350,000 to work with coffee growers in Colombia? (You can read about that gift, and more about Starbuck’s efforts here: http://lwr.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=dmJXKiOYJgI6G&b=7535365&ct=14558327.)
So anyway, I assumed that this righteous indignation from Christians must have something to do with how Starbucks is treating the poor and vulnerable of the world, right? Because that’s what Christians, living out God’s gospel of inclusion and justice for all would surely be concerned about. (If you can’t tell, this is just a bit of sarcasm: I knew immediately what would have folks riled up, and I knew it wasn’t anything related to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)
But no, it was the cups. Starbuck’s famous red holiday cups. The new design was out, and it was a minimalist, ombre pattern. Personally, I think they look neat. But wait! They don’t have anything that says “Christmas” on them! The horror! All the holiday symbols of past years are gone—you know, the snowflakes and ice-skates and wreaths that just screamed about the wonderful mystery of the incarnation, the miraculous event of God breaking into human history.
Some people are upset, because to them, this means that Starbucks has abandoned Christianity and is, in fact, being outright aggressive towards Christians. To them, I have to say: if you depend on Starbucks to spread the gospel and proclaim the message of Christmas, boy have you got problems.
You know what I depend on Starbucks for? Coffee. I think it’s awesome that they do their best to ethically source it, provide living wages to their employees, and send me cool games on my cell phone. But Starbucks at Christmas time is one big marketing ploy. I’ll buy some Christmas Blend (which hasn’t been renamed, by the way), but I know that the fancy cups, flavored coffee, and snowflake covered walls are ways to get us to spend more money—not ways to spread the message of Jesus Christ.
Frankly, I don’t really want Starbucks to be in charge of the message of Christmas. Funnily enough, I was in Starbucks Saturday morning, and noticed their “Advent Calendars.” I put this in quotes, because I could only roll my eyes at them—for Starbucks (and many other stores with such products), and Advent calendar is used to count down the days of December. They have no idea that, this year, Advent starts on November 29, or if they know, they don’t care. Let’s let Starbucks handle the coffee, and find the true meaning of Christmas somewhere else.
Every time something like this pops up, and people get offended in the name of Christ, all we are doing is giving the church some really bad publicity. Because we look like the kid at the party crying because his piece of cake isn’t bigger than everybody else’s. When people ask me what turns young people away from the church—the answer is this. This kind of offense at nonsense issues. Christians who are more concerned with coffee cups than with living out the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians who are more concerned with the store clerk who said “Happy Holidays,” than with feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, and working towards justice. This kind of thing takes time and attention away from things that should actually offend us, like the fact that one in five children in America don’t have enough food to eat. Seriously. Let’s get offended by things like that. That would be a righteous indignation I could get behind.
It frustrates me to no end, because most of the Christians I know, and certainly the ones I work with, couldn’t care less about coffee cups. But when this kind of thing makes the news, it reflects on all of us who bear the name Christian. So this Advent and Christmas season, I’m going to do my best to not let the fictitious “War on Christmas” get me too upset. I’m going to do my best to ignore all the nonsense issues, and instead actually focus on the reason for the season: that God has looked with favor upon God’s people and redeemed them.