Though I wrote it at the beginning of each Give Justly post, I’ll say it again. The most important part of shifting our consumerism is to reduce our consumption. Simplifying, denying our impulse for materials, is probably one of the most countercultural things we can do in our society.
If we get caught up in compassionate consumerism (a term used for the combining of products with social issues), we will likely be purchasing products in the same manner we always have been, though, thankfully, the materials will change. But real, lasting change requires a redemption of both – the manner and the materials of our consumption.
There are many concerns with the fads of compassionate consumerism. As Jeff Goins put it in a Relevant article, “One concern is that it may hurt more than help. If we relegate our compassion to a consumption mentality, we could end up reframing philanthropy in less healthy ways, leading to a more narcissistic approach to charitable giving.” Michael Danner put the same sentiment this way, “The opposite of egotist consumption is not egotist compassion.”
Jeff Goins raises another concern later in the article. “…social enterprise doesn’t provide long-term, sustainable help. In some cases, gifts in kind can actually hurt the local economy. The overused cliché of teaching someone to fish may be applicable here. Depending on how the gifts are distributed, this type of philanthropy can propagate the ‘white knight’ stereotype and exacerbate Western dependency instead of empowering locals.”
Lest you begin to think I’m going to undo everything I’ve written in the past month, let me assure you that I believe firmly that everyone, especially Christians, needs to do a more thorough job of researching the ways their products are made.
Ryan Scott McDonnell sums up why I think it’s important nicely:
“Agricultural and trade policies implemented by the rich and powerful countries of the world actively create a system to ensure their own cheap consumption, while artificially and oppressively deflating costs of food and goods elsewhere. Workers and farmers in the Global South are incapable then of meeting their costs of production, and left unable to feed their families. Their work and food is swept away through injustice.
The fair trade movement helps to “loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke[!]” (Isaiah 58:6) I believe…faithful believers and churches should be leading catalysts Biblically-rooted trade justice advocacy.”
As I’ve researched for this blog series, an important difference has been developing in my mind. Organizations who donate some of their funds for just causes or perform a one-for-one model need serious scrutiny before being supported. Often their goods are not guaranteed to be made in an ethical manner, and if they are giving away a product, they may actually be hurting local economies or providing unwanted items to people they perceive will want them.
Along with my concerns though, I’ve developed a serious conviction. I want my purchases to support ethically-made items and companies. Already, I’m finding this very complicated and expensive.
And this is the point at which compassionate consumerism becomes less narcissistic because I must sacrifice to make these shifts. I simply can’t afford things I don’t really need if I refuse to buy the cheapest option because of it’s questionable sourcing and manufacturing. I must decide that the overall well-being of people and the pursuit of Kingdom living is far more important than any impulsive materialistic desires I have.
I stumbled upon this awesome info graphic on thinking through the manner of consumption:
|Borrowed from Let’s Be Fair blog.|
As a capstone to my Give Justly series, I would argue for this: Even as we purchase gifts for people, which are often not necessities, we can choose to buy less in order to afford to buy ethically.
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How can compassionate consumerism help more than hurt?