The leaves have finished flashing their best hues and there is a nip in the air. Which can only mean one thing: It's time for another viral "War on Christmas" story. This year, it isn't the city of Boston's "holiday tree" or Macy's greeters refusing to say "Merry Christmas" that has inspired outcry; it's Starbuck's seasonal coffee cup.
"Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus," Joshua Feuerstein, declared on his Facebook page on Thursday. The post was shared nearly half a million times and incited many commenters to call for a holiday embargo of the coffee chain.
Because nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a boycott.
But contrary to a few breathless media reports, most Christians don't actually care what kind of cup their latte is served in, so long as it is hot and comes with a creamy layer of froth on top. It seems an increasing number of believers have finally learned that coercive and heavy-handed tactics like boycotts are not effective ways to influence culture.
Shortly after Feuerstein's post went viral, several media outlets reported on the rage of a gaggle of Christian Facebook trolls. Many attempted to argue that the Starbucks cup had sparked sweeping anger among Christians, but the evidence was just not there.
Mic.com published a story on Monday purporting that the cup design caused a "boycott from Christian groups," but the actual article cites exactly zero Christian groups calling for such a thing. The Los Angeles Times claimed evangelical Christians were "seeing red," but only cited a couple of random Twitter critics. The New York Daily News claimed that "Christian evangelists" were angered by the cups, but they cited only a lone student pastor from a small church in Sarasota.
I've read dozens of stories on this from as many news outlets and I can't find a single Christian organization or leader of import that is backing a boycott in any story. (Sure, the self-avowed Presbyterian and presidential hopeful Donald Trump suggested it might be a good idea, but even his own church won't claim him.) Instead, many Christians responded to the backlash with backlash, saying that a boycott was pointless and a bit ridiculous.
Some comments from Twitter:
- "Has anyone actually met someone offended by the Starbucks cups?"
- "are there really that many people mad about the Starbucks cups or are there more people just making a big deal that some people are mad"
- "Serious Christians don't care what's on Starbucks cups. I don't know any Christians who do, but if they exist they speak only for themselves"
- "Pretty sure we headed off any evangelical complaining about Starbucks cups with our pre-emptive shaming."
Why are most prominent Christian leaders and organizations steering clear of a Starbucks boycott?
For some - particularly younger people - it's born out of a desire to set themselves apart from previous generations of culture warring Christians. During the 1990s and, when the religious right was at its peak, the Christian outrage industry was quite fond of boycotts.
In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to boycott Walt Disney Co. and its subsidiaries for its "anti-Christian and anti-family direction." Focus on the Family called for a 2004 boycott of Proctor and Gamble's two biggest selling products, Crest toothpaste and Tide laundry detergent.
Over the past couple of decades, the American Family Association became famous for boycotting "anti-Christian" television shows, such as "Saturday Night Live," "Roseanne" and "NYPD Blue." The AFA releases an annual "Naughty or Nice" list to help faithful shoppers determine which anti-Christmas retailers to boycott, and in 2005, they called for a boycott of the Ford Motor Company.
But many Christians today want to be anything but like these leaders and groups.
In addition to that, many Christians have realized that boycotts just don't work. The common characteristic uniting all of the brands listed above is that they are all still wildly successful. These organizations' embargoes barely dented the businesses, making Christian groups look silly and powerless. Do you think Home Depot executives were worried by the AFA boycott of their retail chain in 2012? Do you think that General Mills was hurt when the National Organization of Marriage boycotted their family of products in the same year? And how much do you suppose the AFA boycotts of "Ellen" and "Desperate Housewives" hurt those shows ratings?
For every person who walks away from a company or brand under boycott, another embraces it for the same reasons.
Anyone who thinks that Feuerstein's Facebook post is going to topple Starbucks has lost their holiday marbles, which is why even the coffee brand doesn't seem to be taking the brouhaha that seriously. In fact, some joked that the controversy was Starbucks‘ idea in the first place since it got so many Christians to defend the business.
On Sunday, Starbucks dismissed the controversy, claiming this year‘s design is another way Starbucks is inviting customers to create their own stories with a red cup that mimics a blank canvas." In the official statement, Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks Vice President of Design & Content, said, "In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs. This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories."
This won’t be good enough for the small sliver of Christians who are actually angry about Starbucks (still fairly festive) design. There is, after all, a portion of religious Americans with an uncanny propensity to whip themselves into a full-on tizzy when - let’s be honest, folks - there is just nothing to get upset about. If you‘re in this group, take a Christmas chill pill and wash it down with a pumpkin spice latte.
And then join the rest of us who celebrate the season in more effective ways: acts of kindness, declarations of joy and tangible embodiments of peace-not strife-on earth.
Jonathan Merritt is a writer for The Atlantic, senior columnist for Religion News Service, and author of Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined.