Over the years I’ve written a lot about the temptation to find comfort and release from shopping. When you’re having a bad day or feeling down on yourself, shopping can be an easy pick-me-up. In fact, it can be just as addictive as a drug. Shopping, clothes and outward appearance can all become idols upon which we depend for security and confidence. These indulgences can also prevent us from being generous with our money–you might want to give some money to that family at church whose house just burned down, unfortunately you just blew a ton of cash at the mall and now you don’t have any to spare. Shopping and materialism, though seemingly unrelated to the Christian faith, can have far-reaching consequences for our relationship with God.
What makes this idol so difficult to fight is that the mall is one of the last places I tend to think about God. When I walk into Target my brain immediately becomes absorbed in the plethora of goods before me, and the last thing on my mind is the state of my heart in relation to them. God gets pushed out of the thought process pretty quickly.
In light of this problem, I’ve continued to think about how to submit my spending habits to Christ. Of course one way to do this is to go cold-turkey. Just cut out going to stores altogether. But for me, the problem is not that I spend too much, or even all that often–the problem is my heart behind the spending. While there will be times when I have to buy things, how can I change my perspective on the whole process? How do I shop in a way that is Christian?
There are a number of possibilities, but one solution is to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider where your money is going when you spend it. What sorts of practices are you supporting? Is your money going to organizations that oppress their workers and the environment? If these questions matter at all to you, then it’s going to affect the way you shop.
As Ike and I have wrestled with these questions and the degree of our responsibility toward them, we’ve been considering buying more products that come from Fair Trade. You might have heard this term before but in case you’re unclear about what exactly it means, it is a system of trade that ensures the makers of a product are treated fairly, that they are paid adequately for their labor (rather than being exploited), that their working conditions are humane, that the rights of children are protected, and that the environment is well-stewarded. Put in Christian terms, Fair Trade is an extension of our call to respect the image of God in every human being and treat each person with dignity, protecting the weak from forces that might abuse and marginalize them. It is also an extension of our call to exercise good dominion over the earth.
Now before you accuse me of being a bleeding-heart tree hugger and immediately tune out, it’s important to remember that we live in a time unlike any other in history. Within the last century we have been completely disconnected from the makers of the products we buy. We don’t know who made our shirts or who grew our corn. Because of this disconnect, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to any injustices in the workplace, assuming that if we don’t know about it, our hands are clean.
I don’t think God will be so nonchalant. Consider these verses in Scripture about God’s views on trading fairly:
Proverbs 11:1–The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.
Proverbs 16:11–Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making.
Proverbs 20:10–Differing weights and differing measures— the LORD detests them both.
Proverbs 20:23–The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him.
In case you’re wondering what’s up with God’s pre-occupation with weights and scales, they were an ancient means for determining the value of a product. The scales were meant to provide a uniform standard of value so that sellers would be paid fairly for their products, and buyers could trust they weren’t paying too much. However, a dishonest trader might fix the scale to his advantage, which is essentially stealing.
Notice how strong the language is in those verses. God isn’t simply displeased by economic injustice; He abhors it. From these verses we are reminded that God cares deeply about the way we shop. He cares about both the sellers and the buyers. He wants us to buy and sell in ways that reflect his character and treat others fairly. And that is the heart of Fair Trade. In a world that will pay Indian factory workers pennies for their labor, simply because we can, God has an opinion. And it is not a favorable one.
As Christians we need to consider where our money is going and whether it reflects the character of God. This reality adds a new dimension to how I think about shopping, and it challenges me to step outside that temptation and examine its larger implications. It’s not just about personal idolatry–it’s also about my responsibility toward other human beings and the world.
One family at our church tries to buy all their Christmas presents from Fair Trade sellers, and we’re thinking about trying that out ourselves this year! As I try to submit this area of my life to God, the values behind Fair Trade certainly give me some positive ways to fight the idol of shopping and conform my heart to Christ’s. I still have a lot to learn about Fair Trade (and I’m sure some of you reading this know a lot more than I do!) but Fair Trade certainly gives me some food for thought. It challenges me to be a good steward of my money, not only in what I buy and how much I spend, but where my money is going.
*In case you’re interested in your Fair Trade shopping options, just Google it. You’ll find lots of local retail stores, as well as on-line makers of clothing, accessories, home decor, etc.