I was asked that question last week, as a result of some controversial statements made last month by the coffee company’s CEO in which he publicly supported gay marriage.
If I were a coffee snob, I probably would have answered that we should boycott Starbucks because they burn their beans. But I’m not a coffee snob. And I knew that wasn’t really the heart behind the question.
My actual response went something like this:
If your conscience is pricked by drinking Starbucks coffee, then you should not drink Starbucks coffee. That is a decision that you ought to make in your own heart before the Lord. But if other believers choose not to join you in your boycott (because they don’t share that same personal conviction), you should not judge them for responding differently than you do.
While it is not an exact parallel, the situation regarding food offered to idols (addressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8-9) provides us with principles that apply to these types of situations.
In our day, the issue involves purchasing coffee from a twenty-first century company that publicly supports gay marriage. In Paul’s day, the controversy centered around buying food from first-century vendors who had openly offered it to idols in the local pagan temple. Though the specifics are clearly different, both situations raise a similar moral question: Are believers at liberty to purchase food (or coffee) from an openly anti-Christian source?
Paul’s response to the first-century dilemma is instructive for us today. It provides principles for thinking through issues (like the Starbucks controversy) that involve both conscience and Christian liberty.
For some of the Corinthian readers — especially those raised in Judaism — eating food offered to idols was a difficult issue to swallow. Their consciences were stricken by the thought that they were somehow participating in or advocating pagan worship. Paul’s instruction to those belivers was straightforward: Don’t violate your conscience, but recognize that you can’t impose those personal convictions on other believers.
Other members of the Corinthian congregation had no conscience-issue with eating food that had been offered to idols. Addressing those believers, Paul affirmed that it is within the scope of Christian liberty to eat such food. But he cautioned those believers to be sensitive to their fellow brothers and sisters who felt differently. His instruction to those with a stronger conscience: Don’t violate the weaker consciences of others, and don’t impose your liberty on them.
So where does that leave us when it comes to drinking coffee that has been “offfered” to a secular, immoral, idolatrous worldview?
Based on 1 Corinthians 8-9 (and the parallel passage of Romans 14-15), I believe the apostle Paul’s answer to our 21st-century dilemma would have been two-fold. (1) To those who feel compelled to boycott Starbucks for the sake of conscience, feel free to do so. But don’t impose your convictions on other believers or judge them as a result. (2) To those who have no issue drinking coffee from Starbucks — in spite of the anti-Christian agenda of its CEO — it is within the scope of your Christian liberty to enjoy an occasional venti iced coffee. But don’t impose your liberty on other believers. Be sensitive to their convictions, and never pressure them to violate their consciences.