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Why #MerryChristmasStarbucks is Everything Wrong with American Christianity

#MerryChristmasStarbucks Blog Photo

A few days ago, former pastor Joshua Feuerstein posted a video announcing a campaign against Starbucks due to their switch from festive holiday cups in previous years to a new plain red look for the 2015 holiday season. In the video, Feuerstein claims that Starbucks wanted to “take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups” because, according to the caption on his video, “they hate Jesus.”

Feuerstein goes on to explain that when he visited a Starbucks store, he told the employee making his drink that his name was “Merry Christmas” so that his cup would read “Merry Christmas.” He later says “Guess what, Starbucks? Just to offend you, I made sure to wear my Jesus Christ shirt into your store, and, since you hate the 2nd Amendment, I even carried my gun!” Three days after the initial post of the video, it has over 130,000 likes and 380,000 shares. Feuerstein has started a #MerryChristmasStarbucks campaign in which he urges other Christians to post pictures of themselves performing the same prank in an effort to stick it to Starbucks and keep “CHRIST” in Christmas.

This, my friends, is complete and utter ignorance.

This, my friends, is the reason my fellow students at Colorado State University think I’ll hate them when I tell them I’m a Christian.

This, my friends, is why my African-American brothers and sisters are left begging for answers from an evangelical community who turns a blind eye to their suffering.

This, my friends, is everything wrong with American Christianity.

Full disclosure: I’m now a Starbucks employee. I’m also a follower of Jesus. I also have no issues with the new plain red Starbucks holiday cups. As I start my job as a barista at Starbucks in the coming weeks, I’ll probably familiarize my taste buds with the Starbucks Christmas blend – yes, Christmas blend – by drinking from these plain red cups.

I do have issues with #MerryChristmasStarbucks, though. Most of American Christianity’s blatant problems are exposed in this one excruciatingly real social campaign.

First, I’ll take us back to WWJD. Yep, the four letters that perpetually encircled your wrist if you grew up as a Christian kid in the ’90s. I can certainly tell you that if Jesus walked into a Starbucks store and found that their new cups celebrating the occasion of his very own birthday were simplified to a new plain red look, he wouldn’t have boycotted the store. He wouldn’t have told the employees his name was “Happy Birthday Jesus” so that they’d have to glorify him by writing the phrase on his cup. He wouldn’t have done anything “just to offend” them. Instead, he probably would’ve done something like what my good friend Caleb wrote in a Facebook post concerning the #MerryChristmasStarbucks campaign:

“If Jesus was to walk the earth today and enter the nearest Starbucks, what would his agenda be? Would he zero in on the closest employee and tell them to write, “Merry Christmas” on his peppermint mocha? Would he then smile smugly at the pained barista who had nothing to do with the corporation’s decision to implement a new design? Would he later boast about it to all his friends as they marvel at his moral victory?

Or perhaps Jesus would choose to order his coffee and ask the barista how her day has been. Perhaps he would invite her to sit with him during her break so he could get to know her. Christian, would he not choose to love her? Invite her to church, tell her what he did for her on the cross, explain grace and mercy, ask how he could serve her with the same humility he demonstrated 2000 years ago?

Christ is our example in all things, including everyday interactions that may seem inconsequential. Let us not lose sight of that this Christmas season, and let us boast in Christ and Christ alone as we live in a world, country, and state that is not our home and never will be.”

Beautiful. Profound. This looks more like the Jesus I know. This looks like a more accurate answer to “WWJD” than choosing to “offend” Starbucks and their disdain for the 2nd Amendment. As I consider what Jesus would have done upon walking into a Starbucks and finding a simplified red cup, a word I’ve been pondering lately comes to mind.

That word is meekness.

What’s meekness? Good question. It’s a tough term to define. I once heard Jefferson Bethke (a dude whose biblical stances on social issues I’d recommend paying attention to, by the way) call meekness “the inability to be offended.” That struck me hard, because I’m someone who struggles with being easily offended. Meekness is an extremely difficult characteristic to develop, because… what about my pride? What about my ‘being right?’ What about the fact that American corporations are trying to take Christ out of Christmas?

Meekness, however, is a fruit of the Spirit. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). When Jesus went to the cross and died for my sins, your sins, and the sins of Starbucks’ governing board, he showed the epitome of meekness. When he saw the sins of the world, he wasn’t offended. Instead, he was heartbroken. He went to the cross with full knowledge that Starbucks’ corporate decision-makers would one day change their holiday cups to a simple red design in an apparent attempt to take his name out of the season that exists only because of him. He subsequently died for their sins anyway, in hopes that they, too, would accept the free gift of his all-consuming love and live with him for eternity.

When we’re offended that Starbucks changes their cups, we completely fail to show the Christlike characteristic of meekness. Instead, we settle for the moral upper hand.

Another reason #MerryChristmasStarbucks is everything wrong with American Christianity is its improper, miscalculated expectation of Christian values from a non-Christian entity. Simply put, Starbucks is not a Christ-centered company. That doesn’t make Starbucks bad. In fact, Starbucks employees – many of whom are Christians, like myself – often show Christlike characteristics in their jobs, even if they do so unknowingly. Starbucks is a very friendly, comfortable place where millions of Americans enjoy drinking tasty coffee.

What Starbucks’ position as a secular entity does imply, though, is that we shouldn’t expect the corporation to make decisions based on Christian tradition or Christian values. What if Starbucks’ holiday cups were black? What if they featured upside-down crosses? What if they were embroidered with pentagrams? If these outlandish scenarios were in fact realities, I’d hope that Christians would be no less surprised – and no less offended – at the changes. Yet at the simple change to red, we’re shocked, offended, and filled with an anger that’s anything but righteous.

American Christianity has adopted the unfair, improper, and potentially hurtful position that non-Christians should somehow live by Christian moral standards before Christians show love to them. “If we fix their behavior, we’ll show ’em,” we think. Did we forget the words of Romans 5:8, that God presently and continuously demonstrates his love to us because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us?” 

This is sick and twisted. Jesus loved us while we were at our worst. In fact, in the words of Matt Chandler, without Jesus, even at our best we were utterly offensive to God! But he still loved us as his own, still chose us, and still appointed us to be representatives of his sacrificial love. Sadly, we’ve chosen to settle for spreading around our political opinions, allowing ourselves to be filled with pride after our preaching to the choir garners praise from those who already agree with us. We’ve settled for the sickness and self-righteousness of moralistic therapeutic deism rather than the life-changing and eternally powerful message of the Gospel. We’ve settled for religiosity, which frankly doesn’t attract anyone to Jesus. Instead, our moralism repels potential believers while we high-five our fellow Christians for sticking it to the man.

News flash: Jesus already stuck it to the man named death so that we wouldn’t have to. Stop expecting somebody to behave like you and agree with you before you love them. If Jesus expected perfect behavior out of you as a requirement for spending eternity with him, you’d be doomed from the start.

Lastly, Boko Haram has killed 3,500 people in terrorist attacks in Africa this year, many of which have targeted Christians. Up to 340,000 people have been killed in the crisis ravaging Syria over the last four years. ISIS continues to target both Christians and Muslims as it terrorizes the Middle East. Don’t forget, about 30 million people are currently stuck in the horrors of modern slavery. Let’s also add the racial injustice that’s drowning America in turmoil.

James 1:27 says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

But hey, have you seen those new Christ-less Starbucks cups?

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