Boycotts and Responsible Spending

When you buy a cup of coffee, it makes sense that you would consider where you can find your favorite cup. But does it also make sense that you should take the company’s culture and outside initiatives into account when deciding where to spend your money?

While I used coffee as an example, the same question is true for tennis shoes, groceries, computers and all of the other items and services that make up the $14-trillion-dollar economy of the United States.

We live in a complex economy. While we wish businesses wouldn’t act contrary to our values, sometimes they do. One company, Starbucks, recently made the news when it made homosexual “marriage” a core value of the company, and the founder and chairman, Howard Schulz, defended the decision when asked by two questioners at the annual shareholders’ meeting.

How are we to respond when a company takes actions like Starbucks? The Catechism and Church teaching developed over the centuries provide insightful answers. Here’s what the Catechism says:

“By his reason, man recognizes the voice of God which urges him ‘to do what is good and avoid what is evil.’ Everyone is obliged to follow this law, which makes itself heard in conscience and is fulfilled in the love of God and of neighbor. Living a moral life bears witness to the dignity of the person” (1706).

So doing good and avoiding evil is the principle we need to follow, but because we are a sinful people, and that sin permeates the culture, it’s unreasonable to think we can completely separate ourselves from the evil around us. Take the example of a pro-life worker at an electric utility. The local abortion mill needs electricity, so the worker at the plant helped the abortion mill in some way, yet he strongly opposes abortion.

This gets us to the issue of cooperation: both formal and material. Formal cooperation is when we help in some way and share the goal of the person or organization we are helping. Formal cooperation with evil is never allowed. Material cooperation is when we help a person or organization but do not share their goals. The principle of material cooperation recognizes what has been described above: that it can be virtually impossible to completely separate ourselves from participating in the sinful actions of others.  

This brings us back to the example of Starbucks. If you strongly believe in traditional marriage between one man and one woman, it’s clear you wouldn’t be formally cooperating with Starbucks’ goal of promoting homosexual “marriage.” How do you decide whether it is acceptable to materially cooperate with Starbucks? Here are a few points to consider:

Is the issue of a serious nature? In this case, the answer is clearly Yes. That should prompt us to avoid participating if it’s reasonable to do so. What level of commitment is the company making? A $5,000 annual donation toward the cause of homosexual “marriage” from an organization with $12 billion in annual revenues represents a modest level of involvement. Saying that homosexual marriage is a core value of the company raises the bar substantially.

To what extent do you need the product or service the company provides? I’ll leave the coffee question up to you.

Are there good alternative sources for the product or service of the company? In this case, there are several, including Mystic Monk coffee from the Carmelite monks in Wyoming.

Although material cooperation with evil is allowed for sufficient cause, it is meritorious to take extra steps to avoid such cooperation. God love you!

Phil Lenahan is president

of Veritas Financial Ministries (,

host of the Life and Money radio program and

author of 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free (OSV).