I've never been much of a fan of economic and commercial boycotts. For one thing, such approaches have typically struck me as awkward, crude, and clumsy. Beyond that, any evidence that boycotts work is pretty slim-whether you're talking about boycotting a local convenience store that persists in selling pornography, or boycotting trade with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez for taking away the basic civil liberties of his people. At best, the effects of boycotts are typically hard to measure. At worst, there are always enough boycott-breakers to minimize their impact.
All this comes to mind because I am distressed beyond words at the arrogant wrong-headedness of the Apple corporation in the last few weeks in refusing to allow a presence on its systems for the Manhattan Declaration. The Manhattan Declaration is a relatively brief, civilly expressed statement (manhattandeclaration.org) summarizing why traditional marriage (between one man and one woman) is right for society and why the idea of marriage between homosexual partners is wrong. The Declaration also stresses the sanctity of life for the unborn and the need for preserving religious liberty.
Since it was made public a little more than a year ago, almost half a million folks around the world have formally signed on. But in an effort to bring the Manhattan Declaration even more exposure and more impact, its original creators-most notably Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship and Robert George of Princeton University-authorized an application, or app, to be used on all Apple iPhones, iPads, and related equipment. Tens of thousands of such apps are in use, sponsored by commercial interests, nonprofits, and just-for-fun users.
The Manhattan Declaration app won initial approval from Apple's review unit, and for several weeks brought new attention (and new signers) to the cause. But homosexual activists took issue, claiming that the statement was offensive in tone. Apple management, as owners of the system, removed the app. The Declaration's authors appealed: Isn't robust debate good, so long as it's carried on in civil spirit? But Apple wouldn't budge, and still hasn't.
All of which almost prompts me to threaten a boycott. And a number of WORLD's friends and supporters have encouraged us to do exactly that. I understand where they're coming from.
Except for at least four really crucial matters.
To shift all at once from the deliberately gracious language of the Manhattan Declaration to the tough stance of a boycott would, I fear, make us look foolish. It would suggest we were only pretending to be civil. It would suggest that the homosexual community's caricature of us as ugly and mean-spirited was on target.
Second, all my previous skepticism about the impact of boycotts comes back to haunt me. If the excellently crafted and overwhelmingly positive Manhattan Declaration has attracted fewer than 500,000 signatories, why should I expect even a fraction of that number to become aggressive boycotters?
Third, it would be virtually impossible even for WORLD to carry out a consistent boycott. Technologically, we run on Apple products. We may consider Apple management's ethical stance outrageous-and we do! But since 1984, when we bought our first Macintosh computer, the magazine business has depended on Apple.
Finally, though, I have to remember that commercial boycotts are hardly a biblical mandate. If there is a cost to be paid for faithful obedience, we are the ones who had better be prepared to pay it. But paying the price of an imaginary biblical requirement is only to borrow trouble.
Instead, I'm going to try to follow the lead of Colson, George, and the others who wrote the Manhattan Declaration: Every time I have any future communication with Apple people-whether it's making a call about repairs, signing a contract for a service agreement, or maybe buying a new iPhone this year-I'm going to make it a point, as gently and winsomely as I can, to complain about Apple's policy.
Email Joel Belz