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Would Daniel Boycott Target?

Would Daniel Boycott Target?

Would Daniel boycott Target? In light of current social media buzz about bathrooms and boycotts nearly every day lately, it’s an intriguing question, even if there’s no clear answer. As we’ve been studying through the book of Daniel on Sunday mornings, we’ve seen on the one hand a man willing to take a stand at great risk to himself but on the other hand a man willing to serve an ungodly king for decades with very few protests.

Babylon, of course, featured no Target stores, but it was a place where God’s people were faced with the challenge of engaging a pluralistic culture while maintaining a singular devotion to God. The Target saga and the broader gender issue in public restrooms has simply been the issue of the day in recent weeks, but the challenge of honoring God in a culture that doesn’t is one we will continue to face in one situation after another. What can we learn from Daniel about how to approach these very practical yet often perplexing issues?

The Dangers of a Private Christianity

First, we see Daniel refuses to practice the “private” faith that is increasingly urged upon us from many corners inside and outside the Church. This approach would suggest that Jesus could be contained in a box labeled “Religion,” sitting comfortably alongside other boxes labeled “Work,” “Family,” “Politics,” etc. This approach would offer a God limited to Sundays, who doesn’t interrupt the rest of my life. This approach would insist on a spirituality that impacts me personally and privately but stays out of the public square. After all, we hear many say these days, church and state are separate in America, so this shouldn’t be a problem!

Daniel reveals the naivety of such an approach to Christianity because we see repeatedly the realities of his faith in God collide with the demands of living and working in Babylon. Many times these are positive intersections of faith and life, where wisdom and insight God gives Daniel blesses the kingdom of Babylon. Other times, of course, the conflict is stark and difficult.

A biblical worldview teaches us that God is Lord not merely of Sundays and spirituality but truly of all of life and every moment of every day. After all, it is his creation that we live in and are called to seek the restoration of, and it is men and women made in his image with whom we are interacting in every arena. God cares about all of it, and knowing him transforms how we approach every aspect of life. This challenges our tendency to withdraw from society and so, by seeking to keep the world away from God’s people, also keep God’s people away from the world, where He has strategically placed us.

Within the Church an unhealthy application of what has historically been called “Two Kingdoms” theology can lead to the same effect. “Two Kingdoms” theology seeks to distinguish how God works in the spiritual world from how He works in the civil world, and it helpfully cautions us against putting our eternal hope in a political movement, candidate, or progress. Sometimes, however, the implication is that as Christians we should not care at all about such matters; after all, God is on the throne, so what happens in the restrooms at Target is inconsequential. While it is true that God reigns supreme, that oft repeated theme in the book of Daniel leads Daniel to engagement with the king and the kingdom of Babylon, not a retreat into a privatized faith, or Christian subculture.

The Dangers of a Social Gospel

On the other end of the spectrum is the “social gospel,” and we see Daniel refuse to place his hope there either. The recent attention given to “Two Kingdoms” theology is largely in response to the social gospel of the last century that focused on societal progress and minimized the need for salvation from sin by a Savior. It turns Jesus into primarily a social revolutionary and often touts salvation as justice for the poor or other cultural improvement.

Maybe we wouldn’t ever phrase it in those terms, but it’s a temptation we all face because we long for our Christianity to be relevant to life. We want Jesus to be practical and helpful, not merely theoretical. That is a good instinct, as we have already seen, but it can cause us to miss the Bible’s emphasis on our broken relationship with God being restored, which then drives us to share God’s heart for restoring broken relationships with the rest of God’s creation. One danger of the social gospel, then, is that implications of the gospel become the heart of the gospel, while the heart of the gospel is neglected.

Such an approach might lead to statements that “all Christians” should vote for this particular candidate or take that particular view on a social issue. It equates a social viewpoint with the essence of Christianity. Daniel avoids this perspective as well. Daniel serves in the Babylonian government for decades, but his hope for the pagan king and his kingdom is repentance and faith, not a moderately more moral administration. In fact, some of the courageous stands Daniel takes seem to be more matters of wisdom than black-and-white issues of right or wrong in themselves (e.g. not eating the king’s food in chapter 1).

A Biblical Priority

What Daniel reflects well is the heart of the prophet Jeremiah, who gives the following direction to God’s exiled people as to how to engage in a godless culture: “Build houses, … plant gardens, … multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:5-7).

The stance of the Christian to ward even a godless nation like Babylon is to be one of blessing, not antagonism. Investing in the development of the city, praying for your neighbors and leaders, and engaging in the issues of the day are part and parcel of God’s people bringing light into darkness. Our expectation ought to be that there will be laws and policies in a pluralistic society that differ from the laws of God and values of the people. Seeking the welfare doesn’t mean we never disagree and make that publicly known, but we do want to check our hearts when faced with something like a boycott and make sure we’re not making antagonistic relationships our status quo.

John Piper recently provided a helpful reminder in this regard: “We should spend most of our creative energies on constructing in our minds and in our hearts and in our families great and beautiful and glorious alternative visions of reality than the ones we are being offered by the world. If we give most of our time to bemoaning and criticizing the world for acting like the world, our vision of God and his glorious future for his people will become smaller and smaller, and that could be a greater tragedy than the one we are living in.”

Furthermore, Daniel shows us the importance of valuing the people with whom we live and with whom our values may well conflict. When issues become more important than the people they impact, we have missed the heart of God for those made in his image. When my passions get inflamed about an issue, I can often lose sight of the people my words and actions impact. When Daniel’s passions get inflamed, inevitably they are inflamed about the glory of God and the ultimate welfare of other people, rather than particular issues. That’s part of seeking the welfare of Babylon—that we want and seek the best even for wicked Nebuchadnezzar.

Dual (But Not Equal) Citizenship

When George Shultz was secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, he kept a globe in his office. Each time an ambassador left, he asked him to point to “his country,” and without fail each ambassador identified the country to which Shultz was sending him. One day Mike Mansfield, serving as ambassador to Japan, was asked to do the same thing. Mansfield put his finger on the United States of America, and said, “That’s my country.” Shultz said he told that story to all future ambassadors and added, “Never forget, you’re over there in that country, but your country is the United States. You’re there to represent us.”

Most of us are citizens of America and residents of Huntsville—and those realities matter. But God’s Word is clear that our primary country, our true homeland, is heaven, and we are placed in America, in Huntsville, to represent our Savior. Perhaps the primary lesson of the book of Daniel is that only an eternal perspective of God’s true kingdom allows us to engage in this world without despair or false hope in the wrong place.

We have been sent to Huntsville (and Target) to represent God as his ambassadors. We bring the grace and truth of God to bear on every situation because we desire the welfare of our neighbors, city, and country. We should reflect the heart of God for all sorts of people created in God’s image—rich and poor, black and white, homosexual and heterosexual. But our ultimate hope is not in proper bathroom policies, eliminating racism, or combating poverty; our hope is that these realities and the way we pursue them here on earth would be but a foretaste of heaven—the eternal kingdom with the glorious King.