Going to the store is an unconscious act for most of us because it’s so simple. Grab your wallet and your list and a short drive later, you’re wandering the aisles of your local grocery, home goods, or clothing store. There aren’t many steps between identifying a need (or a want) and bringing those items into our homes.
But if God cares about how we use all of our money—not just the portion we allot to His church—we should consider what we’re investing in when we make a purchase. Have you ever looked at a t-shirt at the mall or those out-of-season strawberries at the grocery store and wondered, “Where did this come from and who made it?”
Becoming a Conscious Consumer
Those kinds of questions may lead you to an uncomfortable answer. You’ll find that many of the companies we regularly patronize are involved in unethical business practices that are legal in other countries where many of our products are made or assembled.
As we discussed last weekend (link to sermon), we’re responsible for where we invest our money through our purchases. So, we have to look behind the product itself to discover what kind of unethical systems we might be unconsciously contributing to. As a “conscious consumer” our awareness of how ethically a product is made or developed affects whether or not we choose to buy it.
Would you still buy that dress or handbag if you knew it was made by workers in cramped and toxic conditions? What if you discovered that the expensive chocolate bar and coffee in your cabinet were picked processed by workers who aren’t paid enough to support their families?
If we choose to not let these realities contribute to our buying habits, we’re complicit in our contribution to the kind of systems James condemns when he writes to the oppressive rich, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” If the God of armies is on the side of the oppressed worker, where does that leave us, the consumer?
Understand Then Act
Once you begin researching your purchases, you’ll begin to realize that the cheap things we purchase—from fashions to furniture to fruit—might not be costly to us, but they’re costing someone else their life to produce.
Because they’re treating their employees with respect, fair trade and ethically produced items are often more expensive. So, you may have to buy less because of it. That’s ok. Consider buying some things secondhand to offset that cost and remember that your goal in life is not to live in luxury at the expense of others, like James’ wicked rich. Our goal is to love God and love people, and making sure that our purchases respect the life and honor the human dignity of those we may never meet is love.