Re-Thinking Christian Criticism of Black Friday

I have to be honest – this post is quite different from my norm and has been a struggle for me to write. In part, I really do not want to publish it because I haven’t quite discerned whether or not the post is a reflection of my own self-righteous mindset. I do write it, however, hoping there is important perspective I may be able to offer regarding the rhetoric we often use on social media and mindset we Christians often have this time of year.

It is becoming more and more difficult to not find myself frustrated by Christian criticism of Black Friday. I am often ashamed that the main witness many Christians offer to the world is a judgmental glare.

To be clear, yes, I believe materialism and consumerism are very real dangers to the Christian soul. Likewise, as Christians, I believe we are to embody values of simplicity and generosity that stand in stark contrast to the world. These values should constantly challenge our daily lives. I do not expect the world to accept or promote the values of simplicity and generosity, however, which means I believe we Christians have to be very careful of how we engage conversations about such matters.

As a Christian, my witness shows forth through both my rhetoric and my actions. This is why I want to offer some perspectives we Christians should bear in mind before making judgments or taking to social media to offer up our criticisms this Black Friday:

1.)   Black Friday can be an issue of stewardship. Some people would rather spend less money on the same items that others will buy at the same locations for more money at another time.

2.)   Black Friday is one of the few days some people do any shopping. I have some family members whom I really respect for their continual lives of simplicity. They do not regularly go to malls, shop at Best buy, make purchases on, or buy the latest items from their favorite technology company. For them, Black Friday is a way to continue to practice simplicity so that they can also practice more generosity.

3.)   For many lower-income persons/families, Black Friday is a prime time to purchase necessities like clothes and items for the home. Sure, unnecessary items are purchased as well, but without Black Friday, some people wouldn’t have the opportunity for the luxuries a lot of us live with every day.

4.)   Evaluate your own spending habits before criticizing others’. A few questions that may be helpful: Do I ever spend money on things I don’t really need? Will I be purchasing Christmas gifts this Christmas season, and how much money and time will I spend on those purchases? In what ways do I justify my own spending habits?

5.)   Many people actually do go out with family on Black Friday instead of neglecting family. I constantly hear stories from friends who have very cherished memories of their time together going out with their families on Black Friday.

6.)   There are those who struggle at Thanksgiving because it is not a happy holiday. In the midst of broken home lives, struggles in relationships, and financial worries, the last thing a person needs to hear is another condemning voice.

7.)   Some workers need the pay. Another day off would actually be a financial burden for some people, especially those making minimum-wage jobs who struggle to get close to forty hours a week on a normal week. To get more hours or to get overtime pay for working on Black Friday is a great blessing to some workers this time of year. So is the care and thanks that some customers will show to them for having to work.

8.)   A lot of workers really hate working on Black Friday. So let’s not make it any worse for them, okay?

9.)   Active service is a better Christian witness than passive condemnation. If I (as a Christian) expect Christians to become judgmental and condemning this time of year, what do non-Christian expect? Perhaps we can show a better witness by finding opportunities for service. For instance, a church in my town decided a couple of years ago to pass out hot chocolate at 5:00 AM on Black Friday to people waiting in line at Best Buy. I know a family that takes $5 Starbucks gift cards with them to give out as a thanks to the employees they encounter who work on Black Friday. To me, such acts of service speak volumes louder of Christian witness than self-righteous tweets, posts, and blogs.

I admit the alternate perspectives I offer are quite brief. A lot more could be (and perhaps should be) said about each one. My goal isn’t to justify each point, though. I simply want to help us think through varying perspectives before quickly making criticism.

Wherever and however you spend your time this holiday season, may it be a blessed one. And may we all seek out ways to be a blessing to others.

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About jonathanapowers

Jonathan serves with his wife, Faith, as the director of student ministries for World Gospel Mission at Asbury University, where he is also an adjunct professor of Worship Arts. He recently received his doctorate in worship studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, FL. Jonathan serves as the worship pastor for the Offerings Community of First United Methodist Church in Lexington, KY and is the co-author with Jason Jackson and Teddy Ray of Echo: A Catechism for Discipleship in the Ancient Tradition published by Seedbed.

13 responses to “Re-Thinking Christian Criticism of Black Friday”

  1. Steve LaMotte says :

    Thanks for a different perspective Jonathan! Our family doesn’t normally “do” Black Friday- but we do look for bargains as part of our stewardship for items that we have waited for the best price. It certainly can be a day to be a good steward and to enjoy family time- if your family enjoys that sort of thing!

  2. Christi Davis says :

    I loved this perspective!

  3. Derek says :

    I have no problem with Black Friday as long as it stays on Friday. It is now taking over a holiday and becoming Black Thursday and Friday. In my opinion, that is the real problem.

    • jonathanapowers says :

      Thanks for commenting, Derek. Not that I disagree with you, but here’s something I was thinking about earlier – the term “holiday” delineates from the phrase “holy day,” as in, a day set apart in the church calendar as a time of focused and intentional worship. Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, not a Christian one. It has no history or meaning within the church calendar, though I do believe we have added much Christian value to it. I guess my question is this – what relationship should there be between the church calendar and secular calendar, and as Christians, what value do we/should we place on each?

  4. Dan Ledwith says :

    Jonathan, I am glad you published this. When the world acts worldly, why are we surprised? Did Joseph rip apart Pharaoh for being a pagan king? Did Daniel ever write or have visions that he preached to the Babylonians about how immoral the culture was? Did Jesus criticize Rome? No. I think when we have that “shame on you” attitude towards the world, we are acting very much like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. And he was no hero in that story. Again, thanks for choosing to post this. Great job.

  5. kam75 says :

    I don’t appreciate the hatred I’m seeing from some people who are beyond criticizing those who do shop on Black Friday . They can control what they do and not shop but is it necessary to borderline demonize people who do . My question is simple ? Why ? Why are some people lashing out at those who do shop as if they are commuting capital murder . I love Black Friday – I see my family during the day and shop at night . I save up all year for this / I get things I need and wanted and couldn’t afford otherwise . I shop for family and friends and the little angel from the Salvation Army . It’s fine if people don’t shop but its not ok to judge others to almost bigotry for those of us who do – I’m not exaggerating – it’s all over Facebook again this year too

  6. jdwalt says :

    JP- I most appreciate your admonition to Christians to cease and desist from a judgmental or condemning attitude and tone towards the prevailing tide of a consumeristic holiday season.

    It is one thing to present an alternative pathway, but to the extent it is coupled with shaming people who are caught up in the cultural tide– how does that help?

    Christians– or the church– is no longer the host of the American culture. It’s actually a good development because it puts us in the humble place of learning how to be a gracious blessing filled guest.

    Good word friend.

    • jonathanapowers says :

      Thanks, so much, JD! I appreciate your thoughts, and completely agree – as no longer being the host of American culture, (great way of stating that!), we certainly do need to learn the humility of being a gracious blessing filled guest. Many thanks again.

  7. Philip Tallon (@philiptallon) says :

    Hey Jonathan, This issue, for me, boils down to whether or not cultural criticism is valid. I think it is. I’m a Christian but also a also live here, and I don’t think crazy consumerism is good for anybody.

    Now, people might be getting kind of snobby about Black Friday but that’s often what comes when a real cultural backlash takes hold. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not the worst thing ever. And it seems to me the good of the prophetic voice outweighs the accompanying hurt feelings.

    Christmas is one of the Christian high holy days, but it’s also a cultural high holy day dedicated to materialism. Christians rightly should be suspicious of idols creeping into our holy places.

    (Of course, enjoying material goods and enjoying the Good who became material aren’t in harsh opposition…but you understand what I’m talking about here.)

    On a related note: I read an interesting book a few years ago with a terrible name, it’s called THE SACRED SANTA. The argument is that materialism is the de facto religion of America and that Santa is its god. Helpful work by a non-Christian religion scholar.

  8. Susan says :

    An excellent perspective! You didn’t mention the items that are purchased that are then donated. I purchased cereal, soup, laundry detergent and several other items that are going to be given to one of our local food pantires. Some people also use the cheap prices as an opportunity to be able to take a name from an Angel tree and fulfill a child’s Christmas wishes.

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