DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Consuming in the Name

Written by: on February 19, 2019

I recently had a fascinating conversation with Elysa Hammond.  Elysa is the Vice President of Clif Bar and their Director of Environmental Stewardship.  Simplified, her job is to make sure Clif Bar uses the most delicious, healthy, organic, sustainable, earth friendly ingredients in their products – and then to make sure that those products are made and distributed in as earth friendly a fashion as possible.  Her role is incredible, she is an industry leader and – in full disclosure – was the chair of the search committee that called me to Huguenot Memorial Church nine years ago.

Clif Bar is a leading global company when it comes to sustainability, winning awards, encouraging other companies to further their sustainability practices, and even helping schools create advanced degree programs in sustainability.[i]  The way that Clif Bar is able to do these is by intentionally shifting their “business model” to incorporate these five traits:

  • Economic Sustainability
  • Brand Integrity
  • Giving Back
  • Employee Wellbeing
  • Environmental Sustainability

Of course, the way that these things all can happen is if people keep buying their products.[ii]  The more Clif Bars people purchase, the better able Clif Bar is at reaching their five goals.

After reading Georgetown University Professor Vincent Miller’s Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, I wonder if there aren’t ways the church can participate in these “consumerism for more than just the bottom line” models.  Early in the text Miller explains, “this book explores how consumer culture changes our relationships with religious beliefs, narratives, and symbols”[iii] which is later defined as the “commodification of culture.”[iv]  It is true, my colleague Paul and I have frequent discussions about how ‘transactional’ ministry has become . . . but there has to be some positives to this.

I think about Fair Trade Coffee and how programs like Equal Exchange have completely transformed the way many faith communities of faith purchase their goods.  The Presbyterian Women of many Presbyterian Churches partnered with the Presbyterian Coffee Project and through intentional purchasing ended up serving fair trade and sustainably grown coffee at many of their gatherings.[v]  The famous Abyssinian Baptist Church has created its own sustainable coffee program working with coffee growers in Ethiopia.[vi] Many faith communities are encouraging their members to make healthy and local decisions on how they purchase their produce and groceries through partnering with Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) programs.[vii]  Anytime someone purchases a product that has been locally sourced (produce, dairy, clothing, furniture, beer, wine) in an effort to participate in a more sustainable economic model, and their purchase decision somehow ties into their faith, there has to be some “good news” in this commodification of culture conundrum.

Miller is right; the church is a part of the consumer culture.  There is no going back.  However, if Christians can gain an awareness of their place in that consumer culture, and then intentionally use their purchasing power in a healthy fashion, there is a lot of opportunity there.  The opportunity is not just to encourage others to make sustainable financial choices, but to improve the common good as an act of faith.  That sounds a lot like following Christ to me.

 

[i] “Our Sustainable Journey,” ClifBar, last modified February 19, 2019, https://www.clifbar.com/article/our-sustainability-journey

[ii] “Interview Director of Environmental Stewardship Elysa Hammond,” Triple Pundit, last modified February 19, 2019, https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2012/clif-bar-story-interview-director-environmental-stewardship-elysa-hammond/69301

[iii] Vincent J. Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (New York: Continuum International, 2003), 3

[iv] Miller, Consuming Religion, 3

[v] “Presbyterian Coffee Project,” Presbyterian Mission Agency, last modified, February 19, 2019 https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/compassion-peace-justice/hunger/enough/presbyterian-coffee-project/

[vi] Trymaine Lee, “Harlem Helps Raise Coffee in Ethiopia,” New York Times, July 26, 2010,  https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/nyregion/27abyssinian.html

[vii] “Let’s Move Toolkit for Faith Communities,” White House Obama Archive, last modified, February 19, 2019, https://letsmove.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/letsmove.gov/files/Lets-Move-Toolkit-Faith-Communities.pdf

About the Author

mm

Rev Jacob Bolton

5 responses to “Consuming in the Name”

  1. Hi Jacob. Thanks for highlighting the need to be wiser purchasers of things we already consume, i.e. coffee and sundries. Miller did point out that merely educating consumers on how goods are produced goes a long way into conforming our buying habits toward life-affirming values.

    I wonder though if consumers won’t balk at the higher prices some of these “environment-friendly” goods demand? That’s why we need to support the “mom-and-pop” kinds of places with our dollars even if we end up spending a little more. In the end, one can make the case that they’ve spent less because the product last longer.

    Anyway, lots of good practical tips we can derive from Miller.

  2. mm Mary Mims says:

    Jacob, I think it is so admirable that your church is doing so much with sustainability. Many Christians do not associate our conspicuous consumption with irresponsibility. As Christians, I am glad that your church sees the connection and is making responsible choices. Our church also has a rain garden and is making other efforts to recycle and provide multiple uses for our building. Although we all consume, we should be looking for ways to be responsible. Thank you for the ideas.

  3. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    I think there is so much potential for churches to be a witness through how we respond to consumerism. One of the other strategies that we played with in one of my ministry settings was to intentionally share items instead of each having our own. This also addressed some of the economic needs. I do love when the church can offer access to fair trade/environmentally friendly items for sale. But I’m also uncomfortable when the church starts to feel a bit like a marketplace. How might we manage that pitfall?

  4. Thank you Jacob for showing how the church should be ‘different’ in an environment where everyone conforms to the norm in order to survive. We cannot escape from the world as Christians but we should make a diffence and portray Christ in us by the way we do things differently. The scripture John 1:14; ‘And The word was made fresh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father,) full of grace and truth’, is important in showing us that as the Word of God dwells in us, we are transformed to do things differently.

  5. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Jacob,

    Thank you for bringing a positive perspective to this topic. I appreciate a realistic, impactful approach to addressing what can be a discouraging issue. If the Church would all do like those local fellowships you have referenced we could make a significant difference. Most likely not only would it change consumption it would also change the hearts of those of us consuming.

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