Voting with your wallet

Published 9:39 am Saturday, December 13, 2014

by Andrew Book

Not too long ago I cast my first ballot as a resident of Courtland. We did not have a lot on the ballot this election cycle, but casting a vote for each office is important and I was glad to be able to play my part in selecting our government leaders. I cast that ballot about a month ago, and have not voted again since then. According to the Virginia Department of Elections (, the next opportunity I will have to vote for political office is May 5, 2015, so I have a while to wait before voting on a political ballot again.

While we do not vote for politicians every day, we do vote for companies, products and services nearly every day of the year. Every time we go shopping and we spend our money, we are casting a vote of support for the store where we shop and the company that makes whatever product we are buying. We are voting to support the way they treat their employees, the way they treat the environment, the way they make use of their resources and more. By giving them your business, you are voting for the way they do business.

More than once I have had a conversation with someone carrying a bag from a big box store (known for taking advantage of employees and torpedoing local businesses) where they have said, “I don’t support the store.” However, the reality is that if you are shopping there, then you are supporting them! You may not like it, but every place you spend a dollar is a place you are voting for.

I can remember when this first hit home for me. I was reading a story about the practices of a multi-national corporation in parts of Africa and other developing countries. This company makes baby formula in addition to many other food products, and the story reported that they had developed a strategy of giving free sample of baby formula to new moms in Africa (alongside inaccurate information about the health benefits of formula over and above nursing) until the mom’s natural breast milk dried up. Once they were dependent on the formula, the free samples stopped and the moms had to buy formula. The hitch is that these mothers could not afford formula! It is hard to know how many babies died from malnutrition directly as result of this practice, but the number is staggering. (You can read more on this story at )

After I finished reading this story, I went to my cupboards and begin to look for that company’s name. I was surprised to find it everywhere. In that moment, I realized that I was, in some small way, complicit in the deaths of those children. While that particular practice of that particular company has changed because enough public outcry has come forward (and laws have been changed), there is no shortage of other ethical concerns about the company’s actions in other areas, so we have committed to boycotting them. We simply are not going to vote for practices that use human lives as a way to make an extra dollar.

Honestly, it is a pain. Because this company owns many others, it has taken some time for us to know which ice cream, frozen foods, canned products, baking supplies and more are part of the company we do not want to support. However, we have decided that voting for companies whose values reflect our own is important enough to us that we will take the time and, in some cases, incur some extra cost in order to be sure what we are voting for is something we want to support.

My hope for you is that you will take some time during the season leading up to Christmas to think about what matters to you. Do you care about keeping jobs in America? Does protecting the environment matter to you? Are human rights a concern for you? Do you care about whether the employees of the store you are shopping at earn enough to make a living? Figure out what is important and then, when you prepare to go shopping, consider where you will shop and what you will buy, knowing that if your only concern is finding the cheapest product, then you may be voting for a company that is willing to ignore your ethical concerns to make a dollar.

Voting with your wallet is an act of faith for me, where I strive to live out those things which matter to God in my daily life. It is part of the kind of faith that shapes every part of my life. This is the kind of faith that we are growing at Courtland United Methodist Church, and I hope it is the kind of faith that is growing in you!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or