This will take a minute to set up. Please bear with me.
My wife and I are part of the music/worship team for our local church. We rehearse a couple of days per week. On Sunday morning, we rehearse an hour before most people arrive for “Sunday School”. For a long while, we were not part of any particular “Sunday School” group, so often we would sit and talk with other musicians during the hour break between rehearsal and the corporate worship time. Sometimes we would take a short drive to Starbucks during that time for conversation and a cup of coffee. We began referring to these trips, somewhat in jest, as our “Starbucks Sunday School Class” or “Church of Starbucks”. I mean…there was no teacher, but it was a gathering of church members, and we often talked of spiritual matters. So, it sorta fits.
In recent days, there’s been quite the stir about how Starbucks employees have demonstrated less than equitable treatment toward people of ethnic minority status. I, personally know someone of ethnic minority status who had the police called on him because he stopped to take a phone call OUTSIDE a Starbucks store before entering (rather than being what he felt would be rude by taking the call inside the store). Other stories exist of black customers being told they could not use the restroom without making a purchase first, while white customers (me included) have been allowed access to the restroom without any purchase being made. So the bias, at least from some Starbucks employees and toward certain people of minority status, is real. Is shocking. Is concerning.
And then Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson posted a video of what I believe to be very humble, sincere apology. This was followed soon thereafter by an announcement that Starbucks will CLOSE all of its stores on May 29 for racial bias training.
And then I got to thinking…
Starbucks is acting, in this present age, very much like the early Christian church. In the book of Acts, two incidents are recorded when the leaders of the church made the decision to STOP EVERYTHING until the church could come together and take care of matters that were on the verge of crippling the church. In both instances, this took place because of less than equitable treatment of certain people groups within the church. Because the good news of Jesus Christ – the gospel – is available to all – not just those who do things the way “we” think is right. Check it out for yourself. In Acts 6, one might say it was because “Greek/Widow Lives Matter”. In Acts 15, it was because “Gentile Lives Matter”.
Now, some might say that this decision by Kevin Johnson is a financial decision out of fear of losing customers. Based on their corporate history of being a company who obviously desires to be known as inclusive and non-discriminatory, I see those factors being much great than any potential financial gain. I just can’t help but make a correlation to how church-like Starbucks is, when juxtaposed against the actions of the early Christian church. I wonder how many churches have ever closed down, stopped a service in progress? I wonder how many pastors have stepped down from the pulpit, how many worship leaders have stopped singing, in lament of how we, the church, often treat those around us – and sadly/especially some of our own brothers and sisters in Christ. From that respect, I think we could learn a lot from Starbucks about how to be truly Church-like.
And because I’m musically-minded, I’m now thinking of a song by Jimmy Needham titled Clear the Stage. It’s not new, but it seems plenty relevant.
**Credit to Pastor John Onwuchekwa who recently pointed out the two passages in Acts to me and helped me see their relevance to today’s social justice struggles.**