A Kentucky Baptist pastor is featured in a television commercial being aired in the Bible Belt urging followers of Jesus to think twice before doing their Christmas shopping at Wal-Mart.
“Jesus said do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” said Joseph Phelps, pastor of <Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. “But if these are our values, can we continue to shop at Wal-Mart without insulting God?”
The ad, sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, is taped in front of a stained-glass window inside the church sanctuary. Phelps tells viewers that Wal-Mart has repeatedly broken child-labor laws, is being sued for gender discrimination and leaves more than half of its employees and families without company health coverage.
“So as we celebrate Christmas together, search your heart,” Phelps said. “If these are Wal-Mart’s values, would Jesus shop at Wal-Mart? Should you?”
Phelps, a member of the Baptist Center for Ethics’ board of directors, said in a column due to run tomorrow in EthicsDaily.com he accepted the chance to speak to millions of Americans because of his pastoral role as an evangelist, “one who announces the message of God’s agenda as seen in the life of our Savior, Jesus.”
Phelps said he also wants to “wake up” American consumers, especially those with biblical values, “to the reality that our buying power has real power to affect a lot of people around the world.”
“Everyone wants lower prices, but not at the expense of neighbors who work for Wal-Mart, or people around the world who make their products,” Phelps said. “Our purchasing choices are the crucial link in granting companies like Wal-Mart our tacit permission and our financial support to continue practices that exploit the young, the vulnerable and the working poor.”
Phelps told EthicsDaily.com Wednesday that his words in the 30-second spot are strong, and some might even find them offensive. “My hope is that the words will cause viewers to consider the connections between their believing and their shopping,” he said. “We Christians need to practice what we preach.”
The ad is part of the 2006 “Hope for the Holidays” campaign, a nationwide initiative to reach out to evangelical Christians in an effort to change Wal-Mart during the Christmas season. It is sponsored by the 1.3 million-member UFCW, a frequent critic of Wal-Mart’s labor practices and sponsor of the anti-Wal-Mart site WakeUpWalMart.com.
“This Christmas, Wal-Mart has an incredible opportunity to shun its immoral past, embrace the best of our values and become a moral employer that puts faith and family first in this holy season,” said Chris Kofinis, communications director of WakeUpWalMart.com.
A companion ad targeted to interfaith audiences used a woman’s voice over saying “our faith” teaches the Golden Rule and asking, “Should people of faith shop at Wal-Mart this holiday season?”
The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million workers worldwide and more than 1 million in the United States. It is the largest employer in 25 states, setting the standard for wages and labor practices elsewhere.
Wal-Mart has more than 3,000 stores in the U.S. and nearly 1,300 International operations. The Walton family that owns the chain is worth about $102 billion.
An earlier TV spot in 42 media markets aimed at women and families featured a woman associate who realized it would take her more than 1,000 years to earn what Wal-Mart’s CEO Lee Scott earned in just one year.
“Wal-Mart has a choice to make this holiday season,” commented Martha Burk of the National Council of Women’s Organizations. “It can continue on a greedy and immoral path or it can do what is right and become the model employer we know it can become.”
The Baptist Center for Ethics today issued a pastoral letter urging Wal-Mart to become a “Golden Rule” company, treating its workers and families with justice and respect.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.