March 19, 2013 / David Fitch

Feel Good Justice?:The Problem of Starbuck’s Logic in the Church by David Fitch

images-2Slavoj Zizek is famous for his Starbuck’s example in explaining the logic of late capitalism. “You pay alot more for a cup of coffee” he says, “but 5 cents goes for food for Africa, one cent goes for orphans in Haiti, etc. etc.” You used to feel guilty for excess consuming and you had to do something to assuage the guilt. Now we make it simpler for you. Now all that is included in the price. Yet nothing really changes. My question is in what ways do justice programs in churches participate in same logic?
Justice has hit the mainstream of evangelicalism these days. When we go to church, there is often a smorgasboard of impressive justice efforts that we can choose from to give money to, or donate a few hours a week to. Yet what really changes to our underlying ways of life which support the injustice in the first place? Is this the Starbuck’s logic at work? When publishers put out justice books to help raise awareness so we “do this or that” to show solidarity with a cause, do we likewise participate in the same logic? From a distance, we can get involved safely, be part of something with no risk. But truth is little changes underneath. We feel better about stuff which then enables us to keep on participating in the same economic and social relations which keep all the injustice going? Are we all really just getting distracted by these justice efforts, able to go on living our normal lives ignoring the ways we participate daily in supporting the systems of injustice? Are we really just distracted by these justice effort, diverting our attention away from those in our immediate context who are hurting, victumized, struggling, marginalized?
Recently in the last two years a large mega church opened up a multi-million dollar center for justice on its large campus. It offers an stunning array of services for food, shelter, car repair, home repair, counseling etc to those who are hurting and are in need. At first blush this is a great act of mercy. Indeed much true mercy is being facilitated by this kind of program. But there are questions to be asked as well. When we set up justice as a goods and service operation for the poor to come to, have we structured a new provider-client relationship? In what way does this make justice convenient in essence extracting people and justice from our local contexts, neighborhoods, blocks and relationships? In what ways does the erection of a “justice building” make justice a little piece of “surplus enjoyment” to be included in the price of church? and in the process ensconcing injustice more permanently in place because it trains the poor to be poor, to be dependent on a new system that separates the haves from the have-nots, the providers from the clients?
There are of course limits to this logic. And we must be careful to not disavow works of mercy as points of relief for those in pain. But at some point we as churches must discern what is justice, what is mercy and what is Starbuck’s logic. If we contribute to relief efforts at a distance (without knowing people on the ground) in say Africa, are we funneling funds through existing power structures for distribution. But these structures are sources of power from which injustice is kept firmly in place. Are we in essence supporting and building up the exact structures responsible for the injustices in the first place. Read Emmanuel Katongole for a powerful account of this in his book Sacrifice of Africa. We must ask ourselves the same questions as we lead our congregations into God’s work of restoring justice in the world through Jesus Christ. We all know how counseling can be addictive extracting people from the work of day to day healing of relationships.  In Prodigal Christianity ch. 9, we push for justice as part of every day life into the local contexts we live. The local context is the incarnational site for God’s Kingdom to break in for the sake of the whole world. It is from here that relationships of all kinds move beyond the local to translocal, even national, and to the world.
How does your church discern the Starbuck’s logic in your church’s justice efforts?