26 November 2020

Black Friday…to shop or not to shop?

Eunice Attwood, Church at the Margins Officer, reflects on how we might use the values of the Gospel in our approach to Christmas shopping this year.

Black Friday, the intense annual sales day held on the last Friday in November, presents a dilemma for us in many and varied ways. I like a bargain. I like a product which represents good value for money and works well. However, the items promoted for the Black Friday sales often leave me with uneasy feelings:

- To what extent are these items bargains?

- Are the goods sold on Black Friday value for money, fairly traded goods?

- Have people been exploited in the production and process of the items being made or sold?

- Does Black Friday encourage people to buy things they do not need?

- Do they encourage us to replace items, that are not broken, because the deals are so attractive?

- Is the dominant narrative of dissatisfaction in our culture, fuelled by the idea which underpins consumerism, that having more things will make you feel better? The latest fridge, the most fashionable kettle?

- Does Black Friday encourage ‘overproduction’ and contribute to climate change by using yet more of the world’s finite resources?

Holding sales in a single focused day often brings massive queues and crowds of people. In some situations, people have been injured in the frenzy to obtain whatever item is on sale.

The term Black Friday has been used to describe several events historically and needs a word of caution. So often the adjective, ‘black’ in this scenario has been associated with days on which disasters have occurred. It is important to acknowledge and challenge the negative impact of this phrase upon the lives of people who identify as black. It has also been suggested the term relates more positively to the idea of accounting practices, in which red ink would be used to indicate negative amounts, and black ink to show positive, credited amounts. Hence being in the black, rather than in the red, demonstrated a positive financial outcome.

In the UK, the term Black Friday (known in some communities as black eye Friday!) is also associated with the last ‘Friday payday’ before Christmas when some people go out drinking. Sadly, in many city centres contingency plans are made by the emergency services to respond to the increased workload this causes.

This year Black Friday sales will predominantly be online, but the dilemma of how to respond will remain. For people who are struggling financially the sale may seem to be the only way they can afford to shop. Retailers struggling due to the impact of lockdown may rely on the sales to maintain their struggling businesses.

Scripture has plenty to say about how we live with our wealth, and our responsibility to those who are impoverished. How we manage our finances (individually and corporately) speaks of our discipleship. Our financial commitments, where, and how we spend our money reflect our priorities and values, and ultimately, how the gospel of Christ has impacted our lives, perhaps even more than the words we speak. If our finances were scrutinised as individuals and churches, what would they reveal about our beliefs? How could our finances demonstrate the biblical connection between evangelism and social justice?

In the complexity of the financial challenges presented by the pandemic we have an opportunity to reflect and respond with generosity as individuals, local churches, circuit, and districts.

Of course, to shop or not to shop is not the only question. We need to add further questions to help us, including who we might shop for, alongside where to shop and how to shop. Many charities supporting homeless men and women, community projects responding to people seeking asylum and people fleeing domestic abuse are struggling with decreased resources and reduced donations.

How might we respond?

  • Could we commit to reviewing how our finances represent our gospel values?
  • Purchase items to support a struggling charity and offer to volunteer?
  • Buy fairly traded goods?
  • Purchase goods from small local independent shops, who cannot afford to reduce their prices as they struggle to survive in the difficult days of lockdown.

The world has been changed forever, by the coronavirus. The full economic impact has yet to unfold, but we already know for certain that impoverishment in all its forms has increased and many more people will become vulnerable economically. At the beginning of Jesus' ministry narrated by Luke, Jesus unrolls the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and announces the message he has come to fulfil, to bring good news to the poor, release for those held captive and freedom for the oppressed.  As followers of Jesus, we must allow every aspect of our lives to be open to the gospel’s scrutiny, by asking how our economic life enables the good news of the Jesus Christ to be heard and received.   

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