Starbucks has brewed a venti-sized controversy in its latest seasonal coffee cups. The red cups look simple, but they were enough to send a buzz through social media. Most of the reaction came after Joshua Feuerstein, a self-proclaimed American evangelist, posted a video claiming Starbucks was intentionally avoiding Christmas.
“Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups?” Feuerstein said in his video. “That’s why they’re just plain red. In fact, do you know that Starbucks isn’t allowed to say merry Christmas to their customers?”
Feuerstein also urged Christians to boycott Starbucks. His video went viral with more than 14 million views, according to Vox.com explainer Alex Abad-Santos.
Now we are viewing the resulting media craze. At this point, how many of us have not heard of the controversy? Not many. But it affects more than we think.
The negative reaction to the Starbuck cups is primarily Christian, which raises some concerns.
“I think that we’re looking at a bigger issue about how religion fits into American businesses—like in general,” Kayla Asbury, a business student and a barista at Starbucks, said.
Asbury has experienced criticism from Christian customers who question her involvement with Starbucks and its non-Christian affiliations.
“When I first heard about the whole controversy, immediately I thought ‘oh my goodness I am a Christian Starbucks barista and I am going to have to explain this to everyone’,” Asbury said.
She has witnessed the negative image the controversy gives Christians, as well as observed Starbuck’s neutral approach to religion. Contrary to Feuerstein’s claims, Starbucks still allows Asbury and other baristas to say “Merry Christmas.” Asbury believes Christians should not expect secular businesses to show favor to Christian holidays, however, since those businesses have no obligation to uphold one holiday over another.
“I don’t believe I am contributing to anything that is going against my beliefs when I am serving in that company,” she said. “I believe in business as mission so I am there and I am a Christian and they’re not suppressing my beliefs.”
Starbuck’s neutrality in the controversy actually supports religious liberty, as Dr. Kent Kersey, professor of theology, noted.
“We should appreciate there are people in the secular world who are not trying to make it a religious statement,” Kersey said, “because if they are, then they’re making a bad religious statement because they’re just saying it to make money. You know, that’s even worse than not saying it at all.”
Kersey believes Christians should be focusing on the issues that truly matter. He pointed out how the Bible says nothing about Starbucks but only asks Christians to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
“I think we need to be offended by things that offend God and not just because of some arbitrary thing I think a company should say,” he said.
Ultimately, the Starbucks cups are an opportunity to live out the more important parts of Christmas. They are a chance for Christians to appreciate the good, Kersey said, such as the cup’s design, which is Christian in itself because it reflects the beauty and creativity that stem directly from God Himself.
Since the controversy began with one person expressing disgruntlement on social media, Asbury said Christians should approach the issue carefully. She believes they need to understand the source of the controversy to determine the right response, which means they need to understand that the issue came from an attitude of anger and defiance.
“Just look at your own reaction as a Christian…and just ask yourself ‘how am I going to respond to this and what is going to decrease the tension, the overall drama of this controversy,’” Asbury said. “Just try and, by your own actions and words, try and represent who Jesus is in your workplace.”
In the midst of controversy, Christians can be more than critics. Asbury said Christians can be graceful and quiet as they peacefully move forward—just as she is doing. The Starbucks cups have given Christians a chance to do this—a chance to show that Christmas is more than labels.
If we blow the steam off this controversy, we can see it is simply a confusion of priorities. But it is one that can be fixed, if Christians choose to do so.
And now we are just waiting to see if they will.