Depending on where you live, you may see copies of Christian business directories, the most well known of which is The Shepherd’s Guide, in businesses around town. Though the stated purpose of such directories is couched in loftier terms, their basic goal is to promote businesses owned by Christians to Christian customers, encouraging people to buy from others like themselves.
This idea is not unique to the Christian community. A former boss, who is a lesbian, told me that when she and her partner were house hunting, their friends encouraged them to use a particular realtor because she was “family” — another lesbian. They were perfectly happy with their own realtor, who was heterosexual, so they bought through her, but they had encountered the same underlying idea that we should buy from people like ourselves.
Those who encourage you to buy from businesses owned by others in your ethnic, faith, or cultural group do have some legitimate reasons. For one, you may be more likely to trust someone who holds similar values to your own. When you come from the same background, you are less likely to have a misunderstanding about how business should be done. If you are part of a group that has faced particular disadvantages or discrimination, buying from others within your group may also give you a feeling that you are helping someone else overcome the same issues you have faced. Perhaps the best reason to buy from people like you is the assurance that the money you spend won’t be going directly to a cause you don’t support as soon as it leaves your hands.
At the same time, buying from people like you has several disadvantages. Most obvious is the fact that you might not get the best product, the best price, or the best customer service if you limit your search to a small percentage of businesses (only those who advertise in a Christian directory or are a part of the GBLT community, for example). A bit less obvious, but perhaps more important, is that by keeping your money within your own community, you miss opportunities to build relationships with people who are not like you.
I personally tend to look for the best deal, regardless of who is offering it. If I learn that a business is owned by someone like me, great — we have something in common. But I would gladly buy from someone who came from a different background, too. I would, however, be reluctant to purchase something from a company whose core values were obviously advertised and in direct opposition to my most passionate beliefs. Even if I knew that most of the money I spent would go to running the business and allowing the owners/employees to buy necessities and other non-controversial things, I would be bothered by that small portion of my purchase that would be spent to oppose a cause or belief dear to my heart.
When you have to choose, is it more important to you to support others like you or to get the best value? Your answer might vary based on individual circumstances. Ask yourself whether the benefits of buying from someone with a similar background or beliefs is worth the additional money you might spend by not shopping around. Ask yourself whether the differences between you and the business owners are ones that really matter. Ask yourself whether you feel comfortable indirectly supporting a cause promoted by a particular business. The decision is one worth thinking about. In the end, the opportunity either to support someone like you or to build a relationship with someone different from you may add more value to the deal than the actual product or service you purchase.
Image courtesy of [phil h]
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