[OPENING SIDEBAR NOTE: Although the information here is useful to those outside of Catholicism, it is more aptly directed to Catholics. Individual Protestants may personally align with Catholics on the issues presented, but the difference is that Catholics are bound by established doctrine, which is non-negotiable; Protestants are not.]
The coffee bean. This small, yet potent gift from God is responsible for the creation of beverages whose names alone can cause a Pavlov’s response. Espresso. Latte. Mocha. Macchiato. Frappe. These are elixirs from Heaven.
Coffee has been the inspiration for songs (“Java Jive,” made popular by The Ink Spots in 1941.) People proudly don trendy t-shirts, whose coffee stains are labeled with the particular bean responsible (Sumatra, Arabica, Robusto.) The coffee bean has single-handedly been responsible for the Coffee Shop explosion in our land.
Although there are any number of local coffee shops in every town across the USA, Starbucks has emerged as King. Many people have wondered what caused this phenomenon. There have been rumors as to the deliberate boost of caffeine in Starbucks coffee in an effort to create an unsuspecting population of addicts, drawn to what they believe is the only concoctions that satisfy. There are tremendous marketing campaigns in each season of the year. And, of course a myriad of selection options awaits the Coffee Gourmands of our era, which feeds into the demand for choices and options. Some might point to flavor, although for me personally the reason must be something other than the actual taste…I’ve never quite warmed up to the flavor of Starbucks brews.
All that aside (especially in light of certain information), I have found myself wondering if a Catholic should purchase from or work for the Starbucks machine. It is an interesting question, considering the number of churches that purchase their gift cards as giveaways. Or hold Bible studies at Starbucks. Or make it their first stop on the way to work. And considering the number of Catholics who work for Starbucks—an especially fashionable option in the young adult crowd.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my morning espresso, just like any other self-respecting, coffee swilling Italian. But an affinity for (addiction to?) caffeine is hardly a reason to support a company if that company is proven to be unethical. As Catholics, our duty is first to Christ and His Teachings, which requiress a thorough development of our lives under Church guide. From that well-formed conscience, we then need to examine what we do with our time, talents and treasures.
In an effort to shed some light and hopefully engage other Catholics in an exercise of thoughtful introspection, I have decided to address the Starbucks lure (you’ll get the pun in a moment…)
To begin, it is critical to look at the Starbucks choice of logo. The original logo was a twin-tailed (split-tailed) mermaid, or Siren. In Greek mythology, these mermaids would lure sailors, who would then shipwreck off the coast of an island known as Starbuck Island. The logo was chosen, and signifies luring coffee lovers from everywhere. Innocent, right? Wrong!
A close look at the original twin-tailed mermaid on the Starbucks Coffee Tea Spices Logo reveals a provocative pose, with the mermaid not only topless, but with her deliberately holding each ‘tail’ up laterally. This image dates back to the 1500’s and was derived from a Norse wood carving. It leaves nothing to the imagination of what ‘bait’ the Siren is using to lure sailors to their doom at Starbuck Island. I suppose we should not be surprised that salty sailors in the 1500’s were easily tempted by provocative women. Actually, it hasn’t changed much.
But after several iterations, Starbucks Coffee managed to sanitize the logo, trimming the circle so that the full sordid split tail was not visible and covering the breast area by adding flowing hair to the mermaid. So, it’s O.K. now, right? Wrong!
The meaning of the Logo remains. It is something that (even though sanitized) should be abhorrent to any Catholic, both male and female. Take a look at the current Logo. See each tail hoisted up on either side of the mermaid’s head. Notice the hair, that covers an oddly flat-chested female. Then remember that deception is the devil’s number one tool to pull good people toward sin. After pondering this, ask yourself if a Catholic should be supporting an organization that deliberately designed, then sanitized, such a vile Logo to represent their company.
Another area of concern is the way Starbucks was founded, and its ties to a family with questionable affiliations. When a competitor tried to buy Starbucks, Howard Schultz was rescued by Bill Gates Sr. He used both his notoriety and larger-than-life size to intimidate the person who was slated to purchase Starbucks from owner, Jerry Baldwin. But Gates, Sr. took an interest in Schultz and his desire to purchase Starbucks.
“Now, Bill Gates Sr. is six-foot-seven, and, in the mid-80s, he was in his prime. He was a force. We walked in that office and all I remember him saying is: ‘You should be ashamed of yourself that you’re going to steal this kid’s dream. It’s not going to happen. You and I both know this is not going to happen.’
“Within 10 minutes, he told him to stand down, we’re walking out of this office and this kid’s buying this company.” (Elkins, Kathleen. “When a competitor tried to buy Starbucks, Howard Schultz was rescued by Bill Gates Sr.” CNBC Make It. October 4, 2017)
This strong-armed ‘rescue’ by Gates, Sr. paved the way for Starbucks’ involvement in the eugenics-driven Planned Parenthood; Bill Gates, Sr. was once their president. It seems a natural progression that a grateful Schultz would then defend and donate to Planned Parenthood.
The abortion issue is one glaring example, with regards to Starbucks’ relationship to Planned Parenthood. According to Dr. Alveda King (pro-life activist, former member of the Georgia House of Representatives, and niece of Dr. Martin Luther King):
“Through its corporate donations, Starbucks contributes to one of the most racist organizations in our nation’s history. Planned Parenthood, the largest single provider of abortions in the U.S., performs more than 300,000 terminations each year.” (Perkins, Tony. “Now That Starbucks CEO Knows About Planned Parenthood Funding, Will He End Chain’s Support of ‘Racist Organization’?” The Daily Signal. June 1, 2018)
Catholic teaching is very clear: life begins at conception, and all life from conception to natural death is to be valued and protected. Therefore, this whole subject of Starbucks’ support for abortion is an issue that can stand alone, and could easily be argued as a compelling reason for Catholics to avoid association with them in purchases and/or employment.
There are other well-documented stands by Starbucks that are in direct opposition to Catholic teaching, such as the ongoing support for people in alternative lifestyles. The Corporate Quality Index (CQI) is a watchdog of Fortune 500 Companies with regard to their level of inclusivity. They are rated not only on the basic rights to which all of us should be entitled, but extends out to things like ‘partner’ benefits and visible engagement with the LGBTQ community. In 2017, Starbucks scored 100 out of 100. (from the Human Rights Campaign, as reported by Starbucks in “Human Rights Campaign Recognizes Starbucks as Top Employer for LGBTQ Workplace Equality.” Starbucks Stories and News. November 16, 2017). Conversely, there is no barometer of companies reaching out to other ‘communities’ in such a visible manner.
From a humanity perspective, it is encouraging to know that Starbucks treats a particular group of employees well. But isn’t that what all companies should do…treat all employees well? And why focus on this particular group—why make special rules on their behalf? Isn’t favoritism a form of bigotry? And more importantly, how does all this relate to Catholics?
Catholic doctrine recognizes the dignity of all human persons. However, the Catholic understanding of the human person is that he/she is created in the image and likeness of God…to be designated as male or female from birth, but not a wider variety of perceived genders to be determined at a later date. Catholic doctrine also only recognizes the marriage relationship in the way that God ordained it: between one biologically created man and one biologically created woman. LGBTQ is a humanly contrived notion, reflecting neither God and Natural Law nor objective biological fact.
The fact that Starbucks is in opposition to this teaching of the Church should cause a Catholic with a well-formed conscience based on Church teachings to avoid support of such an organization.
And finally, there is a current issue where Starbucks has extended its company support: Black Lives Matter. Why, you might wonder, is this an area of concern for a Catholic? First (and please refrain from accusations of not being ‘woke’), if all lives do not matter equally, no lives matter at all. This again is in line with the Catholic understanding of the dignity of all human beings…with no culture or person above another.
In Seattle, the BLM anarchy, responsible for countless businesses being looted and burned, required whites to go to the back of the line at the rally. This is objectively racist. Here was the directive:
We ask that all march participants respect the following order of procession. We want ensure this is a Black led march, but we encourage everyone to march with their family and loved ones.
- Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County
- Black youth
- Black community
- People of Color
- Elected and appointed officials, political candidates
- White allies
And how does Starbucks fits into this issue? Corporate Starbucks has decided to give a huge nod of approval and advertising to this racist group. They are creating their own BLM shirts for employees, this after they first banned employees from wearing them to work. Incidentally, they likely would ban MAGA hats, shirts with a Crucifix, etc. But that’s neither here nor there…or is it?
Back on point, these shirts are being made…250,000 of them…in cooperation with Starbucks Black Partner Network. Bet you didn’t even know that existed! The shirts are being made available for all employees to wear. (BLM Shirts data from Anderson, Mae. “Starbucks Creates Own Black Lives Matter Shirt for Employees.” Yahoo Finance Online. June 12, 2020)
Can you imagine the peer pressure to take part in this showing of racism and support for those committing criminal activities? And if you are a Catholic working at Starbucks, the pressure to fit in could coerce you into wearing a shirt that elevates a racist group.
How should Catholics respond to a company that aligns itself with a group promoting racism, supports questionable lifestyles, and contributes to the murder of infants through Planned Parenthood (which is a glaring example of racism through eugenics)? At the very least, we can deny them our patronage. And most definitely, we can and should avoid working for a company with these worldviews.
For some reason, our young people who are Starbucks enthusiasts either do not have the information, have poorly informed consciences, or just don’t care. Mostly, they fail to connect the dots. Those who chose to work at Starbucks may be enticed by the laid-back atmosphere, or the way Starbucks treats their employees with decent pay and benefits…including college tuition.
But Catholic young adults, beware. You are embarking upon the slippery slope of Situational Ethics. This is a common mistake among the young (and, unfortunately, some of the older crowd.) It goes like this:
- I need money for my lifestyle and education
- A company with questionable morals can offer these to me
- My needs supersede the company’s immorality
- Therefore, it is justified that I overlook their immorality to get what I need
This is the path that leads to moral bankruptcy. Instead, if you have a code of ethics and morals based on a well-formed conscience, it should go like this:
- I need a job to pay for my expenses
- A company that is hiring stands for issues that go against my moral core & beliefs
- Therefore, I won’t even consider working for them
- God will provide a more ethical avenue and solution
Faith and morals should be first. Job should follow suit. There is no other acceptable path for a Catholic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,
“Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.” (#2287)
As explained by Frs. Benedict Ashley and Kevin O’Rourke, O.P. in The Ethics of Health Care (3rd edition):
“Sometimes people cooperate with a person doing evil by approving what the person does, or by willfully and knowingly partaking in the evil action…. This is formal cooperation in an unethical act, and it is always wrong.”
Both Catechism 2287 and the section from the book above can apply to the case of persons willingly supporting Starbucks, either in providing profits through sales that will subsequently be used to support illicit activity, or by working at Starbucks, thereby giving tacit approval by partnering in work, which again will glean profits to also be used thusly…not to mention scandal for those who know the employee is Catholic.
And for any Catholic adult reading this who LOVES Starbucks and can’t imagine living without that morning Latte, go buy yourself an espresso machine! It will pay for itself very quickly by you not spending money at Starbucks…and your conscience will be clear.