We All Got What We Wanted From the Red Cup

red Starbucks cup

Photo from Flickr

Yes, we’re all tired of talking about it. The color of coffee cups has dominated social media feeds and water cooler discussions for the past few days.

But whether we care to admit it or not, everybody involved got what they wanted out of the Starbucks red cup controversy.

While you may have lost track of who exactly is outraged at whom, the winners in this latest cultural kerfuffle are obvious.

Persecution Manufactures

Some Christians have built their brand on manufacturing these faux-controversies and peddling them across social media. (I’ll have a fuller, more specific post on them later.)

But all of those who want to continue an exaggerated narrative of Christian persecution in America found another example to trumpet—never mind that it undermines actual erosions of religious liberty.

No matter, they had another viral Facebook post to share and more spotlight to gain.

Christian ridiculers

Atheists and the aggressively irreligious found yet another example to add to their list of “Look at the stupid Christians” moments. Ignoring all context, they lumped every Christian in with the relatively tiny number of Persecution Manufactures complaining about the cups.

While they don’t have to answer for every sexist or racist statement Richard Dawkins makes, I’m supposed to acknowledge my solidarity with some guy on Facebook who I’ve never heard of until this week?

But regardless, the narrative spins on and every Christian will be considered ignorant because of one example. Just don’t point out how unscientific it is to characterize an entire population of people by a small, overrepresented sample.

Pharisaical observers

Here’s where I want to spend most of my time because, if I’m honest, this position is where I’m tempted to spend most of my time.

This faux-controversy over Starbucks cups granted most Christians the opportunity to judge with reckless abandon their fellow believer who bought into the controversy.

I’m not talking about correcting the misinformation in the original video or challenging the perception that this is a widespread belief among Christians. Both of those responses should be welcomed because they are needed.

However, very subtly, without our even noticing, we can easily slip into Pharisee mode—criticizing the behavior of others to make ourselves appear better.

In the background of some responses, without straining too hard, you could hear the faint echoes of the Pharisee’s prayer in Luke 18:11-12: “God, I thank You that I’m not like other people—ignorant, stupid, uneducated, or even like my crazy uncle on Facebook. I’m cultured; I don’t just share everything I read online.”

We can easily slide from outrage that the name of Christ has been defamed to outrage at the outrage for making us look bad. That move makes all the difference in the world because it injects sin into what we hold to be righteous.

Again, if I’m honest, I feel Pharisaical attitudes attempting to wrap their tentacles around my heart, desiring to ooze out into my words even now. I’m confessing the temptation as I trust Christ to defeat that ever present danger.

It has to be dealt with because spiritual pride is the worst of all prides. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains:

It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very center of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all. It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly. For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity—that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.

Beware the yeast of the Pharisees, Jesus told His disciples. Perhaps He would change the illustration a bit for our current situation.

Beware the coffee beans of the Pharisees, He may tell us. For while you think you are giving energy, you are actually drinking down bitterness and calling it sweet.

We got what we thought wanted, but we may not realize just how harmful it can be.


  1. Jon

    Just reading this today, but I had the same thought linked to the same parable ironically. I put up a video blog the other day before I found your post linked on Challies’ site. Good to know I’m not alone in my sense on the “build self up by tearing others down” motives in some Christian responses (including my own original gut reaction).

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.