Public response to the flap over Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy’s public disavowal of gay marriage (and keep in mind, this for Cathy is not just a matter of personal morality, but a hallmark of the restaurant’s corporate culture) demonstrates that gay marriage–and, indeed, the status of LGBTQ people in our nation and its body of laws–is still quite a polarizing force in America. In the wake of Cathy’s statements, gauntlets are being thrown down everywhere. The mayors of Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco issued statements saying they would not permit the chicken sandwich progenitors to expand into their cities. The Muppets, who had been cross-promoting with the restaurant, have also joined the boycott (probably much to the relief of Gonzo the Great, who had been concerned that the partnership was just a pretense to kidnap his lady love and fry her up). University of Maryland student Brian Real has sounded a call for marriage equality proponents to donate the cost of a chicken sandwich to gay-friendly organizations on August 1st, via Facebook. Real’s Facebook event was in response to one created by former Arkansas governor and Religious Right darling Mike Huckabee, a national day of appreciation for Chick-Fil-A, also to be held on August 1st. Huckabee states his rationale on the event page, in adjective-laden sentences: “I have been incensed at the vitriolic assaults on the Chick Fil-A company because the CEO, Dan Cathy, made comments recently in which he affirmed his view that the Biblical view of marriage should be upheld … It’s a great American story that is being smeared by vicious hate speech and intolerant bigotry from the left.”
It’s only natural that Christians would respond to the Chick-Fil-A flap by organizing to flood the chain with support and money. After all, for the Last Supper, Jesus took his disciples to the Jerusalem Chick-Fil-A. While they were there, he told them: “A new command I give you: Whenever a business upholds my view of marriage, as this Chick-Fil-A does, and becomes mired in public controversy for paying lobbyists to pressure the government to do so as well, you must patronize those businesses and make a big production of it. As I have loved Chick-Fil-A, so you must love Chick-Fil-A. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you eat at Chick-Fil-A.”
Oh, wait. Except for that never happened.
Frankly, as a Christian, I am bothered by this whole “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” bandwagon. As I write this post, over 370,000 people have already pledged to eat at Chick-Fil-A via Huckabee’s Facebook event. Tens of thousands more are pledging their support for rip-off versions that have permeated Facebook. It is turning, to my mind, into the latest unwritten test of faith for Christians, especially evangelicals: “Support Chick-Fil-A on August 1st or you don’t like Jesus as much as I do.” Chick-Fil-A is the next Tim Tebow.
Thing is, if you have five bucks and an empty stomach (or if it’s just lunch time, because let’s face it, who in evangelical funland ever has an empty stomach?), it’s easy to “share your faith” by walking into your local Chick-Fil-A and buying a box of chicken minis and some waffle fries. You can feel like you’ve done a good deed for Jesus. And you can say, “You’re welcome, Jesus.” (By the way, that’s really what Tim Tebow is doing when he engages in “Tebowing”–he’s saying, “You’re welcome, Jesus.” Kidding. Maybe.) But what if, instead of people attacking Chick-Fil-A, Mike Huckabee had been incensed by the infant mortality rate in Memphis? What if he had picked a day and said, “That day, I want every Christian in America to contribute to a fund that’s going to open up free prenatal and neonatal care for poor mothers and children in Memphis so that we don’t have a city in the United States that has a higher infant mortality rate than some third world countries”? Do you really believe you’d have 370,000 takers? Let’s face it, eating out at Chick-Fil-A is probably not what Jesus had in mind when he talked about the cost of discipleship. The cost of discipleship is not the cost of a chicken strip combo. Except for that time when he said, “Suppose one of you wants to take his family out to eat at Chick-Fil-A. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to feed them all? For if you get in the car and drive to Chick-Fil-A and order your food and are not able pay for it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person took his whole family out to eat at Chick-Fil-A and didn’t realize he was too poor to do so until the cashier said, ‘That will be 27.64.’” Oh wait–he never said that, either.
What’s worse, the Chick-Fil-A Appreciation day is really just another gimmick that cheapens the witness of the church. Paul once wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12.18). If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that this Chick-Fil-A flap and the resulting Chick-Fil-A appreciation day is not an attempt to live at peace. It is, basically, a group of disgruntled evangelicals collectively sticking out their tongues, putting their hands to the sides of their heads and wiggling their fingers, and giving those who do not share their values a massive raspberry. Most of those who buy into this gimmick (and that’s what it is–another gimmick in a Christian world that has come to rely on gimmickry) and go to eat at Chick-Fil-A on August 1st because Mike Huckabee told them to are basically just doing it to say, “Nyah nyah boo boo” to gays and liberals. Paul also wrote somewhere: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13.11). Picking a day when everyone in the “in” group is going to go do something cool, usually in defiance of others in an “out” group, is so seventh grade.
The most troubling aspect of national “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” for me is that it’s idolatry. No, Christians won’t be bowing before a chicken sandwich. That would only be the most obvious form of idolatry. Rather, what you are doing when you go to eat at Chick-Fil-A on August 1st is using your commitment to traditional marriage, with Chick-Fil-A for a totem, as a surrogate for your commitment to Jesus. The church has indeed fashioned for itself a golden calf in these latter days, and it is called “family values.”
I have spoken my piece to my fellow-Christians first, because as the scripture says, judgment begins with God’s household (1 Pet. 4.17). But I have some things to say to the LGBTQ community and their supporters as well, and I hope they will be kindly received.
Your response to this has been somewhat counterproductive, guys. You have received a modicum of goodwill in the public sphere. Use it to your advantage! The time is past for boycotts and placards. Those ways of getting your point across are, frankly, moldy. Corporate America, for its own part, is already joining in the public spanking of Chick-Fil-A (the cynic in me knows it’s only to grow their market base, but we take what we can get, right?), though I highly doubt this will make Dan Cathy change his tune–those Southern Baptists are remarkably stubborn creatures. Boycotts and strong-arm governmental intervention tactics are only useful for those who have no other forms of leverage. You have earned other forms of leverage, because whether you recognize it or not, you are transitioning from marginalized group to part of the mainstream.
That being said, I don’t want you to boycott Chick-Fil-A. But if you choose to do so, I don’t want you make it a lock-step boycott, whereby those who participate sneer at those who don’t until it becomes a “who’s gayer than who” battle, and anyone from the LGBTQ community who goes on eating at Chick-Fil-A is viewed as a traitor to “the cause.” I told my Christian friends this, and I’m telling you this, too: that’s so seventh grade.
No, here’s what I suggest. You go and eat at Chick-Fil-A on August 1st. Be the best customers in the place. Clean up your tables, don’t make a mess, be courteous to those overworked, underpaid people behind the counter. Smile. I’m not suggesting you don’t do all these things already, I’m sure you’re lovely people and you do. I’m just saying make a special point to do it that day. And if you’re surrounded by a lot of snarky Christians, don’t feed in. Here, let me quote a scripture for you that’s not out of the book of Leviticus: “Live such good lives among the pagans [in this case, Christians] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds” (1 Pet. 2.12). But don’t get smug on us. I’m not counseling you to do this in order to shame Christians (though there are some of us who ought to be ashamed of ourselves), but in order to show Chick-Fil-A that your money spends as good as anyone else’s and if they want to keep you as customers, in the future they should maybe refrain from paying lobbyists to make your life harder–or at least from bragging about doing it.
Returning to my fellow Christians, I didn’t just write all this because I’m particularly angry about Dan Cathy’s words on gay marriage. I am angry that Mike Huckabee has deceptively framed this as a battle over Dan Cathy expressing his views in public. That’s not the point. Cathy’s company gives millions of dollars a year to anti-gay lobbying groups. As an American, I am gravely concerned about how much money flows out of corporations into Washington, D.C. I am bothered, as an American, that corporate entities are invited to shape not only the public discourse around any given number of issues, but to decide what is on the table and what is not when it comes to legislation. I am bothered that these entities have been given many more rights and opportunities to shape legislation than you or I have as private citizens. As a Christian–and this is always first priority to me–I am gravely concerned that so many fellow Christians have bought into Huckabee’s narrative about what the issue is, and blithely plan to follow-through with such a juvenile tactic as, “Let’s go bloc-eating at Chick-Fil-A on August 1st to prove our point and rub gay people’s faces in it.” Perhaps I am being too critical–feel free to disagree with me. I am also troubled about what sorts of precedents we continue to set when we continue to rely on governments, whether they be federal, state, or local, to enforce our moral views. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul chides the church for allowing civil authorities to decide their disputes for them. How much more would he chide us today for relying on civil authorities to enforce our standards on people who may not even be Christians? Remember: Jesus warned us not to give holy things to dogs or pearls to pigs, and that if we did, we would be trampled and eaten by them (Matt. 7.6-7). Whether you realize it or not, when you hand over your resources and your energy and your reputation to lobbyists to go play culture wars in Washington D.C.–when you feed into the system like that–you are giving what is holy to dogs and pigs. If you want to keep on feeding the beasts, go ahead–but be prepared to be eaten by them before it’s all said and done. Start pursuing the kingdom, stop engaging the system. You can’t do both at once.
So on August 1st, what I’d love to see is Christians eating at Chick-Fil-A, not because Mike Huckabee said so, but because they just happen to feel like a chicken sandwich that day. And I want to see gay people eating there, not to bother Christians, but because they want to eat chicken. Imagine that: people eating at a restaurant with no political or cultural agenda. How strange!
Maybe everyone that day could learn something about the Golden Rule, and why it’s good for us to go the second mile with those we don’t agree with.