Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chick-Fil-A: It's about Jesus

This morning, I came across an article posted on Facebook by one of my relatives entitled "Why the Chick-Fil-A Boycott is Really about Jesus". Said relative (like half my family) lives in Kentucky, and is therefore in the midst of this whole Chick-Fil-A kerfuffle. As a resident of Portland, Oregon, I on the other hand am 300 miles from the nearest Chick-Fil-A, so I've been largely staying out of this whole mess. But when I saw the above article title, I had hoped that perhaps it was some progressive Christian that had written a good article about how Jesus didn't care about the gender of your life partner, and was more concerned about excluding people and making outcasts of people, and therefore would be appalled by Chick-Fil-A's loud stance in His name and their support of so many organizations that actively oppress others.

But, alas, that was not the case.  Instead, the article asserted that this wasn't about Chick-Fil-A's consistent opposition to homosexuality.  No, this boycott was actually about the fact that Chick-Fil-A is Christian, and believes in Jesus:

As weary as we may be of the culture wars, the Chick-fil-A controversy is a harbinger of further ostracism to come. In the United States, the words of Jesus are coming to pass for those who hold tightly to His vision of sexuality: You will be hated because of Me.

This is dangerously close to the mistake many Christians make: extrapolating Jesus' words into if you are hated it is because you are doing my will.  Which is, when actually stated, preposterous, of course.  But when you hold up Jesus' phrase as evidence that you are doing His will, you're pretty dangerously close to stating exactly that.

And here's the thing: I've read every recorded word that Jesus ever spoke on this earth, many times.  And I can tell you this, and any honest pastor, scholar, or Christian should be able to tell you this: Jesus said nothing about homosexuality.  And he said very little about sexuality.  In fact, in a summary that jibes with my recollection, exactly four things.  And all of those things center around one thing: be faithful to your wife.  Don't get divorced, except maybe in the case of adultery.  And even if you are an adulterer: humans don't really have the right to condemn you, and neither does Jesus, but please - go and sin no more.

That's it.  That's all Jesus said about sexuality.  As far as we have recorded, there is absolutely nothing that Jesus said that could be remotely construed as having anything to say about homosexuality.  Opponents of homosexuality never pull out anything Jesus said, because there's nothing there that is helpful.  It's all Paul and Leviticus, because that's about all there is.

And there's another thing.  Chick-Fil-A has hardly been quiet about its Christian principles and founding.  They've been adamantly closed on Sundays for as long as they've existed.  It's a point of pride for them, it's their trademark, their thing.  And have liberals risen up in distress and anger, calling foul, organizing boycotts, because they're not open on Sunday?  If we have, I didn't get the memo.  And the thing is: there has been no such uprise, because the issue we have with Chick-Fil-A isn't that they're Christians.  I have no problem with Chick-Fil-A not being open on Sundays, even though that is a pointedly and necessarily Christian thing to do.  If this was a case of "Christophobia", shouldn't there be an uproar about this brazen and in-your-face proclamation of Christ's resurrection?  Shouldn't governors be up in arms because this establishment dares to stand up for its beliefs and not operate on a perfectly good operating day?

But there hasn't been.  Because I - and most liberals, I think - have no problem with Christians in and of themselves.  There are many Christians I respect deeply and agree with wholeheartedly.  The reason I oppose Chick-Fil-A is not because they're Christian.  It's because they are vocally and proudly in opposition to homosexuality.  And that is exactly why this boycott is happening, and why there is an uproar.  To assert otherwise is deceptive and ignoring the facts.  The article in question has this to say about the subject:

When the mayors of prominent U.S. cities in the north and west told Chick-fil-A they would not be welcome there, they were making a statement that goes beyond one’s position on gay rights. These remarks were an example of social ostracism – not just toward those who hold to traditional views on marriage but especially Christians who hold these views and seek to practice their religion accordingly.
Now, let's look at the statement that started all this, that from the mayor of Boston:

You called supporters of gay marriage "prideful.'' Here in Boston, to borrow your own words, we are "guilty as charged.'' We are indeed full of pride for our support of same sex marriage and our work to expand freedom to all people. We are proud that our state and our city have led the way for the country on equal marriage rights.

I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston. There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it. When Massachusetts became the first state in the country to recognize equal marriage rights, I personally stood on City Hall Plaza to greet same sex couples coming here to be married. It would be an insult to them and to our city's long history of expanding freedom to have a Chick-fil-A across the street from that spot.

That short statement packs in the phrases "same sex marriage", "equal marriage rights" (twice), "discrimination", and "same sex couples", but not once does it mention Chick-Fil-A's Christian affiliation.  Go ahead and read the whole letter.  You'll find more references to same sex marriage, and once again, absolutely no reference whatsoever to Chick-Fil-A's religious afilliation.  Some may say that Thomas M. Menino is being sneaky and trying to attack Christianity without mentioning it, but I find it a whole lot easier to believe that what he has an issue with is exactly what he says he has an issue with: vocal opposition to something that his city and state have been on the forefront of promoting: marriage equality*.

The article also tries to brush aside Dan Cathy's opposition to homosexuality, saying "In context, it appears he was speaking primarily about divorce."  They also complain that his statements got him "suddenly labeled 'homophobic' and 'anti-gay'." Firstly, the thing that most people are boycotting is Chick-Fil-A's history of generous corporate donations to groups fighting against homosexuality.  Chick-Fil-A has been labeled as anti-gay for a long, long time.   Dan Cathy's recent statements are just a flashpoint that brought the company's views more into the public eye.  Secondly, the divorce claim is a rather weak attempt at distracting from the actual issue.  The assertion that Dan Cathy would make such a statement solely to speak out about divorce is a bit of a stretch.  Public Christian figures don't speak out against the evils of legalized divorce, and they don't campaign to outlaw divorce.  The "traditional family" is used relentlessly to mean heterosexual families, and is never used in the non-existent divorce debate.  That's not to say that Christians aren't opposed to divorce - most are, at least in principle.  But divorce is never cited as an agenda that is trying to take down Christianity.  If Dan Cathy was actually speaking out about divorce, he would have made it very clear, if only because it's not a topic of public discussion.  Homosexuality, on the other hand, is, and the assumption is that he is addressing issues of public discussion.

The article also at this point claims that he is supporting a family model "that has been the norm for thousands of years."  I'm not going to spend much breath countering this statement that any historian - or again, any honest Christian - can tell you is patently false.  But unless you want your model of marriage to include wives as property, extramarital affairs as standard practice, marriages as a method of social climbing, polygamy, and recreational gay sex as an accepted norm - and that's just in the Western world - then I'd be a little more cautious about claiming the last few thousand years to your tradition.

The article also claims as evidence of its Christophobia a hypothetical Muslim business that declaimed homosexuality.  Would they receive the same backlash?  I like to think they would, the article doesn't think so.  The problem is, we have no way of knowing, because there are very few businesses that are publicly Muslim.  This is probably because Muslims are often feared and characterized as a bunch of terrorists and extremists, so I doubt that a publicly and vocally Muslim business would do very well.  There's also the factor that, despite claims of persecution and Christophobia, 78.4% of Americans are Christians.  The fact that 0.6% of Americans are Muslim also goes a long way to explain why there isn't a nationwide chain that proclaims its Muslim values.  But let's pretend that this hypothetical Muslim business did exist and thrive, happily and without controversy closing five times a day for prayer, for years.  I would be glad for them.  And then say they made an open statement against homosexuality.  I would like to think that there would be a similar uproar.  If there weren't, however, I don't think it would be because we harbor this Christophobia but not an Islamophobia.  I think it would be, in fact, precisely because we are trying to avoid being cast as anti-Muslim and Islamophobes, even though our actual issue is their stance on homosexuality.  I can see that happening.  But in the end, it's a hypothetical anyway.  It is useless to wax about what reactions would and wouldn't be to prove a point, because no one knows what the reactions actually would be.  You could argue that we should have a similar aversion to seeming anti-Christian and Christophobe, but I would simply point back up at the percentages - 0.6% versus 78.4%.  Christians are far from a minority that can be categorized and excluded from society, and that makes all the difference.

In fact, here's another wrench in the argument this article makes: you know us liberals and boycotters that are protesting Chick-Fil-A, supposedly because they are Christophobes?  There are Christians among us.  A lot of them.  In fact, less than half of Christians even identify as conservative.  Of the hundreds of millions of people in this country that love and worship Jesus Christ, less than half of them think homosexuality should even be discouraged.  And there is a huge portion of those protesting Chick-Fil-A that are part of your ranks as Christians.  The problem those protesting have with Christians is when they use their money, their status, and their platform to oppress other people.  People that we care about.  It's when the owner of Chick-Fil-A stands up and says that he supports the "traditional family" and "Christian principles", by which he mans that he doesn't think two men should be able to get married.  In fact, progressive Christians - and there are a lot of them - are often even more incensed by his statements, because he is claiming to speak for their God, for their Christ.  I don't claim to be a Christian, but I know many of the more progressive variety.  And Dan Cathy is using the Jesus Christ that they know and love to advocate for oppression and exclusion - and that doesn't honor the Christ they know.  It's antithetical to the Christ they know.  And that is why, for them, this debate really is all about Jesus: because the Jesus they know would be saddened and dismayed at Dan Cathy's statements.

*That said, a disclaimer: I believe that Boston's mayor is overreaching is bounds here.  It's one thing to fight for marriage equality via legislation, and quite another to discriminate against companies based on the views of its founder.  And in a statement that for some reason I hadn't heard about yet, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg - hardly a paragon of conservatism - agrees with me, saying it was inappropriate "to look at somebody's political views and decide whether or not they can live in the city, or operate a business in the city, or work for somebody in the city."  He expanded on that, saying "trampling on the freedom to marry whoever you want is exactly the same as trampling on your freedom to open a store."  Well put, mayor.  Citizens like you and I are perfectly entitled to boycott, protest, and support whoever we want, but when it comes to government entities trying to use their legal powers, that crosses a line.  One other note: as a private entity, however, Jim Henson's company is perfectly within its rights to sever business ties with other private entities that go against what they stand for as a company, and I applaud them for doing so.

As another small point of agreement: the article declaims the widespread use of "homophobia" for anything opposing gay marriage.  I, too, tend to think that the word is overused and used as a broad brush.  These are complicated issues, and most of the opposition is not borne out of conscious hatred, but out of an allegiance to values of their faith.  I firmly believe that this allegiance is misplaced and unnecessary - even antithetical - but it's the allegiance nonetheless.

All statistics quoted are from the Pew Forum on Religion.  Some of the numbers required a little calculation to get the totals I quoted, and those calculations are in a Google Spreadsheet.