- I am a Lutheran pastor who advocates for the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the life of the church, argues for marriage equality, and seeks to reduce anything that excludes and hurts marginalized communities.
- I'm a dad who likes to take his kids to Chick-fil-a for lunch. And I really like their milkshakes.
- I fancy myself an iconoclast of sorts. On the issue of free speech, corporate advocacy, traditional marriage, and chicken sandwiches, I think we are stuck in a rut. I'd like to think that a new angle on the issue might help all of us--conservatives and liberals, traditionalists and gay rights activists, Christians and atheists--talk about how we talk about divisive issues in a way that strengthens culture and sturdies the polis. Call me an idealistic iconoclast, but I'm going to make the attempt.
Vocal and public criticism does not equal intolerance or a violation of first amendment rights. I thought this one was obvious, but if what I've read in the blogosphere and on Book of Face is any indication, lots of people are totally confused about the definition of tolerance and what counts as violation of free speech. There is even greater confusion concerning what right individuals or groups have in responding to someone who has a different opinion than them.
So, a few clarifying points. First, just because I disagree with you (or your actions) and say so publicly, does not in any way mean I am taking away your first amendment rights, or seeking to curtail them. I'm just exercising my first amendment right to offer criticism of your speech and actions. You then have the right to respond.
This is called dialogue. Hopefully it includes listening.
And take note: My desire to change what you are saying and doing does not vitiate my own right to argue for that change.
A few other points follow from this. First, if you happen to be an advocate for the "traditional" definition of marriage, this does not make you a bigot. You might be a bigot, I don't know. But for those who advocate (as I do) for marriage equality to presume that you are bigoted is, well, bigoted. Your definition of marriage is different from mine. We need to talk.
However, and this is an important point, just because I seek a more open definition of marriage (what many who disagree with me construe as "tolerance") does not actually mean that I then have to "tolerate" your view of marriage, whatever it may be. Why, you might ask? Well, John Locke, in perhaps the founding text that helped define tolerance in the modern era, stated clearly, "And first, I hold, that no church is bound by the duty of toleration to retain any such person in her bosom, as after admonition continues obstinately to offend against the laws of society." There is a limit to tolerance. It works to a point, until it doesn't, and for most communities, it is fairly clear where the breaking point is when tolerance is no longer expected or even preferred. No community, none of us, simply tolerates everything. That is not toleration. That is pathology.
Boycotting is typically ineffective. If you really want to change Chick-fil-a's corporate culture, I suggest you purchase stock in the company and participate in the shareholders' meetings. Live edit #1: Some commenters have pointed out the effectiveness of many boycotts, historically speaking. They're probably right. I just have some skepticism of many forms of current consumer advocacy. I am suspicious it ends up being more about the product, and what we can say about ourselves because we do or don't buy the product. But I concede the point, sometimes boycotts are necessary and right. This may be such a time.
Consumer advocacy is annoyingly banal and self-deceiving. Consumption has become such a habitual aspect of our daily life that we have become delusional, and think that buying something counts as social justice, moral advocacy, and more. In some cases, this is true. In this particular case, I doubt it. If you ate at Chick-fil-a this week as a statement, I don't think you actually contributed to any higher good, other than the financial stability of Chick-fil-a. And you got a decent lunch.
There's a lot of good at Chick-fil-a. I've really never been at a fast-food restaurant that had better customer service than Chick-fil-a. It's really outstanding. Also, although taste is highly subjective, lots of people (myself included) like their food, especially their milkshakes and waffle fries. There are many ways to judge the merits of a specific corporation. Chick-fil-a, like any other chain, deserves to be judged on the wider array of their practices and policies. How much do they pay their employees (I don't actually know but should)? Where do they raise their chickens, and how? Etc. [This would be the place to insert all kinds of other moralizing conversations about chicken, fast food, etc., but let's not go there. That conversation would apply mutatis mutandi for perhaps most restaurants in America.]
Christians in the United States are not a beleaguered minority. Some of them would like to convince all of us, and have done a good job of convincing themselves, that they are oppressed, silenced, victims. But of course this is a power move. A lot of those who mobilized the crowds that turned out at Chick-fil-a this week are actually still representatives of the cultural majority, not the minority, but it is a fantastic power move on the part of a majority group to convince everyone they are actually a minority.
Many advocates for the traditional definition of marriage are not Christians. Many advocates for marriage equality are Christian. So don't lump everybody into the same basket and blame whole groups when in fact things are far more complex.
Finally, there is a subtle but important difference in kind between those advocating for a boycott of Chick-fil-a because of its social/political position, and those troubled by that very boycott. Here's the difference. Let's go back to John Locke again. He writes, "The sum of all we drive at is, that every man (sic) enjoy the same rights that are granted to others." There is a difference between rights and rights. Some claims to rights are actually claims to rights that result in the curtailment of the rights of others. The CEO of Chick-fil-a is claiming rights of this type. He says he has the right to advocate for the curtailment of the rights of others. Those who argue the other side, inasmuch as they wish to silence him (and it is not clear to me that anyone is trying to silence him per se) are making their case on the grounds that they are simply defending their right of access to the same rights that he and everyone else enjoys. Live edit #2: This isn't about "mutual tolerance." One group wants to protect rights. The corporation wants to take away or reverse newly granted rights. There are major power differentials at work. So talking to both sides as if they were basically mutual is problematic and unhelpful.
John Locke again (I'm not making a wholesale defense of Locke here, but referencing him because his book, "A Letter Concerning Toleration," fell off my bookshelf and onto my arm today while I was pulling down a completely different book--I felt this was perhaps a God-nudge). In any event, I find this final statement of his compelling:
"This only I say, that however clearly we may think this or the other doctrine to be deduced from Scripture, we ought not therefore to impose it upon others as a necessary article of faith, because we believe it to be agreeable to the rule of faith, unless we would be content also that other doctrines should be imposed upon us in the same manner; and that we should be compelled to receive and profess all the different and contradictory opinions of Lutherans, Calvinists, Remonstrants, Anabaptists, and other sects, which the contrivers of symbols, systems, and confessions are accustomed to deliver unto their followers as genuine and necessary deductions from Holy Scripture. I cannot but wonder at the extravagant arrogance of those men who think that they themselves can explain things necessary to salvation more clearly than the Holy Ghost, the eternal and infinite wisdom of God."
One final point. I'm open, very open, to listening to people and what they have to say about this. It's a really complicated and messy and polarizing issue. I have good friends, and have even read really good essays today, that push me farther over into the camp of boycotting the company. Some people very close to me are so terribly hurt by the way Christians and others have gone out to support Chick-fil-a. I'm not neutral, I have a position. And I can often be wrong. So I will in all likelihood make this blog post a "wiki" post and edit in the coming days if people post comments that inform my overall argument and help me re-consider those places where it is weak.