Thursday, August 02, 2012

Straight Talk About Chick-fil-a

Three "confessions":
  • 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.
So, a series of theses on this week's Kulturkampf de pollo:

Advocacy by symbolic action is ripe for misunderstanding. Take, for example, this photo of a Chick-fil-a at a mall somewhere in suburban America. The line is long, but do we actually know why each person in the line is there? Are they all advocates for the defense of "traditional marriage"? For all we know, some of them are there as counter-protesters. Others (perhaps even a large percentage) are simply clueless and didn't even know there was a Kulturkampf arising. They just wanted a chicken sandwich with a dill pickle and waffle fries. Others are probably there because they think buying food at Chick-fil-a on a specific day is a defense of free speech, or defense of a CEO's right (and a corporation's philanthropic practice) to advocate for a "traditional" definition of marriage, even if it flies in the face of popular opinion (a later thesis will address this last point specifically). Still others are there because they wanted to be part of the crowd. Whatever the reason, it is still hard to "read" the symbolic action of the individual participants, because all they are actually doing is standing in line to purchase lunch.

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.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts, Clint. It seems you and Jon Stewart were on the same page - much of what he said tonight mirrored what you posted :) Great minds, sir, great minds.

  2. disappointed12:57 AM

    Cracker box response of course. disappointing when coming from someone who supports equality for all and chooses to be a "voice of God". We're NOT just talking chicken. We're looking at the last straw. When a corporation, whom accommodates to the diverse masses of America, chooses to make a biggoted statement in addition to the numerous support, contributions, support of anti propoganda and organizations, then they make their point very clear; especially considering that many of the sources they support choose 'literal' death of homosexuals without cause or justice. This is pathetic, bias, inhumane, and completely fundamentalist/psychotic. Unfortunately, we can't even rely on supporters who claim to be a servant of God. You say you support equality, but obviously you really don't. -unfortunate.

    1. Anonymous8:07 AM

      I am confused. Typically, I do not respond to internet conversations, but to put Pastor Clint in a category with those who support murdering homosexuals is frightening. As history demonstrates, hatred and bigotry is inevitable. Moving forward, I do not believe we will change by responding with more hatred and bigotry.

      Please correct me if I am wrong, Steve Robinson executive vice president simply stated his belief that marriage exists between a man and a woman. Wasn't President Obama elected on this platform?

    2. Anonymous10:14 AM

      I am glad to see I was not the only one who thought Pastor Clint guilty of his own accusations against CFA. While he continues to use John Locke (if you like that sort of style) as a reference, he could also apply Locke's words to himself.

      "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 . . ." could just as easily be directed to those comdemning CFA.

      This is why we left the Lutheran church.

  3. Anonymous8:36 AM

    Hey Clint, thoughtful points here. I think you flesh out some of my own frustrations with this situation quite well.

    I do want to push you on one of your points, however. Boycotting is, actually, historically effective if coordinated and well publicized. We don't have to look too far into the past to see some examples of this. And I would say that, while buying stock could help you get voice, I want to posit that it might be buying into that consumer culture that you critique against in your next paragraph/point.

    Divestment, on a personal level, does quite a bit for the person. And mass divestment, on a social level, can change things if done well.

  4. Anonymous 29:07 AM

    Well, a "kiss-in" at Chick-fil-A today will probably cause people to lose their appetite and "eat les chikin."

  5. TJBrow, I'll "buy" that. You make good points.

  6. Clint, I am one who supported That Restaurant for years. I was proud of their counter-cultural ethic, especially for being closed on Sunday in the face of massive pressure to conform.

    I also agree that this is not a First Amendment issue; it never was. I'm not sure which pocket of crazies in this pseudo battle started that nonsense, but it's wrong.

    I will suggest, however, that your statement here is exactly correct: "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 therein lies the real issue.

    I'd encourage you to read an article I cross-posted from Wayne Self on my blog, here:

    It looks a little different from the other side, I think.

    And as for the anonymous comment about the "kiss-in," that will definitely be counter-productive to any general acceptance of LGBT folks.

    The only good I see coming out of all this manufactured drama is (a) CFA is getting unbelievable free publicity, and is being portrayed as the "Christian employer under fire" (which always opens pocketbooks). But despite that, (b) SOME folks are actually talking about the underlying issues, rather than just screaming Fox-News-worthy soundbites. They are learning where these issues hit people they know - maybe even love.

    If (b) continues, and grows, then it might just be worth the price of (a).

  7. Buying stock in the company will not help in this case. Chick Fil A is privately held, which for me is the defining factor as to whether they can make such statements regarding marriage and the like. They can, just as a single person can. I might not like it, but that's life in the United States.

    @disappointed: I have not seen any indication that the organizations that Chick Fil A supports in any way advocates death to homosexuals. Where did you hear or read this?

    1. Julie T11:54 AM

      It's a reference to Chick-Fil-A's corporate donations to the Family Research Council which, in turn, in its lobbying disclosures indicated that one of its lobbying efforts was to opposing a Congressional resolution condemning the Uganda law calling for death to homosexuals. While I think the connection is real, it has been a bit oversimplified in the discussion of Chick-Fil-A.

  8. Kathy9:59 AM

    Hey Clint -- I like your last sentence quote: "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."

    What was God thinking? In the Garden of Eden, why didn't He just create two guys and a lab to make test-tube babies? Then we wouldn't have all these problems! The Natural Law? Huh, what's that?

  9. sherry10:02 AM

    Thanks for sharing and writing honestly about the human dilemna...what does make a difference....I think boycotting always makes a does speak volumes in this country...I watch protests all the time here...folks may not get what they want but indeed the issue goes mainstream and dialogue and discussion begin. Each person has a theory, agenda and call and response...I love the freedom to express it and share it...without fail! I just continually pray that we learn to lift up the common stop "killing" the spirit of our brothers and sisters and begin to look beyond our own self desires and need to be defined by others...

  10. Laura H-S10:03 AM

    I think you make some very good points about the many, many gray areas of this issue. It certainly isn't simple or clear cut. What I think you left out was the individual. I am avoiding CFA not because I think this will break them. I am not eating there because I have a whole lot of choices where to spend my money, and I want to spend it at places that are more in line with my beliefs. It matters to me that the few dollars I might spend to eat there would help fund actions I deeply abhor. They can exist and God bless them, no sarcasm intended. But I want to live in a way that lifts up the values I believe in, whether my actions change the world or simply change a small part of my life. I don't claim the moral high ground in any way. But I want to be comfortable looking at that face in the mirror when I ask myself if I am doing my best to live as a child of God as I understand that.

    1. Have you checked to make sure that all the companies you buy from have the same values as yourself?

  11. Steve F, thanks for the cross like the Self blog post. I just read it, and found it incredibly compelling. You're right, it does feel different from the other side. I might every well be guilty of speaking out of privilege on this issue. I'm re-visiting that point right now, and if I have been, mea culpa.

    Kekort, I think you and a few others have convinced me that sometimes boycotting is an important strategy. I have just become so skeptical of "consumer advocacy." But thank you for your response. I think the way Laura H-S responds is spot on. We can't research every single company we buy products from, but we can "focus" our spending and spend in those places we know for sure we value.

    1. I think what she said was good, too. I hope my response didn't sound smart-alecky. It was not my intention.

      I just see a lot of people wanting to demonize Chick Fil A in this situation, which doesn't make very much sense to me because if Dan Cathy was the only person in America who opposed gay marriage, then gay marriage would be legal. So, therefore, he can't be the only CEO with this position.

    2. Anonymous11:58 AM

      The issues isn't that the CEO has a political opinion. The issues is substantial, direct corporate giving to some organizations that are virulently anti-gay. The most troubling of them are Exodus International (a "reparative therapy" self-hating movement, IMO) and Family Research Council (which produces much of the discredited "research" labeling glbt people as criminals, etc.). There are very few corporations that engage in this level of giving to those kinds of groups. So, consumers respond by withholding their dollars if they so choose.

  12. Anonymous10:51 AM

    I am a CONSERVATIVE Lutheran. I did not go to Chick-fil-A to support it yesterday but I sympathized with those who did. I view it as a First Amendment issue because of the situation with the (at least) three mayors who indicated the business would not be welcome in their cities because of the statements/viewpoints/political contributions of its founder/CEO. THIS is the First Amendment issue I see. I would hope the same Christians who waited in long lines to support Chick-fil-A yesterday would also be there in a long line to support a GBLT (or whatever) business owner/manager who was not welcomed into a city because of his/her/their beliefs. I strongly disagree with Starbucks founders' philosophical ideas but I drink their product and would be aghast if the mayor of my city tried to keep them out because of those ideas.

    1. Anonymous12:03 PM

      The minute any branch of level of government seeks to punish Chick-Fil-A for its corporate giving or political speech, you are absolutely right. Our beloved First Amendment is trod upon. And I was very disappointed that any politician who suggest using the power of government to do so. But I think that is a very fringe minority approach that will have no real legs (because of the constitution and because most progressives know better).

  13. Anonymous12:50 PM

    You've written a very meaty post that touches on quite a few different topics from same sex unions to the capitalist system to "Christian Liberty" and duty.

    Firstly I'd like to say that, although my Partner and I will be marrying in October, I'm completely against same sex marriage. I'm also against mixed gender marriage. Marriage when sanctioned by the state should be abolished, and replaced with civil unions. It has become too wrapped with religious ideas, since it was made a sacrament in the Roman church. (It is not a sacrament in the Lutheran church.)

    What the state does is witness a contract. It legalizes an exchange of property, traditionally, when a woman is bought by a man. Just because culturally we've layered romantic and religious ideas on to this doesn't change that the state sanctioning of a relationship is nothing more than contract law, and that contract should be available to all of the state's citizens regardless of gender. This should not be called marriage, and should not be done in a church. I do believe in the separation of church and state. I don't want to see Caesar in the Temple. When a priest acts in the stead of the state he is relinquishing his authority to that state and compromises his position in the KINGdom of heaven.

    What two people do when they marry each other is different. This is done in a church. It involves God, whereas the signing of a legal contract does not. If the Church wants to solemnize the state contract that too is fine, but should not be confused with a civil union. That solemnization should have no civil legal ramifications. What the church does is marriage. What the state does is civil union. If we could only separate these words, these ideas, there would be no argument regarding the state forcing the church to compromise its beliefs; likewise the church would have no truck with the state. A church marriage would and should have no standing in government. A civil union would only be acknowledged by the church if the church decided to solemnize it according to its beliefs.

    As a Christian living in a capitalist system I live in two worlds, and I spend my dollars at companies in whose business practices I can morally support. I buy local and organic food as much as possible, not for health reasons, but for stewardship reasons. I do not shop in stores that bust unions, exploit workers, or have their doors open to attract customers as they waste energy cooling or heating the outdoors. I buy much of my clothing in thrift stores, not because of cost but as a gesture to recycling. I get my pizza from a family owned pizzeria. I do not shop at Dominoes as they give a large percentage of their profits to anti-choice activists. I buy Ethletic sneakers that look like Chuck Taylors but are made of organic materials and put together in a union shop. It's not that hard to support businesses that share your ideals; and it is not that hard to avoid businesses that compromise them.

    What I do think is the most dangerous part of the Chick-fil-A hullabaloo is not a statement of opinion. I appreciate that. It lets me know where to spend my money. They are now on my list of don't eat there when traveling with Dominoes and Cracker Barrel. What is truly scary about Chick-fil-A is that they are lumped blindly in to mainline Christianity when they are as radical as Occupy Wall Street, or any mask wearing cocktail throwing Anarchists. Chick-fil-A and its founder support Dominionism.

    Dominionism is a movement that would like nothing better than to dismantle out Capitalist system and our Democratic Republic and replace it with a Christian Theocracy along with other companies such as: Amway, and Veggietales.

    Here is an interesting article about The Dominionist shadow economy:

    1. You bring up an excellent point. To the state, marriage is a contract to share responsibility, file taxes together, and designate next of kin who can make decisions for you if you are incapacitated. Also used by hospitals to decide who can make decisions for or with you and be with you if you are comatose.

      The state can decide to make that kind of contract in many ways. Common law marriage, for example.

      To the church, it is something else. Yet automatically brings the contract part with it.

  14. Kathy1:20 PM

    Clint -- You wrote:

    "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."

    Obviously you and I have totally different views on gay marriage, among other things. At what point would you not "tolerate" a person who disagrees with you? If you were the person's pastor or bishop, what would you do? Would he or she be excommunicated -- or what? Will this become like the abortion issue? Probably.

  15. A few points to add:

    -some Christians are gay, like myself, and a lot of the discourse presupposes mutual exclusion of these identities. It also presupposes that by my being gay, I am liberal. I am not, particularly as it pertains to matters of the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity proclaimed in the creeds and prayed in the BCP.

    -to not take my business somewhere because a portion of their profits will go toward supporting ballot measures and propositions and politicians that would like to eliminate rights or prevent rights afforded others need not be a boycott, and it certainly is my right to respond in this way as speech in response. Even better, if I took funds I might spend on fast food and supported those who are more vulnerable than myself.

    -You won't be finding me or my beloved at a kiss-in. We're a bit old-school on pda's.

    -one need not be bigoted per se to do another group of people terrible harm. History shows this time and again. This is not about bigotry, this is about people like myself being afforded the same legal rights and protections assumed by others as their birthright whether or not they like my sort and condition or are nauseated by me.

    -there is a difference in category in examining these matters. When I hear of Christians who do not support affording persons like me a wide-range of rights they enjoy by simply being heterosexual being harmed or harming themselves because of the toxic attitudes toward them in myriad ways on a daily basis, as sexual/gender minorities do in this society, then we can talk about parity. I do not hear of Christians who do not support gay rights being killed, raped, beaten up, denied visitation to the their beloveds, killing themselves because of bullying, etc., for being Christians of that sort in US society. Sexual/gender minorities face that possibility everyday.

    -finally, while I do not eat at Chick-fil-a, and never have, and now likely never will, that does not mean I support local governments denying them same rights to set up shop and practice business as any other. To do otherwise is to dominate in kind.

  16. Overall, I am especially thankful at how constructively this conversation is proceeding. If we can all share our wisdom and truly listen to each other, that will help. Thank you to everyone for their civil and upbuilding contributions.

  17. Kathy9:05 PM

    In answer to Christopher, why cannot we simply have civil unions recognized by the state? Why must we call same-sex unions "marriage"? Marriage, in traditional Christianity, is a Sacrament. All world religions consider marriage sacred. This is where the conflict comes in. Here is a good article that expresses the belief of many Christians.

    1. Anonymous11:46 AM

      As I stated above, I am for the abolition of all state marriage. I advocate for civil unions for everyone, and leave the business of marriage to religious institutions. This would actually be a close return to catholic tradition arround the time of the Reformation. Of course at that time there was no such thing as a secular government, but...

      I've been reading a book called "Faith and Act." Yestereve I came to these passages:

      According to the Augsburg ritual books from 1487 and 1547, the first act within the framework of a pre-Reformation church marriage consisted of a "copulatio sponsori et sponsae in domino," a legally binding blessing of the bridal couple [at home], which did not necessarily have be by a priest...

      ...backing out of one's engagement was a crime and punished with imprisomnment or exile...

      ...For the marriage ceremony itself, a church wedding was not yet regarded as absolutely essential in sixteenth century Lutheranism...

      ...{Lutheranism} took over the term "Brautmesse" (nuptial mass), but not the Catholic rite with which it was bound. "Brautmesse" meant rather the church attendance of newlyweds on the day after the wedding.

      These quotations aside, you mention the sacrament of marriage. There is no sacrament of marriage in the Lutheran church.

      I quote again from "Faith and Act" by Ernst Walter Zeeden (a Roman) regarding the Lutheran understanding of what a sacrament is:

      In the Latin version of the Apology of the Augsberg Confession...

      ...Melanchthon expressed in no uncertain terms that these - as distinct from all sorts of ceremonies are outword signs established merely by men - belonged to the true and proper sacraments instituted by God: Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments" (vere igitur sunt sacramenta baptismus, coena Domini, abbsolutio, quae est sacramentum ponitentiae)...

      Concerning marriage:

      ...he supposed that if it were to be numbered among sacraments, "then the other offices and estates that also came from God's Word and command would also have to be called sacraments, such as authorities and magistrates" [Apology XIII, 15].

      It must be considered that this was written at a time when princes ruled by divine right. There was no such thing as a secular government.

      In the United Stated we are not ruled by divine right. It is a secular government. As much as this is a dissapointment to Dominionists like S. Truitt Cathy and Chick-fil-A the job of a secular government is to serve it's citizens. Providing civil unions for all does this, and leaves it up to the various denominations to decide if they will solemnize that civil contract with a marriage. It is a true seperation of Church and state.

  18. Kathy2:00 PM

    Actually, I agree with you (kittyaloneandi). I understand that Catholic marriage is contracted only between the man and the woman -- no priest is necessary. The "church wedding" is just a ceremony.