A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Chick-Fil-A Food Fight

There was Chick-fil-A appreciation day yesterday in support of the restaurant and traditional marriage, and tomorrow there will be gay and lesbian "kiss-ins" in front of Chick-fil-A restaurants with heterosexual couples also showing up, I am sure, to demonstrate public displays of affection in support of gay marriage. And with all the hoopla and flurry over boycotts and anti-boycotts and anti-anti-boycotts, the all-important discussion of gay marriage and traditional marriage in American society, which is in desperate need of more light than heat, has received instead a hot-headed response from both sides in keeping with this summer's heat wave.

I am not a fan of boycotts nor am I interested in anti-boycotts. I have not eaten at Chick-fil-A in years only because I am no longer at the age where I can eat anything I want. If I did my doctor would be none-too-happy with the results of my blood work. Having said that, if I ever had a hankering for a fat loaded, sodium laden chicken sandwich,* I wouldn't hesitate to stop at Chick-fil-A. But neither did I consider stopping at the restaurant yesterday-- not only because there is no way I would wait in line for two hours for a fat loaded, sodium laden chicken sandwich,* but also because I don't like the message Wednesday's anti-boycott sent any more than the boycott itself.

I refuse to allow people to turn what I eat and drink into a political statement. If I want a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich, I am going to eat one regardless of the company's views on marriage. If I want a Starbucks coffee, I am going to get one regardless of their views on marriage, which are very different from Dan Cathy's perspective. Anyone who concludes what I think about any issue by what I am shoving in my mouth has an ignorance rate higher than my cholesterol level.

One of the things I have bemoaned on my blog time and time again is how Christians seem incapable of offering a third-- or even better-- an alternative way through the issues that all of us face, Christian or not. We are so stuck in the binary thinking of liberal/conservative, left/right, Democrat/Republican, that we don't ask first how we might respond as Christians in the midst of a conflict or debate. Instead we act just like liberals or conservatives, left or right, Democrats or Republicans. When the media latched on to Dan Cathy's comments and the conflict began, it would have been helpful if Christians, regardless of their views on gay marriage, could have asked themselves how the church, even with its own divisions on this issue, could be a reconciling and calming presence in the midst of the vitriol that was ratcheting up on both sides. Instead, we Christians acted less like Christians and more like liberals and conservatives. Christians on the left joined the boycott while Christians on the right joined the anti-boycott on Wednesday, and both sides felt all safe and secure in their ghettos of the like-minded. Just like everyone else in our culture, Christians' default position is one of power politics. We might ask what Jesus would do if he were here, but since we really haven't a clue as to what he would do, we resort to the politics of anger and grievance. Someone tell me how Christian participation in the boycott, the anti-boycott, and the anti-anti-boycott has lifted up Jesus Christ to those around us? Someone tell me how either act embodies the example of Jesus that St. Paul put forth in Philippians 2?

Yes, everyone has the right to their opinion and to give to whatever causes they want. And everyone also has a right not to like someone's opinion and support of certain causes and, therefore, refuse to buy their products. Freedom of speech does have its consequences. But are Christians only interested in parroting back the same predictable talking points on both sides? I would have hoped that the church would think differently about the conflicts of American society in a way that we might bring different opportunities for dialogue and understanding, instead of saying "I don't agree with you, nor do I like the causes you support, so I will do my best to beat you into submission by destroying your livelihood," which is the purpose of a boycott (though they seldom achieve their goal). And the other side is no better-- those Christians who purposefully went to Chick-fil-A on Wednesday sent a loud and clear message to the gay community-- "Don't bother attending our churches. You're not wanted." And yes, I know the response to this is that the primary purpose for eating at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday was to support a business and affirm free speech, but that other message was sent none-the-less and there is no denying it.

I have been blessed to have had many and very diverse friends in my life. I have conservative and liberal friends, I have straight and gay friends. I have friends from various ethnic backgrounds as well as economic and social statuses, and friends from all educational levels. I am the pastor of a church with people who are just as diverse. I consider it a privilege to be their pastor and they enrich our congregational life. I am able to have honest and frank and respectful conversations with such friends and still be friends. I find such conversations to be very rewarding and it has led to a better understanding and appreciation of one another. Such dialogue also reminds me of the complexity of the issues we face, which is why we have disagreements. I understand that better as well as a result of my friends. I doubt that both sides in the Chick-fil-A food fight have a better understanding of one another, but that's not really what either side wanted. All they really wanted to accomplish with this boycott, anti-boycott, anti-anti-boycott was to give each other the collective finger and then to stick that finger in the collective eye of the other side.

During his ministry Jesus used the table as a way to bring people together, including the marginalized. And he invited to the table those who had never received such an invitation. I find it astounding that unlike Jesus, we Christians have used the table to divide, whether that division comes in the form of insisting that people not eat to make a social/political point, or an insistence on eating at a particular time and place to make a social/political point. One wonders if Jesus could stand before the church today and break the bread again, he might say to his people, "This is my body, broken by you."
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*I had an email from a manager at a Chick-fil-A wanting to inform me that while their traditional chicken sandwich does have a lot of fat and salt, they have a char-grilled version which has very little fat and sodium. I appreciate the information and I am happy to further clarify the facts.

19 comments:

Lori Lower said...

Very well written! Now how do we get this message out there?

Jim Parsons said...

Thank you Allan for putting into words what I have been feeling about this subject. I love the last sentence too, "This is my body, broken 'by' you." Ouch, that cut to the heart.

John Mark said...

If you are right, and I agree your argument has merit; how is this ever going to happen? Who are the leaders that will call the church to a 'third way' of more Jesus and less politics? I'm a social conservative who does know (who doesn't these days) a number of homosexual people, and dialogue with them from time to time..I think I understand there feelings. But should we arrive at a third way approach--and it doesn't seem likely we will at this point--where will this bring us? I may come off as argumentative; I am asking a question; are we in danger as a a church of arriving at a place where everyone is affirmed and no one is right with God? I'm sure my questions reflect my age and political leanings. Such may keep me from being objective; to be sure.
I don't think that bigotry motivated the support of Chick-fil-A, not conscious bigotry, anyway. I have seen on my facebook page a number of comments from those who honestly seem to think the church has failed; friends, young adults who grew up in the church I am pastor of, some relatives, many who are homosexual or who are very sympathetic to the 'gay rights' movement.
I tend to ramble.....but back to my original question: if social conservatives are wrong, how do we get them (us, I really lean that way, though I think I am open to dialogue and sensitive to the real feelings of others) to a place of really living as Jesus would be pleased?
You pointed out, fairly and clearly, that liberal leaning Christians can be just as myopic; so the question applies; how can we bring the church to love of God and love of neighbor and end the culture wars? I don't see it happening any time soon; in fact I think things may ratchet up.

Keith Tyson said...

Thanks Allen! We Christians need to be salt and light and not salt in a wound. I'm disappointed when we have to respond with "tit for tat" like 8 year olds but alas we do, especially when we see the TV news trucks rolling up to "cover" the story.

Marcus said...

"I refuse to allow people to turn what I eat and drink into a political statement. If I want a Chic-fil-A chicken sandwich, I am going to eat one regardless of the company's views on marriage. If I want a Starbucks coffee, I am going to get one regardless of their views on marriage, which are very different from Dan Cathy's perspective. Anyone who concludes what I think about any issue by what I am shoving in my mouth has an ignorance rate higher than my cholesterol level."

I agree that what one eats and drinks shouldn't be automatically considered a "political statement", but when there are options about WHERE and WHAT one eats and drinks (i.e., no one MUST go to Chick-fil-a) then other, broader considerations should play a role in a well-integrated person's choice about what/where to eat. For example, if Cadillacs were the only cars available to drive and we had to get places then there wouldn't be anything wrong (not saying that there necessarily IS) with driving one. However, once there are more efficient or cheaper cars that get one from one place to another available, other questions should arise. What sort of effect does owning such a vehicle have on the environment? Could I help poor/hungry people with some of that $65K and be happy with a $30K vehicle? And on and on...

Now you might say that having to consider such larger ramifications for one's purchases/choices is not, strictly speaking, morally required. On some moral views, there are only prohibitions (don't murder, etc.), but positive obligations are another story. This is why I use the term "well-integrated" above. Being well-integrated involves not seeing what one eats as getting mere sustenance and fuel for one's body. It also doesn't merely go beyond such a view for gustatory pleasures, e.g., fine food (which, of course, are beyond mere sustenance). To be well-integrated one must also consider the societal, environmental, etc. impacts that one's choices (food or otherwise) will have. This view of being well-integrated, I think, holds whether one is religious or not (but, it might be argued, it holds a fortiori if one is a Christian).

Notice that I'm not arguing for one view or another when it comes to whether one should have supported/boycotted Chick-fil-a. What I am arguing is simply that it is wrong for you to reject that such choices should be part of a system of views and choices that a well-integrated person should hold (the view I took you to be rejecting with "I refuse to allow people to turn what I eat and drink into a political statement").

Another way of making my point, in reductio ad absurdum fashion, would be to imagine someone saying something like this: "I don't care if that business donates money to 'child-loving', i.e., pedophile lobbying organizations, I love their cup of coffee." Really? Whether you frequent their establishment, when there are plenty of other coffee-serving places with decent coffee, should not be in any way influenced by what they do with their money?

Marcus

Allan Bevere said...

Marcus,

I think you are clouding the issue here. Yes, eating and drinking are not just for consumption purposes only, and, of course, everyone will draw the line somewhere. But using extreme examples is not helpful carrying the discussion forward. We don't construct an ethic based on the exception, though the exceptions are not unimportant.

Marcus said...

Allan,

You said: "But using extreme examples is not helpful carrying the discussion forward. We don't construct an ethic based on the exception, though the exceptions are not unimportant."

Right, of course the last example was extreme and really more tongue in cheek than anything else (even though it does seem a consequence of your general view). But I don't take the Cadillac example to be extreme or to be an exception at all. We live in a society where there are many options for many of the necessities and luxuries that we purchase. In such a situation where dire need (i.e., survival) is not the driving force that has us choose to buy something, larger concerns must play a role if we are to be well-integrated people.

You can't simply say "Anyone who concludes what I think about any issue by what I am shoving in my mouth has an ignorance rate higher than my cholesterol level".

That is just avoiding the issue. Now, of course, eating ONE sandwich isn't enough to infer what you think or believe, but really these choices on average should be impacted by our broader views on what a good society is, what right actions are, etc. If someone continues to eat Chick-fil-a sandwiches or buy Cadillacs, it seems perfectly reasonable to infer one of two things: 1) either that person is largely un-reflective when it comes to the impact these choices have on the larger scheme of things beyond that person's stomach or driving comfort; or 2) that person supports the decisions of the company in question and has no problem with the broader implications of that choice.

Kevin said...

“those Christians who purposefully went to Chick-fil-A on Wednesday sent a loud and clear message to the gay community-- "Don't bother attending our churches. You're not wanted."
While this may be true of some of the participants I refuse to accept that this applies to all. The people eating chicken sandwiches could have been doing nothing more than endorsing free speech or using this to show their support of traditional heterosexual marriage. That does not make them homophobes or unwelcoming. You comment simply illustrates how unbending the two views really are. During an election year people are spring loaded to polarize around various issues. This is one of them. I also believe election year campaigning carries over to General Conference in an unhealthy way. The delegates bring their politics with them every four years. Social media make it easier to rally people over one thing or another in a hurry. This is the world in which we live and worship.
Why can’t the church do better? What is it you want the church to do? Within UMC this issue has been debated, prayed over, cried over, voted on and adjudicated for years. The heterosexual view has always been upheld. What more do you want?
Lot’s of smart people have looked for a middle way without success. This is a make or break issue for too many members.

Allan Bevere said...

Marcus,

The problem here is that when it comes to buying things, people are always selective about what they decide not to buy when those products have ramifications for their hot button issues. Of course, people are free to choose not to buy certain things for moral reasons, but it will always be selective. So, when someone gets on her or his "high horse" about boycotting something for moral reasons, one can inevitably point out to that person that there are buying things that are in some fashion morally questionable. So, we can pay our money and take our choices, but none of us is free from purchases that do not have moral implications.

And yes I can say it-- anyone who makes judgments about my values from what I eat and drink is ignorant of me and my values.

Allan Bevere said...

Kevin,

I have been a part of the Methodist debates on this issue for many years. I am not so naive to believe that there is a third or alternative solution to the issue. It is indeed a make or break issue on both sides, and it will eventually break us as a denomination in some way.

But if you read my post carefully, I was not advocating for an alternative solution, but rather an alternative way for the church to stand in our culture and offer something other than the lowest common denominator of the angry politics of boycotts and anti-boycotts.

And I never said that everyone who ate at Chick-fil-A yesterday was a homophobe. that's your word, not mine.

Marcus said...

Allan,

You said: "The problem here is that when it comes to buying things, people are always selective about what they decide not to buy when those products have ramifications for their hot button issues."

Sure, I agree. And nothing in my earlier comments contradicts the fact that people will be selective. This is, however, a pragmatic issue that you have now raised. What I was addressing was a metaphysical issue. That is, the issue isn't whether the average person is consistent in his/her choices, but rather what he or she ought to do to be a consistent, well-integrated and moral person. Of course, moral living should be possible, but that doesn't imply that many people will be moral. But perhaps that's an old fashioned view.

"And yes I can say it-- anyone who makes judgments about my values from what I eat and drink is ignorant of me and my values."

Well there are, of course, several senses of 'say'. I meant it in the "you can't expect this to pass for an argument, right?" sense and not in the "those words came out of your mouth/were typed" sense.

I'll bow out of the conversation at this point, since it seems we're talking past each other. Interesting points, though, and thanks for discussing.

Marcus

Lynn said...

Allan, Thank you for writing that. I have been moved to write something about this because I am sick and tired of the hate campaigns that erupt when someone disagrees with someone else. I didn't quite know how to express what I was feeling (which is unusual for me!) but you expressed it beautifully! I am glad I have access to your writing. Lynn

Kevin said...

"rather an alternative way for the church to stand in our culture and offer something other than the lowest common denominator of the angry politics of boycotts and anti-boycotts."

I am with you there. I am unconfortable with how our secular political processes carry over into our in house church debates.

I am not accusing you of using the term homophobe but that term is now in play and is too freely used in my opinion.

I am surpised that you admit our church is going to break over this issue. Most folks seem to be in denial about that.

PamBG said...

Some of my gay friends have noted that at least one of the organizations to which Dan Cathy is donating has been actively supporting the initiatives in Uganda to make being gay an offense punishable by death. If that's the case, then Marcus' comment is not at all "extreme".

I'm rethinking the boycott as my gay friends have been pointing out that, in a discussion about whether or not they should have the rights in civil law that others have, they can't see a middle ground.

I don't approve of doing violence to Chick-Fil-A or anyone we disagree with, but they have made a compelling point. And I certainly believe that anyone has the right to not patronize an establishment for philosophical reasons and not solely reasons of consumer preference.

Allan Bevere said...

Pam,

I've been thinking about the issue of the money going to support the Uganda initiatives. I think what might be more helpful than a boycott that just gets everyone riled up, is perhaps an open letter sent to Mr. Cathy by Christians on the matter asking him if he knew about where some of his money is going and does he support the criminalization of homosexuality. Here is where you can get Christians together on both sides of the gay marriage issue. I do not have one friend who opposes gay marriage who supports what is going on in Uganda.

Do we have an opportunity here as the church to hold Mr. Cathy accountable?

Dennis Sanders said...

I don't believe much in "third ways" anymore, especially when it comes to sexuality. But I do think the church has to be salt and light in the world and we should be able to be different than the larger political culture around us.

As to the boycott, I have to wonder what the objective was. Were we expecting a boycott would change Cathy's mind? It just seems like folks just wanted to boycott because we didn't like them. Boycotts can be effective, but they have to have some objective and this didn't really have any.

No, there isn't a middle ground here. But speaking as a gay man and a Christian, I do worry that we let our moral certitude override our call to love each other-including our enemies.

I think sometimes the problem with the church is not that we aren't more welcoming or more faithful to Scripture, it's that somehow we have learned from the wider culture to not be charitable towards one another. We are wrapped up in not getting "dissed" and in turn we diss each other.

Allan Bevere said...

it's that somehow we have learned from the wider culture to not be charitable towards one another. We are wrapped up in not getting "dissed" and in turn we diss each other.

Well said.

Morven R. Baker said...

Allan,

I am a little late in joining the conversation, but I wanted to thank you for putting my feelings into words. Yes, I agree that we should be sitting at the table together, literally, neighbor to neighbor, getting to know one another as friends and family. I have a real problem seeing Jesus boycott or support this whole mess, but I can see him bringing people together and helping them hear one another.

Allan Bevere said...

Morven,

Thanks for your comments. It was not an easy post to write. I have friends on both sides of this issue and I knew that I would disappoint some of them, on both sides. But the critical issues we face are not are not furthered by playing a back-and-forth game of gotcha.

And I agree with you-- Jesus would not participate in such acts.