Sunday, August 05, 2012

Chick-Fil-A and Moral Responsibility

The Controversy and Why It Matters

Unless you've been living at the bottom of the ocean for the last several weeks you're no doubt familiar with the national controversy centered around the south's very own Christian chicken joint, Chick-Fil-A. It has come to light that between 2003 - 2010 Chick-Fil-A donated $5 million to anti-gay causes. For a comprehensive breakdown of the money given to these organizations and how they campaign to legislate homosexual discrimination please visit EqualityMatters.

Two of the organizations financially supported by Chick-Fil-A are worthy of note:

1. Exodus International is a promoter of "ex-gay therapy," which states that a person's homosexuality is an illness to be cured. This company refers to being LGBT as "perverse" and a form of "sexual brokenness." I have friends who have been subjected to this and it is horrific.

2. Family Research Council is literally designated as a hate-group by the SPLC for attempting to draw definitive correlations between homosexuals and child molestation/pedophilia.

Some folks have falsely suggested that Chick-Fil-A's donations have nothing to do with their patronage. However, a percentage of proceeds from every single sale at every single Chick-Fil-A goes to The Winshape Foundation (CFA's charitable arm) which then funnels portions of that money to the above anti-gay organizations. As it turns out, your patronage DOES affect the gay community.

To add fuel to the fire, CFA President Dan Cathy made some rather telling remarks in the press about his personal views on gay marriage. He says:
"We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that...we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."
Cathy went on to say:
"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,' and I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about."
I find it interesting that Cathy is appealing to the "biblical definition of the family unit." The fact is that there is no biblical consensus on what constitutes a family unit. Consider the incoherence. One book proclaims the marriage of foreigners blasphemous while another book considers it a blessing. One book says not to fornicate while another makes a virtue of offering your daughters to be raped. How many of the heroes of the bible had multiple wives and concubines? The Apostle Paul even encourages folks to avoid marriage all together. The point is that Cathy's appeals to the "biblical family unit" ring hollow to anyone who has ever seriously studied the Bible.

He then takes a shot at divorce which I found interesting. Surely he knows that many heterosexual and even church-going Christians have experienced divorce. His most audacious remarks suggest that we are inviting some unknown punishment from God for seeking to "redefine" marriage. Perhaps we should have avoided redefining slavery as well? How about women's right to vote? Redefinition is the hallmark of human progress and, quite poignantly, not our holy books.

The most clever thing Cathy did in these statements was to make an appeal to freedom of speech by alluding to the freedom our country permits him to "share his values."

This Is Not A Free Speech Issue

Contrary to what opponents of equal rights would have you believe, this is emphatically NOT an issue of free speech. Dan Cathy is perfectly within his first amendment rights to express his anti-gay opinions. What he said was ignorant and atrocious but I will fight for his right to say it. The same goes for the Westboro Baptist Church, people who believe they are Elvis and any other lunatic out there. No one is arguing that Dan Cathy had no right to the expression of his opinions. No one.

The reason people are upset is because Chick-Fil-A donates millions of dollars of it's consumers' money to organizations that actively seek to harm our gay friends, families and neighbors. It is precisely OUR right to the freedom of speech being utilized when we boycott, protest and criticize Chick-Fil-A for it's bigoted spending. The irony is palpable.

Chick-Fil-A has made a sucker out of anyone who has bought into the idea that participating in "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day" means supporting the freedom of speech. That is an intentionally dubious conflation of the real issue which, lest we forget, is how your money is being spent on the fight against civil rights.

Criticism, Intolerance, and Hatred

This week I have been accused several times of being intolerant and hateful as well as participating in a "corporate witch hunt." There is an important difference between criticism and intolerance. I'm not calling for Dan Cathy to be jailed for expressing opinions I disagree with. I'm not calling for the government to shut down every Chick-Fil-A for giving millions of dollars to hate groups. I'm simply criticizing them for it.

Want another dose of irony? Contrary to my stance of tolerant, peaceful criticism it is folks like Dan Cathy who proudly tout their intolerant beliefs. I don't want Cathy legally penalized for his lifestyle but he is the one who wants your gay friends, family members and neighbors legally prohibited from marriage! Discriminating against an individual or group based on their sexual orientation is actively participating in hatred and intolerance. To the contrary, I criticize based on people's thoughts and actions, without discrimination.

Boycotting and Moral Responsibility

So, what is our moral responsibility in this situation? Is boycotting an effective way to fight the battle for gay rights? Does eating a chicken sandwich matter? Is it plausible to boycott every organization that spends money in ways you disagree with?

These are all great questions. I'm still mapping my way through them but for now my answers look like this:

1. Our first moral responsibility in this and any situation is to take it seriously. You need to know that this is an issue of your money being spent to hurt innocent people and not a politicized shit-slinging contest over free speech. I'm personally choosing to distance myself from Chick-Fil-A in order to keep my money from hurting my gay friends, however small the amount may be. I don't consider myself a moral hero for doing this nor do I consider you or anyone else a homophobic bigot for choosing to continue eating there. Let me be absolutely clear here that my thoughts are descriptive, not prescriptive.
Rosa Parks being arrested in Montgomery, AL 1955.

2. Boycotting is absolutely proven effective. Here's a list of successful consumer boycotts that occurred in the last decade and we should shudder to forget The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 which was a seminal event in the Civil Rights movement.

3. Maybe eating a chicken sandwich matters, and maybe it doesn't. Several people have noted that thanks to Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, Cathy has likely had one of the most financially successful days in his business' history, suggesting that his decision was a good one. I disagree. Perhaps CFA had a good day. Perhaps they'll have a good year or maybe even a good decade. But there will come a day when they will either amend their anti-gay views or die.

The south will remain conservative for some time yet. But we will eventually catch up to our coastal brothers and sisters on the moral issues of our day just as we begrudgingly did with black civil rights and interracial marriage. It's our unfortunate calling card to be late to the moral progress party. As we've seen in cities like Boston, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco, the folks there are not interested in tacitly funding homosexual discrimination. Eating chicken sandwiches matters a hell of a lot...but more to the future of Chick-fil-A than the gay community.

4. Is it plausible to boycott every company who spends money in ways you disagree with? Probably not. Is it possible to even know how all the companies you patronize spend their money? Absolutely not. Contrary to accusations this week, I am not endorsing a "corporate witch hunt." I'm making the best moral decision I can with the information I have. Morality is complicated and nuanced, not black and white the way our mythologies and politicians lead us to believe. In the case of Chick-Fil-A I am simply constrained to distance myself.  Apathy and cynicism are not the answer. I apply social pressure wherever I am reasonably able to do so.

I leave you folks with this question that has, so far, gone unanswered.

Would you give your money to Chick-Fil-A if they donated millions of dollars to organizations that actively fought against equal marriage for black people? Consider Cathy's remarks about how allowing gays to marry actually warrants the wrath of the God of the Universe. Replace gay with black.

Would you support that organization? What's the difference?

In Reason,

Clint Wells

Homosexuality, Equality and Human Secularism
Homosexuality, Bigotry and False Victimization

1 comment:

Timothy Pitzer said...

I love how Benjamin, in you're profile pic, is peeking over as if to say "yeah, that cigarette IS hellish good."

And I wish there was a Chick-Fil-A in Vegas I could boycott (which IS extremely effective). Because then I could be conflicted, Cookies-n-cream Milkshake in hand, with the moral implications of the (heavenly) food choice I had just made.

And I WOULD be conflicted.

Tim Pitzer