Chick-fil-Activism and Its Discontents

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North America » United States
August 1st 2012
Published: August 2nd 2012
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Ah, facebook. My 'friends' have increasingly weighed in on the debate about Chik-fil-A, a fast food company specializing in chicken sandwiches, waffle fries, and (more recently) the definition of marriage. In an interview with Ken Coleman, President and COO Dan Cathy was asked about the impact of fatherlessness on our nation today. I give you his response:

"... I see it's a real crisis in the sense that there is a certain amount of emotional DNA... that God intended for us to get from from a mother and a dad that we observe over life as children... that we can only get from our dad and we only get it from our mother... and we're to get it in a home dynamic and environment where they're interrelating together."

Emotional DNA sounds important. Remember everyone, it only comes from a mother and a dad. The full response goes further into detail on that subject (start at 29:45). I'm going to skip ahead:

"As it relates to society in general, I think we're inviting God's judgement on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, you know, '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 would - the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about."

In the end, he didn't have much to say about fatherlessness. That, and public support for the "biblical definition of the family unit" spawned the recent boycott of Chick-fil-A. Let me begin by saying that there is a reason PR managers exist. What a company communicates to its customers matters. Everything about CFA, from the 'Eat More Chikin'' campaigns to their bright red sign, was carefully crafted to convince people to put their money in the company. They've used their family values approach for years as a selling point for business. When their COO takes a political stand on a controversial issue in public, that gives a new dimension to the company face, one that will change people's buying practices there. It's called 'business as usual'. If other businesses or private entities want to cut ties with the company, well that is their choice. And while they might not have done so a few years ago, they have every right to do so now. So much has changed in the past few years, and what was once the status quo is no longer acceptable to many.

Cathy, the man, is welcome to keep talking on any radio show or newspaper he likes, even if his company goes out of business. So, when did a choice to cut ties with that company become an attempt to silence "free speech"? Does the chicken on the logo talk? Has it personally witnessed the immorality of our nation while perched above Chick-fil-As across America? Perhaps we are directly experiencing the problem of a company having "rights to speech" for the first time. A reduction in profits in response to comments that alienate customers should not count as the silencing of speech. If we cannot respond with our dollars, can someone educate me on a better way to respond to businesses? How else should we hold them accountable? I am dying to know.

In addition to the boycott, the mayor of Boston wrote a letter to Chick-fil-A urging them not to bring their business to the city saying, "There is no place for discrimination along Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company along side it." Zing! Other mayors followed suit. Now, this troubled me. It is the mayor's job to use their discretion in attracting (and discouraging) business investment in a city based on what will be best for development. However, I do not expect members of the government to use their authority to attract or discourage a certain type of morality. If the people of Boston (or any city) do not want Chick-fil-A's business because of Cathy's statements, let's trust them to show how they feel about that.

A few days into the boycott, I started to see posts about CFA's donations to "anti-gay organizations". People. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes does not count. We can craft better responses than calling Cathy a bigot (the adult equivalent of name-calling) and misrepresenting CFA's donations. We can say that Cathy used his interviews as a platform to talk about about gay marriage, suggesting that we need to pray for "God's mercy," while gay marriage proponents corrupt the morality of our society. I think that's a reasonable inference from his comments, and it gives me plenty of justification to say I'd rather not eat at Chick-fil-A.

Some of my friends have commended Cathy for standing up for his beliefs. I urge you to set your standards higher. I have had countless conversations with friends who say they believe homosexuality is a sin, but that they still love homosexuals as God would want them to - we are all God's creations, afterall. Where is the love here? Cathy singles out one group for "inviting God's judgement" upon us. In support of him, I see internet memes and tongue-in-cheek commentaries suggesting that the boycotters are being unreasonable. Intolerant. Then, Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, was born to support a man (or a company) who takes a stand for "Godly values".

I was most disappointed to see pastors going to Chick-fil-A yesterday, showing their support of Cathy's comments. You might believe what Cathy said is true - that people who want to legally redefine marriage are "shaking their fist at God," but you need to think about how you want those ideas communicated. People struggle - really struggle - with homosexuality. I have friends that waited until they were adults to come out to friends and family, and I have worked with kids who still refuse to tell anyone about their sexuality, hoping they might change. What kills me is that a lot of those kids go to church on Sunday. They think that to love God is to make people like them feel small. If you don't think that represents who you are, good. Show the world. Fight for speech by organizing and demonstrating to the mayors who try to keep Chick-fil-A from coming, not by directly supporting Cathy's comments. Raise your standards.

And here is where I transition to Burundi, because part of the reason I decided to respond this this mess of political activism has to do with the fact that life and politics are just so different here, in America (and because this is my travel blog - I don't have any other blog). During my last week in Burundi, I talked to a friend of mine, a human rights lawyer, about political activism. He said people are too afraid to speak about politics, so they say nothing. Fear shackles people. Most of my research took place in houses with the doors closed and the windows covered. I took extra precautions to protect confidentiality, knowing that the worst possible consequence of doing an interview would be for someone to be killed for saying the wrong thing. However small that possibility was, there were times where the fear of it was paralyzing. That is life without real freedom of speech.

So, I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to come from there to here. I left a place where people say nothing because they are too afraid to say the wrong thing, and came home, where people will say anything and pretend it is great. As Americans, I want us to appreciate what we have and use it to improve ourselves and one another. Part of the beauty (and ugliness) of living here is that we can say things without having to carefully craft our words. We can make mistakes. We can offend each other. And we can respond. In the US, free speech happens everywhere, every day. We have the luxury of choosing who we elevate based on their exercise of free speech, and what to fight for with our speech. And out of everything we could be fighting for in this world, we are debating about Chick-fil-A. We can do better than this, and we should.

My, we have come a long way in our fight for human rights. I wish I could say the evolution was positive.


2nd August 2012

thanks for reminding me
It sure seems like we have a good deal of pent up frustration - like we're realizing that throwing our two cents into the bottomless well of internet posturing and arguing doesn't seem to be doing anything but have forgotten that we don't need a global corporation or billion dollar trust fund to exercise our free speech. And by we, I mean me. Thanks for reminding me that it is a beautiful thing to be able to say what I think in a productive way without fear or anonymity. Thanks for sharing this, and it's time for me to get up from this keyboard and go do it :)
2nd August 2012

about raising the standard of \"speech.\" Great insight Adrienne. Especially with how to respond to business and misrepresentation.

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