Now that the national uproar over chicken sandwiches, gay marriage, love, hate, and free speech has moved out of the spicy rhetoric of the 24 hour news cycle, I’ve had a chance to process what has been rolling around in my head. While I may not be as angry about the whole affair as I was at the time, my opinions haven’t really changed much. In short, we really screwed up. All of us.
My day job’s office is two blocks from the local Chick-Fil-A, which happens to be owned and operated by the university’s dining services (I find that to be a little ironic in this whole mess). I happen to frequent the establishment once a month or so because I’m a fan of both chicken sandwiches and milkshakes, especially good ones. My usual response to criticisms of Chick-Fil-A’s politics (and when people say that, they really mean the politics of the owners of the corporation) is that my relationship with Chick-Fil-A ends with the exchange of money for chicken sandwiches. Period. No one tells me how to spend the money that I make, and I try not to make the same demands on others. I don’t want to write about the pros and cons of boycotts, but honestly, do you know what happens to the money you give your babysitter, your dog walker, your supermarket, your gas station, your therapist, your doctor, or whatever? We don’t know and we don’t care how those people spend the money we give them, and there’s no way to do anything differently. In my mind, it makes this whole Chick-Fil-A thing even more ridiculous.
I tend to avoid political, social, and religious debates like the plague, having spent most of my self-righteous indignation in my youth. I try to politely excuse myself from those conversations, especially when it looks like someone is gearing up for an impassioned discourse on the worth of their own opinions. Part of my inner monologue responds “I’ve spent a fair amount of time wrestling with this issue, and I already know what I think. You’re welcome to your opinion, and I’ll keep mine. Thanks.”
I knew something was up when I rolled into Chick-Fil-A a few weeks ago to redeem a coupon for a free chicken wrap (stick to the sandwiches and nuggets – trust me on this). I was early, being intentional about beating the lunch rush, but the place was already packed. I puzzled over this for a while, since the college students weren’t back in town yet and things should have been pretty quiet. I saw a friend from church ahead in the line and commented “I guess it’s the wrong day to go to Chick-Fil-A.” He responded “No , it’s the RIGHT day to go.” Then it hit me. It was THAT DAY. It was the I-Support-Chick-Fil-A-Jesus-And-Free-Speech-Because-Their-CEO-Gives-To-Anti-Gay-Causes Day. I looked around and confirmed my suspicions. There were people sitting at tables with little signs saying which church they represented. The line was out the door as people “took a stand” for their beliefs. In an effort to score a free chicken wrap, I had inadvertently made a political statement. Well, crap.
As similar situations unfolded across the country, the rhetoric reached a fever pitch on both sides of the issue. Chick-Fil-A workers were criticized for “selling hate” on behalf of their employer, diners celebrated as they struck a blow for God and democracy, and politicians quickly named their cities as places where Chick-Fil-A was unwelcome. In the midst of everything, no one bothered to give Chick-Fil-A a heads-up, and many locations ended up short-staffed and under-stocked.
In the end, I wound up once again disappointed in the human race. All I could think was “shame on us.”
Shame on us as Christians for summarizing one of the most important messages in the history of the world into the purchase of a chicken sandwich. Really? Is that the best we can do to express the profound way in which the message of Jesus Christ has touched our lives?
Shame on us as Americans for claiming that a single individual has no right to express his personal views or spend his money however he likes, regardless of how much money he possesses. If you are really concerned about the influence of money over the political system, then address that. Curb the ability of large contributors, special interest groups, and corporations to influence politicians. Chick-Fil-A is an easy target. It’s low-hanging fruit, while real change requires a great deal of hard work and difficult choices.
Shame on us for equating hard-working, minimum wage food service employees with the opinions of their employer.
Shame on us for treating the purchase of a chicken sandwich like we were buying war bonds for a righteous cause.
Shame on us for letting ourselves be ruled by the fear of lifestyles and opinions that threaten our personal views of what is right and fair.
Shame on us for choosing division over harmony, rhetoric over honest conversation, and hate and fear over respect for one another.
Too often, we are befuddled by the low opinions others have of us, and then we proceed to completely meet their expectations.
“Christian friends: Gay people are not afraid for political reasons, they are afraid you will kill them or continue setting the stage for hate crimes against them. And gay people: conservative Christians fear that your efforts to get married are Satan-backed attempts to undermine the sanctity of marriage. Since many of them believe that the family unit is the basic building block of American society — and the source of its strength — and that America is a Christian nation meant to do God’s Will on the world stage, your efforts to get married jeopardize God’s plan for Creation.”
There is no weakness in fear, but disaster comes when we allow our fears to dictate our actions and relationships. The journey towards authenticity requires us to be brave and take ownership of what frightens us. Only then can we begin to build the respect for others that can grow into honest relationships and a serious dialogue about real issues.
Progress and change begin with understanding. Take some time and spend it in contemplation. What frightens you?