Activism, LGBTQ

The Nugget Boycott: Week Two

This post originally appeared at Huffington Post on August 1, 2012

 

It’s been two weeks. I’m nearly through the detox period. OK, I’m exaggerating. I do (usually) eat other things besides those tasty chicken nuggets. But like a bad diet, when you’ve set something off limits, you really start to crave it.

One question I’ve been asked is, “Why boycott?” Good question. I am not arrogant enough to think that Chick-fil-A will miss the $7 bucks I give them once a week for that nuggets combo. And unless Dan Cathy and his buddies stumbled on my article by googling themselves, they likely don’t know I exist. This is OK because here’s the thing: I’m not boycotting to get revenge. I’m not trying to “stick it to them.” I’m boycotting to save my own soul.

You see, each time I walk past a Chick-fil-A without stopping in, I reaffirm my commitment to not contribute to an organization that marginalizes people based on their sexual orientation. In this small act, I am paying attention to my own moral formation. The decisions we make each day, especially the ordinary ones, shape the people we are becoming. In boycotting, I am less concerned about Chick-fil-A’s reaction, and more concerned about my own conscience. Changing ourselves is the first step in creating change in our world.

Of course, I would love it if Dan and the good folks at Chick-fil-A saw things differently. I honestly wish that they knew some of the good people I know. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks who live each day in loving, committed relationships with God and each other. Folks who raise their kids with care and faithfully sit in the pews and serve in their churches on Sunday mornings. I want them to know that Christians on the “other side” are reading the same Bible they are reading, but coming out with different conclusions. This is because we have realized (from knowing each other and seeing God in each other) that in the time the Bible was being written, there was simply no concept of committed, loving or even consensual same-sex relationships. The same-sex relationships we know today would have been nearly impossible in a biblical world ruled by patriarchy. And while we’re on the subject, opposite-sex relationships where women were not property would have been nearly impossible as well.

We all want people to see things the way we do, or at least to hear us out. This is our human nature and I believe it comes from our longing to be in community with each other. From the way Chick-fil-A spends their money on anti-gay campaigns, I can assume that the good folks at Chick-fil-A might wish that people like me on the “other side” would see things their way too.

A lot of people have assumed that I’m boycotting Chick-fil-A because of Dan Cathy’s personal views on “gay marriage.” (There have been letters!) But that’s really not it. I have friends and family members who share his same view. We still go out for lunch and coffee and have yet to “boycott” each other (unless you count those people who have unfriended me on Facebook this week). My response is about the civil rights that I believe should be extended to all people. It is about the$5 million that Chick-fil-A has given to organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled as “hate groups,” groups who are trying to convince us that civil rights are only for straight folks.

Some of the money that Chick-fil-A is using to fund these groups came from my wallet, which means I share in this brokenness and violence that has been done in the name of Christ. As a person of faith, as a former customer at this establishment, I am also responsible, and therefore I have a responsibility to respond.

So here’s my response to Dan and the good folks at Chick-fil-A and to any others who might find themselves listening: Perhaps I’m too optimistic, but I would like to think that a church built on the teachings of Christ could agree on at least a few issues in this “debate.” Yet, instead, we’ve entered into a war of words where it has become too easy to do violence against each other or violence against ourselves. Some words that are being spoken are in themselves violence. These words forget that we’re not talking about an issue, but real living and breathing people, all created in the image of God.

As a follower of the Christ, who said we will be known by our love, I believe that its time to find some common ground. Contrary to the opinion of a few pastors who have spoken hate from the pulpit, I believe that most Christians agree that hate crimes are wrong. Should we not also agree that hate speech, which too often incites violence, is also wrong? When Christians like Dan Cathy evoke images of God’s judgment, then they are contributing to an environment where people feel compelled to take this “judgment” into their own hands.

I was glad to read this week that Chick-fil-A has decided to not make any more statements on same-sex marriage. This is a start but it’s not near enough, not as long as they are paying others to speak hate for them. I guess we boycotters will wait for next year’s financial reports to come out to see what Chick-fil-A has done with their charitable giving. After all, Christian Scriptures tell us that “where your treasure (or your money) is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34, NRSV). Until then, I guess we’ll all just learn how to make our own Chick-fil-gay sandwiches at home.

Activism, LGBTQ

Chicken Nuggets and Family Values

This post originally appeared at Huffington Post on July 18, 2012

 

I have one fast food weakness — an eight-pack of chicken nuggets in a white and red box. I could go years and never crave a fast food burger, but I’ll admit I have a deep kinship with Chick-fil-A’s version of fast food. As a kid growing up (Christian) in the south, Chick-fil-A has always been part of the good food I loved. They donated free sandwich coupons to our church fundraisers, and as a teenager I attended community prayer breakfasts that met at our local Chick-fil-A. True story: I’ve even dressed as a cow to get free food.

But today, we’re parting ways. For the past few months, I have been following the news that Chick-fil-A donates money to groups such as Marriage & Family Foundation, Exodus International and the Family Research Council. These groups and others have contributed extensively to the religious hate speech that marginalizes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. They have spoken out against civil rights for LGBT individuals and have even discouraged anti-bullying campaigns that seek to prevent LGBT teens from taking their own lives.

I’m not one to rush to a boycott. I recognize that many of the places I eat have unjust practices. Even when I cook in my own kitchen, I have little knowledge of whether or not those who grew, harvested and packed our food were paid a fair wage for their work. Beyond buying a label that says “organic,” I have little information about whether the process of growing my food hurt or healed the earth.

But we are what we eat — isn’t that what they say? And as it turns out, I can’t eat hate. Over our breakfast of fair-trade coffee and organic fruit this morning, my husband and I read Dan Cathy’s latest anti-gay comments in The Huffington Post. In talking about the article, we both admitted we’d felt guilty every time we popped into Chick-fil-A for nuggets or that delicious cookies and cream shake. But we knew what we needed to do. As people who grew up in the churches that fueled this dehumanizing anti-gay rhetoric, we’ve stomached enough hate for a lifetime.

As I read where Dan Cathy talked about the “the biblical definition of the family unit,” I couldn’t help but think of the teenage girl in Louisville, Ky., who was beaten by a group of adults who shouted anti-gay slurs as they broke her jaw the day after his comments. Unfortunately, the “biblical definition of the family unit” that Cathy speaks of would not seek justice for this girl. After all, those who were considered an “abomination” could be stoned for their lack of conformity to the patriarchal norm. Did I mention that the place where this teenage girl was beaten was in front of two churches? Words have consequences, and the words that some churches have been speaking are still creating an atmosphere where violence can be justified. The consequences of our words are coming back to our doorsteps to call us to account.

As cited in HuffPost, when Dan Cathy was asked by Baptist Press about his company’s support of the “traditional family,” he replied, “Guilty as charged.” Like Cathy, churches that speak hate through exclusion are “guilty as charged” for the violence we incite. By promoting (or simply ignoring) speech that marginalizes people — any people — we deny that we are all made in the image of God, deserving of human dignity and human rights — no matter who we are (or aren’t) having sex with.

As a kid, I not only loved Chick-fil-A’s nuggets, but I also loved that Christian values shaped their business. I loved that they hung out a sign to say they were closed on Sundays. I still believe that, as people of faith, we are called to live out our faith in whatever work we are called to do. But hate is not a Christian value. Jesus, who never married, did not come to marginalize people but to proclaim justice. Perhaps Dan and his family will understand. I’m hanging out my sign. I won’t eat at Chick-fil-A on any day of the week because I can no longer be part of these contributions that fund hate. Words have consequences. I don’t want to be “guilty as charged.”

I have a 1-year-old daughter who also loves her chicken nuggets. Unfortunately, if Chick-fil-A continues to donate money to groups who speak violence against LGBT individuals and their families, then she will not grow up with same love for this food that my husband and I had as children. A small sacrifice, I guess. I just hope she grows into a world where hate crimes become uncommon, where people are not beaten in a church’s front yard for being different, for being queer.

Throughout the Christian church’s history, food has always been a sacred space of sharing. The common religious ritual that forms both liberal and conservative churches is communion — the act of taking part in the table of Christ. Willingness to participate in the life of Christ — willingness to drink the cup and taste the bread — has always been the signifier of our faith, not our sexuality. I teach ethics, and during a recent class the subject of homosexuality came up. When some students began to cite the biblical reasons against homosexuality, another student felt marginalized by the discussion. She said, “I’m glad to hear everyone’s voice, I’m glad that as a church we can come to the table, but I can’t come to the table if people are throwing food at me.” The violence is not only at our doorsteps, but at our altars as well.

On my daily commute to work, the only Chick-fil-A in the city is 10 feet away from my subway stop. To leave the train and walk the one block to my office means I will pass Chick-fil-A each day. But now, instead of stopping in for a chicken biscuit and coffee, I’ll keep walking and say a prayer for peace. I’ll pray that love will conquer hate, that justice will roll down like waters and that I’ll have the strength to keep on walking.