Chicken Sandwich with a Side of Shame

Little Rock Integration Protest

Little Rock Integration Protest (source Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday a right-wing,  fundamentalist preacher/politician/media personality urged his fans to go to Chick-fil-A to show their support for the company’s opposition to LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.  Purchasing a chicken sandwich, or refusing to do so, became a political statement leading to some of the most heated discussions I have ever seen erupting on Facebook.  I watched friendships end in rather dramatic ways, and I read vitriolic remarks of astonishing potency on both sides of the conflict.  Although I weighed in on plenty of these discussions in bits and pieces, I wanted to put all of my thoughts in one place:

It’s not about Freedom Of Speech

One aspect of the rhetoric that initially astonished me was the claim by many of the Chick-fil-A supporters that they were going to the restaurant to support Dan Cathy’s “First Amendment Rights” which – apparently – they thought were under attack.  If I understand their argument correctly, Mr. Cathy exercised his freedom of speech by publicly espousing his support for “biblical marriage” and the media response to his comments was an attempt to squelch Mr. Cathy’s right to speak his mind.

Mind you, no one told Mr. Cathy he could not say the things he said or had no right to say them.  No one refused to publish his comments.  In fact, they were reproduced in every possible media outlet.  They were tweeted and facebooked, they were mentioned on television news, and journalists reprinted them in print and online.  No one said Mr. Cathy should not be allowed to say or think these things.  No one challenged his First Amendment rights.

But “I’m supporting Chick-fil-A because I believe in Free Speech” is much more palatable than “I’m supporting Chick-fil-A because I oppose same-sex marriage.”  Hiding their true agenda like this is not a new tactic for the Far Right.  They already try to claim that opposing same-sex marriage is about protecting “family values” and “defending traditional marriage.”  Of course, the reality is that keeping people who would make great parents from adopting children is not supporting family values.  Similarly, keeping two people who love each other and want to make a lifetime commitment to each other from marrying is not protecting marriage.

In a similar vein, telling someone that something they said is bigoted and ignorant is not opposing Free Speech, it is using Free Speech in exactly the way the freedom was intended – to hold an idea up to public examination and critique in a way that allows for all sides of an issue to be considered.  Dan Cathy has a right to say any ignorant thing he likes, and we have a right to point out all the flaws in his statements.

The heart of the matter is that support for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights is rapidly becoming the norm in the United States and in the Western world.  Even Chick-fil-A realized this with their hastily-published attempts to back out of the debate.  Opponents of same-sex marriage realize that they have to cloak their rhetoric of hate behind innocuous or falsely positive language.  Otherwise, they will quickly be dismissed as ignorant, bigoted fundamentalists trying to hide a political agenda of exclusion behind empty religious claims.

Yes, this is Bigotry and Hate

All it takes is a quick look at what’s at stake, however, and it becomes clear that their arguments are just that.  I have already discussed how the claim by opponents of same-sex marriage that they are just being “biblical” is disingenuous at best and – more accurately – theologically indefensible.  I’ve also discussed why I insist on using the term “bigotry” when talking about those who oppose LGBT rights, but I am happy to elucidate further.

The only argument against LGBT rights (adoption, marriage, protection from discrimination) is one drawn from a particular interpretation of certain sacred texts, an interpretation is not even the normative one among mainline religious scholars.  When a person uses a selective, minority interpretation of sacred texts to withhold rights from another person, that is bigotry.  We saw this happen with slavery in the nineteenth century.  We saw this happen with religious opposition to women’s suffrage in the early twentieth century.  We saw this happen with the American Civil Rights movement in the middle of the twentieth century.  In fact, fifty years ago religious claims were frequently used to argue for sustaining the laws forbidding “interracial” marriage.

The pattern is the same every time.  When our understanding of biology, psychology, human nature, sex, gender, or ethnicity changes, the only way to sustain the superstitions of past generations is to argue from the religious texts written during those times.  Eventually, of course, even those arguments fail, and in hindsight future generations identify them as exactly what they were:  prejudicial ignorance.  I see absolutely no way in which the debate over same-sex marriage differs from the debate over two people of different ethnicities marrying, and so I label opposition to same-sex marriage as what it is:  bigotry.

That does not, necessarily, mean that it is hatred.  Sometimes prejudice can be well-intentioned in  its cruelty, rather than intentionally hateful.  And yet, many of us have charged that Chick-fil-A funds “hate groups” with their profits.  David Badash in the Huffington Post offered an explanation for why we make this claim.  His citations from GLAAD itemizing the comments from the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and Peter Sprigg give ample reason why the Southern Poverty Law Center considers FRC a “hate group.”

It is one thing to say (however erroneously) that “my religious beliefs require me to oppose same-sex marriage.”  It is another thing entirely to dedicate millions of dollars to spreading malicious misinformation about your fellow citizens in an attempt to deny them access to the same rights and freedoms others enjoy.  The former is simply ignorance, superstition, or bigotry.  The latter is hateful.

What Else Did that Chicken Sandwich Buy?

Our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender brothers and sisters, parents and children, teachers and warfighters and public safety workers, bosses and employees, friends and neighbors cannot help but hear it any other way.  For those of you who proudly purchased  a chicken sandwich yesterday, what message were you sending them?

Yesterday you told my two friends in California (who are legally married there) that they aren’t real mothers to their brilliant, charming, beautiful son.  You told them that they shouldn’t be allowed to have or raise children, and that it is biologically impossible for them to do as good of a job as opposite sex parents.  I have seen how they parent with wisdom, intentionality, and love. You are wrong.

You told my dear friends, one a professor and the other an artist, that their relationship of over thirty years is somehow inferior to the opposite-sex marriages we see falling apart all around us.  You said that their love, commitment, and sacrifice for each other – in the face of the additional hurdles of prejudice – don’t matter and aren’t worth the effort.  You have said that their love should not be honored, and that their values don’t support strong families.  I am in awe of the depth and maturity of their relationship.  You are wrong.

You told my various gay and lesbian friends who are pastors openly serving congregations that they have no place in the pulpit, and that their communities of faith are not welcome at your Eucharistic table.  You have said that the Sunday afternoons spent in hospital rooms, the 2 a.m. phone calls, and the lifetime dedicated to study, prayer, and service in answer to God’s call are meaningless and a source of shame to the Church.  You are wrong.

You have supported every parent who threw their child out of the house for their “sinful lifestyle choices” or shipped them off to be “re-programmed.”  You have supported every charitable group that fired a leader or denied a volunteer because their love for another person contradicted the organization’s “values.”  You have sided with the hospitals who have blocked people from sitting beside the deathbed of their lifelong partner.  You have joined your voice with the chorus of people who, through actions large and small, have insulted, wounded, marginalized, and excluded our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters.

You are free to do so.  Likewise we are free to point out that such behavior is shameful and has no place in twenty-first century society.

Final Thoughts

Dan Cathy, Mike Huckabee, the Family Research Council, and all those who supported their prejudicial policies of exclusion and ignorance yesterday are on the losing side of history.  They know this, and that is why they are trying to hide their reprehensible “values” of intolerance behind empty and irrelevant rhetoric of Constitutional freedoms.  We must look past the innocuous-sounding language to the actual consequences of their policies.  The reality is that anti-LGBT laws and practices destroy families, break hearts, scar souls, deprive children of loving parents, block hard-working professionals from experiencing the fruits of their labors, and in every way make us weaker, poorer, and less healthy as a society.  It is our duty as citizens, and as neighbors, to correct that shameful injustice by consistently and unequivocally standing against bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head:  in the classroom; in the legislature; in the pulpit, bima, or minbar; and yes, even in the fast food line.

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  • Dondi Vickers

    Thank you Joshua! We need more allies like you! Equality in our lifetime!

  • ryan anderson

    my delicious chicken sandwich came with a side of delicious waffle fries, not shame silly goose

    • C. Joshua Villines

      The shame is like the heartburn – it comes later.

      • Tim

        The procrastination actually involves those who seek to cover their sinfulness by being swell people to other sinners, like homosexuals.

        God condemns mankind anyway.

        But he saves them, if they aren’t stupid and reject it.

        • ryan anderson

          i see where everyones coming from on all sides…i am a christian and i do support traditional marriage but I am certainly not against same sex marriage…do i believe its wrong? of course i do because thats my belief system, but the only problem i have with this whole thing is lots of organizations fund different outside organizations that don’t line up with peoples beliefs…but the only time they ever talk about it is when what is going on is brought into the limelight….for example when i buy chocolate and ice cream i really only like to buy fair trade because i know that even though I’m paying a little more, the moral principles i like to think i uphold are backed by these companies who would rather pay for fair work than make a little extra money and exploit usually children in third world countries. all I’m saying is there will always be big companies who support things that people don’t agree with…i just wish people would carry their beliefs with them everyday and not just when one place is put in a pedestal and becomes the hot topic

          • Sean Clancy

            Ryan, if you believe same-sex marriage is wrong, then don’t marry a man. Simple as that. My relationship (of 15 years) and the relationships of millions of same-sex couples are none of your business.

            It’s not that the company funded organizations that “don’t line up with people’s beliefs.” Said organizations actively do harm to people, and go out of their way to make others’ lives miserable, because the organizations see those people as not conforming to their religion.

            If you’re an Orthodox Jew you don’t spend millions to ban the production and consumption of pork because it’s against your religion. You just don’t eat pork. And what the organizations funded by Chick-Fil-A are doing to your fellow citizens is a lot worse than lot letting them eat pork.

          • Aaron Cogan

            Either you didn’t read the article or your reading comprehension skills are rivaled only by your biblical scholarship. This isn’t about beliefs nor is it about voicing them. This is about funding hate groups seeking to do real damage to real people’s lives by codifying bigotry.

        • M. M. Tyler

          So, Tim, are you saying Christians only have to be swell people to non-sinners? That means you don’t have to be nice to anyone, doesn’t it?
          I thought that was dealt with when Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” And he was talking about an adultress, someone who had broken one of the commandments. That seems pretty clear, to me. It isn’t up to me to judge or punish, no matter how good a Christian I think I am.

  • Dennis Morin

    Excellent piece, Joshua. I despise the bigotry that is being promoted and exploited by the GOP here. In an earlier time these assholes would be wearing white sheets and lynching Negroes. If they are not ashamed of themselves it is only because they are ignorant and/or brainwashed by some fucked up religious cult (that’s redundant, isn’t it?). The great thing about being an atheist is that you can think for yourself.

    • David Cox

      Dennis,
      If you can in fact think for yourself, please think a little harder. What did the GOP have to do with anything? “In earlier times” the KKK was the terrorist arm of the Democratic Party “lynching Negroes” just freed by a Republican president. Study up on your history a little more.

      • Cheryl Winslow

        David,
        You need to study up on your history a LOT more. The Democratic Party that you are referring to abandoned the party and started voting with the GOP, especially after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Many left the party as it moved left and some became Dixiecrats moving even further right. By today’s standards, Lincoln would be shunned by Republicans.

        • David Cox

          Oh yes, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson who later said “I have those n***ers voting Democratic for the next 200 years”.

  • Starshadow

    Nicely said, Joshua.

    I’m getting very cranky about not having full civil rights. I’m 61. And tired.

    • C. Joshua Villines

      I don’t blame you. It’s past time.

  • Tim

    Wait until you meet God’s agenda.

    He made this place.

    Tallying what people feel are moral truths is what America was created to be all about.

    If you want to remove opposing viewpoints, you need another country.

    • C. Joshua Villines

      Tim – I’m not sure you actually read the essay.

  • MomOf4inCA

    Thank you for the thoughtfulness of this. I don’t think this up for debate if Mr. Cathy donated to these groups out of his personal salary. That’s my argument. I will not contribute to the bottom profit of a company who openly donates to such. It has nothing to do with the religious views. It has to do with the bigotry & oppression of a group of people.

  • Jason

    As the brother-in-law to two married homosexual gentlemen (Does this give me 2 brothers-in-law, BTW?), and with a longtime family friend of lesbian orientation, I already have excellent reasons for finding the Chick-fil-A position distasteful…what adds to this position I proudly embrace is that I, a heterosexual, can understand as few heteros can the kind of hate lavished upon the LGBT community like gravy over biscuits; y’see, in the small town I grew up in, I was a favorite target of the Jock Community, as I was small, frail, easy to push around. Then Anita Bryant had to come off her orange juice crate and stir up all this “Gays Are Evil” crap; in this li’l bitty podunk redneck town, the Jocks & Rednecks began looking for people who “looked” gay…guess who they chose?

    What made me “look” gay:

    1. I never went out on dates (kinda hard to do when Bumblef*ck has no public transportation and you can’t drive because you’re epileptic, but hey…don’t let FACTS stand in the way!).

    2. I wrote original love poems that were published in the school paper; granted, I was trying to get the attention of the ladies who said they wanted a romantic man…

    3. The “small, frail” thing, compounded by my not being allowed to take P. E. BECAUSE I was a small, frail thing.

    So, being locked up in my locker…pencil leads jammed into the keyhole of my padlock and hawked-up mucus on my combination lock…this was the first salvo in the war to “cure” me of my homosexuality by beating it out of me.

    So, while I’m not gay, I have experienced what I believe to be a mild taste of what ACTUAL homosexuals have been dealing with for decades, so I feel gay marriage is at best, a logical step in the direction of destroying ignorance.

    Oh, and that bullsh*t about how Gay Marriage ruins the institution of marriage? Let’s remember Britney Spears’ first husband (55 hours after a “wild, crazy” night in Las Vegas in 2004), Kim Kardashian’s 72 days of marriage; then explain to me how these 2 cast Hetero Marriage in a positive light.

  • Heather Shanholtzer

    Beautiful!

  • Dan

    Joshua,

    Thank you for a wonderful, well-thought-out, well-written piece on the subject. It just amazes me how blindly some people follow along with the mass mentality; the ideas of what their particular church, or probably more specifically, their preacher, espouses from the pulpit. The mega-churches, and sometimes even the small churches, feed the message that what “the Bible says,” is the only thing one need consider to be truth. More to the point, passages from this text or that, taken completely at random and out of context, are what’s important. Let’s not analyze this book or chapter in the light of when it was written, or to which group of people. No, let’s just say that “this” passage is -in the Bible-, therefore, it’s God’s word, and must be strictly obeyed. It’s an easy answer and an easy out, wouldn’t you say? It requires no thought, and more importantly, no compassion, no love. Just condemnation. These are not even the values that we were taught as children. As youngsters, most of us were taught to love everybody, be tolerant, be forgiving, to share our faith and our love for Christ. We weren’t taught to condemn or hate. Not in my church, anyway. Yet as adults, this is exactly what we sometimes do. By supporting the statements these business leaders have made, some of us are saying that we dislike gay marriage, we dislike gays and lesbians, we are in effect saying that we dislike anybody who is different from us! And history teaches us that this kind of hatred leads to war, mass exterminations, and other atrocities.

    Any time hate or exclusion is involved in or against another human being, this is unacceptable to God. God is hurt by this. Jesus told us over and over again, but some of us conveniently forget it again and again. We must remind and ourselves–gently, that we are to love our neighbor, judge not our neighbor, and live a life that is pleasing to God. It doesn’t matter what the issue is; if it excludes another living being, if it represses one person or a group of people, if it comes off as judgement of another, it is hurtful to God, and displeases God. We must all remember this. We are ALL God’s children, not just some of us. God made us all, so let God be the judge, not man. Love and compassion for all. It’s all so simple.

  • This is, without a doubt, the best piece on this topic I have read over the last several days, and I have read many.

    What I find particularly sad is how many of these bigots will claim they have gay friends and family members. What horseshit. If you have gay friends and family members, WHY aren’t you fighting for them? Why aren’t you standing up for them? Why aren’t you ensuring that they can enjoy the same rights and freedoms from persecution that you do? If you aren’t, then you are no friend. You are, in fact, their enemy.

  • Kasey

    Beautiful article. But hatred in peoples hearts, and fear, forbid them from seeing the truth of your words. Only time will make your words hold true. One day – as you mentioned, people will see the ignorance of their actions, and current beliefs about homosexuality. This is a fallen world. We are subject to all manner of birth defects, disease, etc. I have a question for those of you who feel gay marriage is evil, or wrong. You who think you know best for others. Who does the hermorphodite marry? They have BOTH male and female parts. They have a mixture of hormones. And probably a mixture of emotions to go with both genders raging inside them. God created them. Who can they marry – oh you who know so much? Do tell us……

  • Dave Tomlinson

    Joshua,

    I respect your right to your viewpoint, though I happen to see things quite differently. Your piece is very well written and eloquent no doubt. But your excellent writing talent and obvious intelligence do not give you the license nor power to define truth. You are like a literary “Goliath” for the extreme liberal view on this issue. But, like Goliath, you will quickly be mowed down (and head removed….well, you get the picture) by the seemingly much small(perhaps even laughable) David with his handful of smooth stones (God’s WORD).
    I must say that it is quite disappointing that you expose your own bigoted spirit by so readily labeling Mr. Cathy, Mr. Huckabee and the Family Research Council as bigots simply because they espouse and promote a differing viewpoint from your own. You are, I’m afraid, a hero only in your own eyes. You cannot ultimately win an argument against God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. God’s WORD is very clear on the issue of homosexuality (read Romans Chapter 1 fo starters and read it honestly and without bias. It says what it says. You may not understand why God says what he does about the judgment coming against homosexuals who do not repent, it may even anger you. But do not be so foolish and arrogant as to think you can change what God has said or somehow change his words and intent through your own eloquence. Better to stand with God on an issue than to commit the foolish sin of redefining his words to suit your own preferred views.

    In the end, only God defines truth and what is right and wrong. His words to us are quite clear, if sometimes hard tr

    • Dave, I think Romans 1 is a very apt chapter for this discussion and to respond to Josh’s article. In it, it also says (apart from it’s stance on homosexuality) “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.”

      I think when Josh says that our interpretation of “certain sacred texts” (i.e. the Bible), are not “the normative one among mainline religious scholars”, he doesn’t get that those scholars are the ones with the “selective, minority interpretation”. How many people in our lives interpret the scriptures on homosexuality any differently than we do? None that I know of except those that call themselves scholars because they have studied various religions. I think that they have placed their own agenda into their interpretation and then called it better than the rest of the world’s because they are “scholars” and that’s somehow supposed to remove their bias. Well, I think that I will take the interpretation of the vast majority of human beings on this earth who have read those scriptures since they were written.

      I am seeing more and more people holding truth as unrighteousness or calling those against gay marriage bigots. It is a sign of the times – right is wrong, truth is false. They are literally changing the truth into a lie in society and society is buying it.

  • Craig A. Bingham

    Thanks for a very well written essay. I am also an ally, having worked for freedom to marry here in Vermont. Sitting in a booth at a county fair is a great way to experience first hand the fear, ignorance, and hate espoused by anti marriage activists. I am grateful that being a Justice of the Peace I am now able to marry same sex couples. You are right about foes being on the wrong side of history, they just seem to be unable to see that thier cause is unjust.

  • JoAnna Brogdon

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to this issue that combined left brain logic with right brain compassion and caring. I liked the way you said that we should point out the shameful BEHAVIOR and acknowledge that it is not acceptable. That was just the right choice of words. It is important for us to shame the behavior but not shame the people. If we shame the people, then aren’t we doing exactly what we are condemning them for doing? Aren’t we then just redistributing the hate and lack of acceptance? I believe that we heal this situation through love and compassion not through hate and more rhetoric. I liked the tone of this article and the stories you shared of your gay/lesbian friends. You gave them a voice and demonstrated that they are not different than all of us.

  • Josh, you claim that those who ate at CFA were not supporting free speech but bigotry and hiding it under the guise of free speech. I disagree. I have a good friend who went to CFA yesterday, and lost a friend because of the picture she posted. She called me quite upset that this person would unfriend her and accuse her of being bigoted. In her response to her ex-friend, she expressed sorrow for losing her and her support of LGBT rights. She has always supported them, riding in and even bringing her young daughter to ride on a float for a gay pride parade. She said she works to instill a love and respect for all people no matter their differences and that she does not believe in discrimination or bigotry, period. This person did not go to CFA because of bigotry. Incidentally, she also plans on attending on Friday for the kissing day.

    Further, the fact that you would judge her and others in this way is against your own Christian beliefs. “Thou shalt not judge”. That you would call eating a sandwich at CFA shameful is just as bad as someone saying the act of homosexuality is shameful. You would call someone who did that a bigot so what does that make you for judging others? I work very hard not to judge anyone for their actions, not homosexuals, not those that eat at CFA – that is God’s job, not mine or yours.

    Finally, you claim that Dan Cathy and others have their rights to say whatever they want and your boycott of their restaurant is just the repercussions of that and they need to deal with it. Well, that part of it is right. But, when the entire left-wing machine maximizes the publicity of their response to gather support, you are sending a message (and I believe you know you are sending this message and that is part of the plan) to other business owners – “you better support LGBT rights or we’ll put you out of business, too!”. This creates a chilling effect – or at least the attempt of a chilling affect – suppressing the free speech of others who might have the audacity to disagree with you. This is not the loving tolerance you claim. If you want to boycott, that’s free speech and totally your right. If you want to get your whole movement up in arms, you are trying to scare others into agreeing with you (a tactic I’ve seen the left-wing movement use a lot), then you have to expect a similar retaliation – the right-wing movement to rally support and all go to CFA at once to send their own message. This is the back and forth that the article “BEN & JERRY’S, CHICK-FIL-A & POLITICAL CORRECTNESS”(http://www.perrynoble.com/2012/08/01/ben-jerrys-chic-fil-a-political-correctness/)is speaking out against. It is useless and simply promotes the further division of our society and country, keeping us all from working together to find solutions, based on common ground, that we can all live with, if not completely agree with. So, congratulations – you got what you should have known you were asking for.

    If you think I don’t know what I’m talking about because I am closed-minded, have no real experience with these issues or haven’t really thought about it, I’ll remind you that I live in California and campaigned for Proposition 8 with my fellow Mormons. I, too lost friends because of my stance and I have spent weeks and months of my life contemplating this issue. And I can tell you that we as Mormons are not bigots. We love our brothers and sisters with same-gender attraction and firmly believe that what we do in promoting traditional marriage is based on exactly what God expects us to do and what Christ would do. We do not judge them but must stand for what we believe God would want us to do. As I said to another friend of mine, the other day, my vote (whether at the ballot or with my dollar) is counted both here on earth and up above. What side of these issues I fight on is known by my Father in Heaven and I can not hide behind perceived “rights”. But, as Christ did, I must love my fellow men and women and support them in the way He would want me to.

  • hayes

    “traditional marriage” is like the confederate flag. its history brought from days gone by and used by many as a symbol of hate and discrimination.

    i had ancestors the fought in the revolutionary and civil war. i am proud of my southern heritage in many ways, but unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to the confederate flag……and rightfully so. the term “traditional marriage” is following the same plight. the “traditional” aspect is a subversive attempt to express anti-gay sentiments without saying “anti-gay”. i support civil rights for everyone and marriage being a part of that….and now seems to be a critical point in time when so many americans need to understand the importance of this issue.