A warning went out on social media from a good friend in the Midwest the other day reminding anyone excited by the new Chik-fil-A in Appleton, Wisconsin that the restaurant chain is an anti-LGBTQ institution and people should refrain from eating there at the cost of committing injustice.
San Antonio also recently rejected a request to allow a Chik-fil-A franchise in the city’s airport because of the company’s “legacy of anti-LGBT behavior.” Meanwhile, the dean of the College of Business Administration at Ryder University in New Jersey resigned because the decision to block Chik-fil-A from the campus made her feel persecuted as a Christian.
In the last year or so, there have been multiple “reminder” posts from various sites that Chik-fil-A is a discriminatory organization and should be avoided. The general gist of these articles has been that the struggle is not over, Chik-fil-A has not actually changed its anti-LGBTQ charitable practices, and if you eat there, you are either a self-hating queer or a bad ally. In the words of one blogger, “If you really love LGBTQ people, you just can’t keep eating Chick-fil-A.”
Well, I am an LGBTQ people. And I will accept your love even if it is expressed through a mouthful of Chik-fil-A waffle fries dipped in honey mustard sauce. Furthermore, as a practicing homosexual, I declare that it is time to move on from Chik-fil-A to larger problems rending the American social fabric.
Let us review why Chik-fil-A earned the disgust of LGBTQ people and allies in the first place. For years, Chik-fil-A gave millions to anti-LGBTQ organizations like Focus on the Family, National Christian Foundation, Family Research Council, and even the ex-gay organization Exodus International. These organizations are focused on denying the rights of LGBTQ people, and in some cases, “conversion” to cisgender heterosexuality.
But the Chik really hit the fan when the company’s president, Dan Cathy, came out against marriage equality in 2012, saying, “We’re 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.’” His opinions were not that different from many evangelical Christians, but when you’re a billionaire president of a fast food chain, your words tend to get noticed a lot more.
As a result Chik-fil-A became a proxy battleground in the fight for marriage equality. If you were for marriage equality, you made sure their greasy chicken and peachy shakes never touched your lips. If you were against marriage equality, you bought chicken sandwiches by the carload and gleefully tweeted how you were striking a blow for “religious freedom.”
Several things have changed since 2012. First off, same-sex marriage is now legal across the country, so the initial political issue animating the LGBTQ boycott against Chik-fil-A has been resolved. Second, Chik-fil-A changed the focus of its charitable giving to “youth, education, and leadership” and no longer gives to religio-political organizations like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. And although Cathy didn’t exactly apologize for his previous statement, in 2014, he said, “I’m going to leave it to politicians and others to discuss social issues.” My favorite headline from this era: “Chick-fil-A Wings in New Direction after Gay Flap.”
Chik-fil-A franchisees have even reached out to the LGBTQ community. After the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016, local Chik-fil-A outlets departed from their usual policy of staying closed on Sundays to provide food to first responders and people who donated blood.
These changes have not been enough for some activists and journalists. In 2017 Think Progress accused Chik-fil-A of “bankrolling anti-LGBTQ causes,” with $1.8 million in donations for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, The Salvation Army, and the Paul Anderson Foundation. In some cases, these organizations do not allow LGBTQ people in leadership positions, or have expressed their belief that homosexuality is a sin.
But these are profoundly different organizations from the kinds of groups Chik-fil-A was giving to in 2012. The donations now are for youth outreach programs and activities being offered by evangelical Christian organizations. They are not for massive lobbying groups working for the systematic dismantling of the constitutional rights of LGBTQ people.
When it comes to evangelical charity, there is a difference between groups based on affinity and groups based on theocracy. Chik-fil-A is now giving to groups that are based on affinity. What they are doing is more like an individual giving money to a local church or Christian charity than giving to the Republican National Committee or the anti-gay lobby.
As a liberal Protestant Christian, I disagree with evangelical theology and ethics on many counts. I have taken part in protests against organizations like Focus on the Family and Exodus International (now defunct, praise Jesus). Although I long for a time when evangelicals will no longer find being LGBTQ incompatible with being Christian, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army are not committing injustice on the same level and with the same intent as these political organizations.
There’s something about the continuing Chik-fil-A boycott that feels more like left-wing dogma than a thoughtful consideration of justice. It’s the kind of political factionalism that says, “We don’t eat at Chik-fil-A because we are not the kind of people that eat at Chik-fil-A,” rather than expressing a serious concern about the best way forward for the rights of LGBTQ people.
As an American I accept that there will be evangelical Christian people, organizations, and businesses here and that they have the right to exist. Furthermore, I recognize that sometimes I need to reach out to people “on the other side” and see if there are things we can agree on to form a less fractured country. That means I have to occasionally step out of my safe liberal bubble, cross into Red State America, look around, and try to understand what people are thinking. Otherwise I’m just left shouting at the TV and “othering” conservatives with an irrational fervor that rivals the most committed Christian fundamentalists.
It seems to me our response to Chik-fil-A has become less about which side of a major social justice issue we are on, and more about how tolerant we should be of people with whom we disagree.
As such, I invite you to step with me out of your liberal bubble, into the magic portal to Red State America that is your local Chik-fil-A, eat a chicken sandwich, and see if you can find a way to connect with your neighbor.