27 July 2012

I don’t even eat there.

I have a toe dipped into both the Christian Right and the Christian Left, and both of them are buzzing about the fast food chicken purveyor Chik-fil-A. Its chief operating officer, Dan Cathy (son of chairman Truett Cathy), made some comments in a 2 July article in the Biblical Recorder, a Baptist publication. (Stands to reason; the Cathys are Baptists.) The piece was about how the Cathys try to run Chick-fil-A as a Christian business. In it we have this bit.

Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about this opposition.

“We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

“We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families—some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized.

“We intend to stay the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Of course, “the biblical definition of the family unit” is conservative Christian speak for “monogamous heterosexual spouses.” The national media was pretty quick to pick that up and confirm it. They found Chik-fil-A’s marriage programs were through the Pennsylvania Family Institute and the WinShape Foundation, both of whom aren’t in favor of gay marriage, nor do they allow same-sex couples in their programs.

Basically everyone, conservatives and liberals alike, has interpreted this to mean Chik-fil-A is against gay marriage. Liberals are outraged, and some politicians have even talked about banning Chik-fil-A from their communities, though I can’t see how they could legally get away with it. Conservatives are outraged at the outrage, and are even plotting to show Chik-fil-A their appreciation by swarming the restaurants on 1 August, and giving them a ton of business.

Now to me. After all, the blog is about me. Me me me me me.

Like the heading says, I don’t even eat there. I have eaten a Chik-fil-A sandwich in the past, at their store in the Solano Mall. I didn’t care for it. I like a good fried-chicken sandwich; I used to eat McChicken sandwiches all the time. Still do sometimes. But this… this was not so good. The Chik-fil-A sandwich cost twice as much for the same sandwich, and it came with pickles. I know; it’s a Southern thing. But I am no Southerner: Pickles do not go with chicken. Not in chicken salad, not on chicken sandwiches, whether luncheon meat or breaded paddies; it is an abomination. I picked ’em off. They sorta ruined the sandwich for me.

I haven’t been back. I rarely go to the mall anyway, and if I do, there’s a McDonald’s that sells the pickle-free McChicken for half the price. (And a version with pickles, just in case you’re from the South.)

So I have no dog in this race. But my conservative friends want me to: I should go to Chik-fil-A, buy their uninteresting food, and show my support for the Cathys taking a principled, yet unpopular, position. Which surely I hold too, being a Christian just like them?…

Here’s the thing. I’ve never followed the crowd before. Why do I gotta start now?

My position on gay marriage starts with my position on homosexuality, which is one of those areas in which I am libertarian: Okay, there are gay people in the world. Big deal. Live and let live.

I used to be anti-gay. A lot of that was from the influence of the homophobic conservatives I knew. They’d quote a lot of scriptures about abominations. As a result, so did I. In college I even wrote an anti-gay diatribe about how icky the very idea of gay sex was. It never ran: My co-editor threatened to quit if it did. I was pretty clueless about how offensive it was. At the time, I thought it made perfect sense.

That view still reflects your average homophobe’s thinking. The reason people are anti-gay is because same-sex attraction personally creeps them out. Whether they kinda lean that way (and it freaks them out, so they overcompensate in the other direction), or whether they don’t lean that way at all, in both cases they find the idea repellant and perverted. They just can’t get beyond this thinking.

If they could, they wouldn’t care. It’d be like bacon. If you’re gonna literally follow the bible, bacon, like all pork products, is an abomination. But bacon doesn’t repulse people. I don’t eat it, but I don’t hate it—it doesn’t matter to me either way. Most of the people I know, however, love bacon. It’s their favorite condiment, and they would put it on everything if it wouldn’t give them giant heart attacks to do so. So the bible calling pork an abomination… becomes one of those verses that “don’t count anymore” thanks to Jesus. As for bible’s prohibition of guy-on-guy action: Well, that’s nasty, so that definitely still counts. Eww.

Once you remove the ick factor, you gotta treat homosexuality like every other Levitical circumstance: Is it covered by Jesus or not? It is? Okay then.

Is it even a sin? I know; you might think I’m nuts for suggesting such a thing, ’cause you know, ick. But the passages in the bible condemning homosexuality could very well be condemning ritual homosexuality, the sexual practices of pagan religions. I can’t rule out the possibility it’s only written about that. I also can’t rule out the possibility it’s not only about that. So I’m on the fence. My job is not to interpret the prophets in light of my personal prejudices, but in light of biblical, historical, and textual context. And when in doubt, that’s what God’s grace is for: If it’s sin, is it covered by Jesus or not? It is? Okay then.

As for gay marriage—well, again I’m libertarian. The state has no business declaring what a “marriage” is. Any marriage. Marriage is a religious institution. It’s so commonplace that people assume it’s a cultural institution, defined by the culture—but in every culture where it’s practiced, there’s a religious component to it because it, like burying the dead, assumes the presence and activity of a God behind it. Otherwise there’d be no solemnization ceremony. There’d be no vows. People would just live together—like so many currently do. So the state, in a truly secular country, has no business fulfilling the religious component. It can only declare, and dissolve, domestic partnerships. All marriages should be left to the churches.

This being the case, of course there will be churches who let homosexuals marry. But that’s up to them. Your church doesn’t have to recognize it. Neither does the state. Neither does your business—unless they’re domestic partners. Chik-fil-A included.

The real question needs to be whether Chik-fil-A, or any company, can be a “Christian” company.

You see, the Christian’s responsibility is to further the Kingdom. Our resources and lives need to be devoted solely to that. Not to personal comfort, nor even to our family’s safety; we can have those things, but the will of God always comes first. Period.

A for-profit business, on the other hand, has the primary goal of making money for its owners and shareholders. I know; its mission statement will say something else, like making a superior product, serving its customers, and crap like that. That’s just how they intend to make their money. Or what they tell the public, while they hide their shady practices. A “Christian business” is a fantastic public façade for a business that, fr’instance, hires derivative sound-alike bands with Christian-sounding lyrics in the hopes they can capitalize on Christians who want to listen to “holy” versions of their favorite pop. You know, like the B movie companies who make direct-to-DVD knockoffs for a quick buck. Only “spiritual.”

You can try to turn your for-profit business into one that only furthers the Kingdom. Lost of Christians do this. They funnel all their profits into charities that help the needy and preach the gospel. They pay their employees well and give them full benefits. They don’t base salaries on supply and demand, but on generosity—following Jesus’s parable. (Mt 20.1-16)

What we see more often among “Christian” businesses is that they don’t actually do this. They’re run like every other capitalistic endeavor. The difference is that certain rules are implemented that, on their face, are “Christian.” Like taking Sundays off.

The Sundays-off thing is something Chik-fil-A has always been known for: “They’re that place that takes Sundays off because they’re owned by Christians.” It makes them look principled: They’re willing to forego all that sweet, profitable Sunday business because they’re willing to keep the Sabbath holy.

But what does taking Sundays off actually do to grow the Kingdom? Can Christians now go hang out at the Chik-fil-A after church and discuss the sermon? Nope; it’s closed. Can the Adventist or Messianic Jewish employees get Saturday off for their Sabbaths? Sure—but they can’t make up for their lost hours on Sunday. Does closing Sunday guarantee their employees will take a Sabbath? No; they can still work a second job—and might have to, if they aren’t paid enough, or aren’t given enough hours. Can pagans, who wouldn’t get any other Christian influence on Sunday, expect to get just the tiniest bit from their local Chik-fil-A? Nope; they’ll have to settle for their local In-N-Out Burger.

Sabbatarianism looks holy, but does it further the Kingdom? Nope. That’s why Jesus kept violating the Pharisees’ rigid conception of the Sabbath. That’s why when you take as legalistic a stand as Sundays off, you don’t get the reputation for being Christian so much as you get the reputation for being legalistic.

A “Christian business” should instead be known for its grace. Chik-fil-A should be known for its outrageous charitable contributions in every community that has its stores. (And not just to the conservative Christian charities.) It should be known for the kindest clerks in town. It should be known for its bargains and freebies and giveaways. It should be known for loving gay people, not touting how righteous it is that it stands against something they want.

I’m talking about tolerating gay people. Tolerance means you hate them, but put up with them. I’m talking grace: Grace means you choose to love them. We Christians have to love neighbors, love sinners, love enemies, love everyone. Which isn’t easy, and sucks sometimes, but it’s gotta be done. It’s central to Jesus’s teachings, and if you claim to follow him, you gotta acknowledge it and at least try to do it—and stop trying to redefine “love” as “treat ’em like crap till they repent.”

Grace means a “Christian business” would fight it darnedest to keep from alienating anyone. Including people they disagree with. The business, like the individual Christian, shouldn’t take an unpopular stand, then pat itself on the back for being uncompromising and hated. Its actions and policies should so obviously show love for everybody, that once they take an unpopular stand, people will forgive them. There are lots of Christian-owned businesses that deliberately don’t discriminate, that show blatant love for everyone, and as a result nobody cares that the owners hold conservative views or support conservative organizations. That’s not because they hide their views. It’s because their actions prove they love people. As a result they’re loved back.

Chik-fil-A doesn’t have that reputation. Never did. Even before the recent news. Does my supporting them grow the Kingdom? Not if it alienates pagans. I can take the risk of alienating fellow Christians; they’re in the Kingdom already. I’m supposed to grow the Kingdom, not finance people who are trying to build walls around it.

And I would much rather spend my money on In-N-Out Burger on the 1st. Pickles on a hamburger isn’t an abomination.