Recent comments by Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy reaffirming the company's support of 'traditional' marriage and its anti-LGTBQ political activities have been met with an uprising of media attention and responses from gay rights organizations. Now evangelicals are speaking out in defense of the company. Mike Huckabee, talk-show host and former presidential candidate, has issued a call for a "Chick-Fil-A" appreciation day, urging supporters to dine at the fast food chain on August 1, 2012 to counter the boycott called for by those who oppose the establishments political activities.
Evangelical author Jonathan Merritt has issued a call of a different kind - a call to inaction. In a recent article, "In Defense of Eating at Chick-Fil-A", Merritt contends that the cries for boycotts contribute to a divisive culture, one that he would like to overcome with clear-headed arguments about business, politics, and the civil issue at hand - gay rights.
First, he argues that Chick-Fil-A is decidedly not a hate group simply because it does not deny service to anyone because of race, creed, disability, or sexual orientation.
Second, Merritt decries a boycott-prone culture in which consumers choose not to support businesses because of their political activities. He argues that boycotts have never produce any real change, and that citizens would be in quite a bind if they researched all the companies they frequented to determine if their political views matched. He asks, "[D]o we really want our commercial lives and our political lives to be so wholly intermeshed?"
His conclusion, then, is that a boycott is ultimately ineffective, and the only ones who are missing out are the ones opting out of those delicious chicken sandwiches.
As Merritt does, I will pause from putting forth another argument about my theological or political disagreements with his article. Instead, I have to raise my disagreements based solely on the most prominent issue of Merritt's article - his apathy. Merritt has contributed to a culture of apathy, one which may only fulfill his prophecy about the ineffectiveness of these kinds of boycotts. With that in mind, here are my counter-arguments in the hopes that we can see that change for this issue, and many others, can only come if we push apathy like this to the side and awaken to our responsibility to speak out:
First, Chick-Fil-A providing equal opportunity service does not negate their contributions to anti-gay marriage groups. Of course they will serve people regardless of their sexual orientation. It helps their bottom line. They will be happy to exchange business with people so long as it helps them keep their $4 billion in profits each year. But when it comes to helping the political well-being of the people who patronize their restaurants - there is a line which they will not cross on this issue.
Secondly, and most importantly, if a company uses profits to engage in political activity, then our commercial lives become wholly intermeshed, whether we choose it or not. In a democratic society with an capitalism-based economy, it is our freedom and responsibility to choose the political candidates, causes, and the businesses which we choose to support. These all fall under our rights as free citizens to speak out. When we frequent a business, we are not only saying, "I like your products," we are also saying, "I like the way you make them, the quality you uphold, the way you secure your products, the way you treat your people, and the way you contribute to society."
In moments like these, we must remember that we have this power. Because I assure you that Chick-Fil-A is watching its profit margins and they are waiting to see how we respond. In moments like these, we have the power to withhold our business, telling them that we are willing to give up their products if it comes at the expense of our fellow neighbors (or our earth, our health, etc.).
So to respond to Merritt's question, "Do we really want our commercial lives and political lives to be so intermeshed?" my answer is simply this:
Because responding as citizens and as religious people means we have to consider how we respond in everything; how we shop, how we vote, what food we eat and what clothes we wear all have significant implications for the people around us. They send a message to the businesses, politicians, and causes, who may be watching their own bottom lines at this time.
We need people, particularly religious people, to come alive to their responsibilities to society as a whole. We must celebrate the very basic foundation of our democracy - that every person is of equal value - a foundation from which organizations like Chick-Fil-A so glibly claim to speak without fully grasping its meaning. And we need to channel the power of all of us working together to voice our desire for change. For history is full of examples of this power - the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Vietnam War Protests, and the Occupy Movement. Where, I wonder, would these be without religious people of conscience willing to stand out for the scandalous promises of our faiths and our democracy?
I'll take that kind of courage over apathy on August 1, 2012, and every other day that follows it. And I hope that we all will.
Image courtesy of J. Reed from Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ChickFilA-ChickenSandwich.jpg