Since I joined Weight Watchers a couple of years ago, I have given many of my gay dollars to Chick-fil-A. Their salads and grilled chicken sandwiches are perfect for those of us watching our waists by watching our daily points values. I went there understanding that the company’s Christian values probably didn’t match my own Christian values – but my daily points bottom line seemed to win out each time.
Now, LGBT rights organizations are telling me that if I’m eating Chick-fil-A, I’m eating anti-gay. The charge comes after a franchise owner in Pennsylvania agreed to cater an upcoming conference on marriage put on by the anti-gay Pennsylvania Family Institute.
Given the history of Chick-fil-A, I can’t say that I’m surprised. In response to the uproar, Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy, son of founder Truett Cathy, released a statement, and a video, affirming that “Chick-fil-A serves all people and values all people.” In the same breath, however, Cathy affirms that while he believes “in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.”
First, I’d disagree that he believes in the “Biblical definition of marriage,” unless he also supports polygamy, which is definitely one of the Bible’s several definitions of marriage. Nevertheless, Cathy’s words resonate with me as a Christian who happens to be a lesbian. Cathy’s excuses for his restaurant’s actions echo what gays and lesbians hear from the church all the time. “You’re welcome to be in our pews,” they tell us. “We serve all people and value all people. We’ll be glad to take your time, talents, and tithes, but institutionally, we find you incompatible with what we believe about the Bible and God. But we love and respect you even if we disagree with you and deny you full entry into the life and service of this institution.”
The parallel isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. According to the New York Times, to even work for Chick-fil-A potential operators must reveal their “marital status and civic and church involvement.” The chain was even sued in 2002 by a Muslim restaurant owner in Houston “who said he was fired because he did not pray to Jesus with other employees at a training session. The suit was settled.”
The company also runs WinShape Foundation that promotes “traditional” marriage as well as a retreat center near Rome, Georgia. Gays and lesbians looking for a retreat should look elsewhere, however. In an email exchange with one gay blog, the retreat center made it clear that it defines marriage as being between one man and woman and gay couples would not be welcome.
Boycotts of Chick-fil-A have been called for, but as any consumer knows, fighting injustice is not as easy as simply heading for another chicken outfit. I know Wal-Mart is ethically challenged in many ways and has decimated many local economies with its low prices – and low wages. But, when you’re in a small town and that’s all that’s left, sometimes you’ve got to dance with the devil to get eggs and bread. Target used to be the alternative – though a longer drive – but even they are now suspect after making campaign contributions to anti-gay candidates last year. Economic morality is a challenging game, and often not very effective as taste buds and Weight Watcher point programs win out.
Dan Cathy protests that serving food at these marriage events is “not an endorsement of the mission, political stance or motives of this or any other organization,” but I don’t see any of their restaurants at gay pride events, so it’s clear that the company does choose who it will cater to, and who it won’t.
For gays and lesbians continually facing economic, political, and religious oppression, it may feel good to quietly “eat less chikin” and put fewer dollars in Cathy coffers, but a more effective strategy may be what gays and lesbians in the church have done – refuse to leave and instead become more vocal, more visible, and continue to agitate for full equality in every facet of the institution.