I picked a heck of a week to eat my first (and second) Chick-fil-A. The first was eaten innocently enough: I found a free coupon that expired that same day. Though I am not a huge fan of chicken sandwiches, I am a huge fan of free things.
But by the time I got back home and began munching away, I noticed a stream thick with anti-Chick-fil-A sentiment running through my Twitter feed. Chick-fil-A controversy had re-erupted: an old story about Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, and his donations to and verbal support of organizations advocating for legal marriage between a man and a woman got a fresh coat of ink. People like Billy Graham, Mike Huckabee, and Antoine Dodson (video above) released statements in support of the fast-food chain.
And according to what I read, I had not simply eaten a sandwich. I had made a huge statement: I hated gay people.
Since I do not in fact hate gay people and since I understood why people would be upset with Cathy's words and donations, I wondered if the crispy, pickle-y yumminess of the sandwich was worth it. Boycotts will be boycotts—they rage and tumble and then wear themselves out—but sometimes they do really matter.
But then it all got messier than a pit bull stepping in spilled Chick-fil-A sauce (not that I know). No sooner had my sandwich digested, it seemed, than the controversy became more than boycott or a "kiss-in." It became about free speech and totalitarian aldermen and mayors and Rutgers-esque bully-bloggers. And my libertarian streak got twitchy.
Of Cathy's traditional-marriage stance, Chicago Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno (1st Ward) wrote in the Chicago Tribune, "There are consequences for one's actions, statements and beliefs. Because of this man's ignorance, I will deny Chick-fil-A a permit to open a restaurant in my ward." Moreno actually says, his decision is "me taking a stand." It's a stand that shows Moreno's frightening ignorance of the Constitution.
I'd love to have written this off as another shining example of idiot Illinois politics, but then the mayor of Boston got into the game, writing a letter to Cathy saying, "I was angry to learn on the heels of your prejudiced statements about your search for a site to locate in Boston … There is no place for discrimination on Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it." Well, no place for certain types of discrimination, at least.
And I would love for this to have been a purely political problem but after evangelical writer and speaker Jonathan Merritt publicly defended Chick-fil-A, his friend (or, once-friend) Azariah Southworth—a former evangelical, now agnostic—"outed" Merritt as a gay man based on "the importance of living an authentic and honest life."
I happen to agree with Southworth on the importance of an authentic and honest life. But I also believe in the importance of living a respectful and kind one, one Southworth apparently does not.
So suddenly eating that chicken sandwich was very much worth it. So the second time I ate Chick-fil-A this week, I knew I was making a huge statement: that I support free speech and the right for anyone to say or not say anything without fear of government reprisal or of attacks for the sake of "honesty."
And this goes for all of us.
So those who might be cheering on my decision to "eat mor chikin" would do well to Remember the Chick-fil-A, but not as an anti-culture battle cry. Instead, we can harness it as a cry of cross-cultural solidarity and community.
Certainly, we need to Remember the Chick-fil-A whenever anyone's religious liberties are threatened—whether it's Christians taking controversial stands on marriage, or whether it's Catholic institutions defending their right to not provide services they deem contrary to their faith, or whether it's Muslims seeking building permits from nervous city councils.
But beyond that, we need to Remember the Chick-fil-A when we're ready to jump on bandwagon-y boycotts or seek to silence or shut down those who offend us or whose beliefs run counter to ours. Remember the Chick-fil-A before refusing to shop stores that say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Remember the Chick-fil-A before asking the Gay Pride Parade to reroute so it doesn't disrupt church services. Remember the Chick-fil-A before you demand books be removed from high school syllabi. Remember the Chick-fil-A before "outing" another person for whatever through gossip or rumor or prayer request.
Remember Chick-fil-A whether or not you agree with Dan Cathy.
Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn writes, "But to paraphrase the words of Voltaire that are literally carved in stone at Tribune Tower, I'd say this to [Chick-fil-A] owners: I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to sell chicken sandwiches in order to make money to help you say it."
And I think that's what Remember the Chick-fil-A is all about, because in many ways, that's what Jesus' words about loving our enemies is all about. Enemies aren't always people who want to kill us or harm us or keep us from marrying or who trample our rights. Sometimes, our enemies are simply people who see the world—or the Bible—differently. So, we Remember the Chick-fil-A as whenever we have opportunities to love our enemies or our neighbors and whenever we discuss our beliefs and differences.
We Remember the Chick-fil-A and give one another some breaks, cut each other some slack, show one another some mercy.