Last year, when Mike Huckabee and many, many others were calling upon all God-fearing Americans to support Chick-fil-A, a godly business that was allegedly being persecuted for standing up for the biblical definition of marriage, a number of Christians argued that buycotts and boycotts were really not healthy or productive ways of working through social issues as a society. At that time, I wrote in my detailed feature on the debate:
Making Chick-fil-A the symbolic battleground for the definition of “marriage” is a poor use of our resources. Are we making a public statement by supporting or boycotting Chick-fil-A? Sure, but only in a coercive and circuitous way. Rather than deal with the issue directly, we’re devoting resources to coerce a company to adopt our values. This method of political activism leaves almost no space for public discussion about the issue, since our “activism” is comprised of buying or not buying a chicken sandwich. The purchase doesn’t convince anyone of the rightness of our cause, just the extent of our power. If we want healthy public political discourse, we need to be encouraging charitable dialogue, rather than economic arm wrestling.
A few weeks after my feature was written, and while we were all still busy arguing over Chick-fil-A, free speech, and gay rights, Dan Cathy, the Chick-fil-A president whose comments regarding biblical marriage sparked some of the initial boycotts, reached out to the LGBT community to begin a loving and charitable dialogue. Seriously.
Yesterday, Shane L. Windmeyer published the major revelation on his Huffington Post blog: During the Chick-fi-asco last year, Dan Cathy reached out to Windmeyer in order to understand his perspective. See, Windmeyer is a major LGBT rights advocate and the executive director of the LGBT college group Campus Pride, a group that had been actively boycotting Chick-fil-A for years. This initial phone call turned into many calls, texts, and then several in-person meetings.
Throughout all of this, Windmeyer claims that Cathy was focused on listening and understanding, and that he did not even try to get Windmeyer to end Campus Pride’s boycott of Chick-fil-A. But neither did Cathy compromise or abandon his belief that homosexual practices are sinful. Cathy acted as what I think sociologist and Christian thinker James Davison Hunter would call a “faithful presence.” He listened. He asked questions. He entered into Windmeyer’s life. From the sound of it, Dan Cathy loved a gay man who had led the “persecution” (according to some Christians) of his business. And you know what? That witness was powerful.
But what about the buycotts and boycotts by thousands of earnest Christians and supporters of gay rights? Windmeyer suggests that the economic activism was actually quite destructive.
During our meetings I came to see that the Chick-fil-A brand was being used by both sides of the political debate around gay marriage. The repercussion of this was a deep division and polarization that was fueling feelings of hate on all sides.
It was this destructiveness that initially drove me, and many others, to critique both sides of the Chick-fil-A debate last year and to argue that economic coercion is not a great strategy for social change.
Perhaps the most shocking part of Windmeyer’s moving post (which I strongly encourage you to read and meditate on) was the revelation that while the Left was attacking Chick-fil-A for supporting “anti-gay rights” groups and the Right was praising them for being the brave champions of “Biblical Values,” Chick-fil-A had already stopped funding these groups:
Even as Campus Pride and so many in the community protested Chick-fil-A and its funding of groups like Family Research Council, Eagle Forum and Exodus International, the funding of these groups had already stopped. Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A could have noted this publicly earlier. Instead, they chose to be patient, to engage in private dialogue, to reach understanding,and to share proof with me when it was official. There was no “caving”; there were no “concessions.” There was, in my view, conscience.
Dan Cathy chose to live out the “encouraging charitable dialogue” that I had hoped for without denying his beliefs. Similarly, Shane Windmeyer chose to reciprocate this charitable dialogue. And the results were nothing short of beautiful.
My feature last year on the Chick-fi-asco ended with this admonition:
So please, wherever you stand on same-sex marriage, don’t boycott or support Chick-fil-A for their marginal political stance. Give a few quarters directly to a charity. Talk with your neighbors about the issue and why you believe the way you do. If you spend a fraction of the time and money you would have spent boycotting, you will accomplish a lot more and help cultivate a healthier public square.
Never would I have thought that my advice would be followed (not that he read my post) by the very man at the center of this debate. But that’s exactly what happened. Dan Cathy went to his neighbor and spoke in love, and because of that he accomplished a lot more than all the buying and not buying of chicken sandwiches did last year.
So, I’d like to recommend that we have another Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, but not to support them for standing up to the “radical homosexual agenda” or for embracing “marriage equality.”
No, let’s have a real appreciation day. Not where we pay them to support our politics, but where we thank one man, Dan Cathy, for going against every political and social and religious trend in our nation by choosing to humbly and lovingly talk to his neighbor about an issue that matters. That’s it.
2-1-13. Exactly six months after the first “Appreciation Day,” let’s eat a chicken sandwich to say, “High five for civility!” Thank you, Dan Cathy, for being a witness of God’s love to the world.