‘Loving the sinner’ in Chick-fil-A gay marriage flap

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An outspoken gay-rights activist and a traditional-marriage-advocating fried-chicken magnate walk into a crowded football stadium and … wait, wait … enjoy the game together.

Huh!?

As the ole cliche goes, life sometimes is stranger than fiction.

A first-person Huffington Post piece by Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a national advocacy organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, has gone viral this week on Facebook and Twitter, at least in the conservative Christian circles in which I hang. The article’s title certainly is catchy:

Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A

Windmeyer provides a behind-the-scenes account of his unlikely friendship with Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, who became the subject of a media storm last year when he said he supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

With apologies to chickens everywhere, Windmeyer’s piece is filled with religious beef. Consider this section, for example:

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. As a result, we agreed to keep the ongoing nature of our meetings private for the time being. The fire needed no more fuel.

Throughout the conversations Dan expressed a sincere interest in my life, wanting to get to know me on a personal level. He wanted to know about where I grew up, my faith, my family, even my husband, Tommy. In return, I learned about his wife and kids and gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being “a follower of Christ” more than a “Christian.” Dan expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-a — but he offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.

And in that we had great commonality: We were each entirely ourselves. We both wanted to be respected and for others to understand our views. Neither of us could — or would — change. It was not possible. We were different but in dialogue. That was progress.

In many ways, getting to know Dan better has reminded me of my relationship with my uncle, who is a pastor at a Pentecostal church. When I came out as openly gay in college, I was aware that his religious views were not supportive of homosexuality. But my personal relationship with my uncle reassured me of his love for me — and that love extends to my husband. My uncle would never want to see any harm come to me or Tommy. His beliefs prevented him from fully reconciling what he understood as the immorality of homosexuality with the morality of loving and supporting me and my life. It was, and remains, an unsolvable riddle for him, hating the sin and loving the sinner.

On Facebook, one friend suggested:

I believe that this is what Jesus would have done. This is what Dan was doing — modeling Christ.

Another chimed in:

Maybe Shane was modeling Christ.

In either case, there’s a religion angle here, right? Given how much news the Chick-fil-A controversy made last year, I wondered if the mainstream media would pick up on Windmeyer’s commentary.

The answer: Sort of.

A front-page story Tuesday in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chick-fil-A’s hometown newspaper, reported on the fast food giant’s sales growing last year. The headline:

Chick-fil-A keeps growing despite uproar

If what’s wrong with that headline doesn’t strike you immediately, please refer to my previous post titled “MSM’s upside-down Chick-fil-A sandwich.”

As for the chunk of the Journal-Constitution story related to Windmeyer, it lacked a bit of the, shall we say, real life and human drama evident in the activist’s personal account:

Meanwhile Shane Windmeyer, executive director for the gay and lesbian student group Campus Pride, said he’s been meeting with Cathy since August to talk about the gay community’s concerns and the company’s plans. His most recent meeting was Wednesday, he said.

The two have become friends, according to Windmeyer. He even attended the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta as Cathy’s guest.

Windmeyer said he’s been shown tax records indicating Chick-fil-A had pulled its support of groups opposing gay marriage – including the Family Research Council, the Eagle Forum and Exodus International — as early as 2011. He said he has circulated that information among gay advocacy groups to show the chain’s willingness to change.

Chick-fil-A declined to comment beyond providing the sales numbers.

Similarly, a Los Angeles Times report on Windmeyer’s comments fell short of the actual humanity that has made his piece an Internet hit:

Windmeyer said he was Cathy’s guest at the Chick-fil-A Bowl football game in Atlanta last month and met with company representatives as recently as last week.

“Our mutual hope was to find common ground if possible, and to build respect no matter what,” he wrote. “We learned about each other as people with opposing views, not as opposing people.”

By the way, neither the Journal-Constitution nor the Times bothered to seek comment from groups labeled anti-gay in their stories. For example, the Atlanta paper allowed Windmeyer to take a free punch at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. If you’re going to stick to boring “he said, she said” journalism, at least let everyone get his say, OK?

But back to the main topic of this post.

My question for you, kind GetReligion readers, is this: Did the newspaper reports bury the lede? Rather than sales figures and charity donations, is the bigger story here that two humans got together and found common ground? Or am I naive to expect that such dialogue might make headlines?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Annie

    I think it’s awesome that they are in civil dialogue. I’m also cynical (sadly) to believe that any media coverage about this will be similar to that of Carol, the CNN Anchor. She came across like a dog with a bone, not wanting to give up on bashing Chick Filet and Dan Cathy. She completely missed the significance of Dan & Shane’s friendship.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    I’ve seen it pointed out that these days, the real story is to be found in the comments on a story. The comments on the HuffPo piece seem to bear that out depressingly.

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