Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Chick-fil-A is no stranger to outrage and controversy, but this past week it incurred the outrage of an unlikely demographic: conservatives. Many outlets have already covered what transpired after the organization released its latest financial statement. Nevertheless, I must keep up this little corner of the ‘net somehow, so consider this my nickel in the proverbial Salvation Army kettle.
For those who missed it, it has apparently come to Chick-fil-A’s attention that the Salvation Army, despite tangibly aiding numerous impoverished and homeless gay people and loudly advertising its non-discriminatory hiring practices, still exists while not having conceded every possible inch of square ground that could be conceded to the gay lobby. Their official policy language dictates that people who hold “leadership roles” should adhere to “Salvation Army beliefs,” which includes not engaging in same-sex relationships. Their clergy don’t perform same-sex weddings, although the organization does rent out their meeting rooms for same-sex wedding receptions. Officers can even affirm and participate as guests at same-sex weddings as long as they aren’t in uniform.
Nevertheless, because some shred of actual Methodism still remains somewhere in the official structure of the organization if you peer hard enough with a magnifying glass, apparently all this is still not enough to wash away that damned spot. According to Chick-fil-A President Tim Tassopoulos, cutting off financial aid to “anti-LGBTQ organizations” like the Salvation Army is a necessary business step after “taking it on the chin” from hostile regions where the chain hoped to expand. (The irony that this should coincide with their exciting new charitable commitment to alleviating poverty and homelessness has not been lost.) He also says it’s necessary in order to clarify “who we are.” Whatever Mr. Tassopoulos’s other goals may be, suffice it to say he has succeeded in that one.
In a recent blog post, the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore asks the rhetorical question, “Should You Be Angry At Chick-fil-A?” The post lives up to its title with the sort of vaguely chiding sanctimony that is Moore’s wont. Christians’ anger is “understandable,” he soothes, but perhaps we should wait and reserve judgement until it’s a bit clearer what’s really going on here. “I’m not sure what direction Chick-fil-A is going with this,” he repeats twice with furrowed brow.
But, he says, let us make the leap over seventy thousand fathoms and just suppose “for the sake of the argument” that Chick-fil-A is in fact kicking their friends in the back to appease the mob. His first suggestion is not to boycott, since boycotts tend to be little more than symbolic gestures. (I have no dog in this particular fight, being the sort of consumer who wants both my chicken sandwich and my Starbucks coffee now rather than later, and also being the sort of consumer who doesn’t like to punish decent people down the food chain of a food chain for the cowardice of their superiors.)
Moving on, he offers this reflection:
There’s a place for Christians to engage with the company, to ask questions, and to provide input on to what they are saying with their withholding of funds in the future. We should be engaged, but we shouldn’t feel betrayed and defeated. Whatever the cultural markers of “Christian chicken” that we half-way joke about it, the Bible and the gospel do not need corporate sponsorship, of any kind.
He also suggests that “a corporation is always going to disappoint as a moral model.” This sounds like easy wisdom, but I’m reluctant to buy the mentality behind it. I’m disinclined to buy it for the same reason I was disinclined to buy it when some evangelicals reacted to comedian John Crist’s recently breaking sex scandals with “What did you expect? All human beings disappoint as a moral model.”
Perhaps I’m naïve, but I still have a fondness for the idea of expecting something of people, including the individual people who make up corporate Christian entities. I still like the idea that when someone who claims to represent Christ in the public square does something egregiously immoral, or shameful, or craven, people who used to admire them react with “Well, that’s a damn shame.”
Moore finally concludes, “Jesus is never made frantic, neither by those who oppose him, nor by his disciples when they go a bit wobbly. He is here to feed us with food we know not of, food we ignore because we are too consumed talking about how to feed our stomachs (Mk 8:14-21).”
Where we would all be without Dr. Moore to remind us that we should put our trust in Jesus rather than fast food corporations, I dare not think. As Hans Fiene bitingly puts it, “The real reason we’re upset about Chick-fil-A is because we have gotten confused and concluded that a chicken sandwich restaurant is the Church. Such fools we are!”
Perhaps it’s ironic that I should find a young, unapologetically active gay classicist to be a clearer and more insightful voice on Chick-fil-A vs. The World than the president of the ERLC. But here I go, quoting Spencer Klavan (yes, ap Andrew) at the American Mind:
Christians are invested in Chick-fil-A’s decisions not because they are obsessed with fried chicken, but because they understand the stakes of the confrontation playing out in front of them. In the language of brand warfare, radical gay activists have made their message to the Church quite explicit: nothing but your annihilation will be enough.
As Klavan incisively writes, for leftists this is a zero-sum combat to the death. They agitate not out of any genuine care or concern for gay people, but out of pure spite that somewhere there should exist even one business whose owners disagree with them.
While I’m quoting gay men who distinguish themselves from some evangelicals by having something fresh and interesting to say, Douglas Murray offers his British perspective on Chick-fil-A’s abortive attempt to open in Reading here. He highlights something else that should worry not just conservative Christians but any individual who values his free expression: the terrifying vulnerability that is exposed when bullies have their way with a corporation.
For another example, Murray considers the case of Equinox Fitness gyms, whose celebrity clients decided “they could not possibly push weights or fall off a yoga ball” in a gym whose parent company had a chairman discovered to be fundraising for Donald Trump. A flurry of apologetic e-mails swiftly followed, in which Chairman Ross was thrown under the nearest bus, and a million-dollar donation to the ‘House Ballroom Community comprised of sexual and gender minority people of color (LGBTQ and gender non-conforming)’ was offered as tribute. “You’ll recognize that sound,” writes Murray, sticking the shiv in the ribs. “It is the sound of a modern corporate begging for its life.”
It also emerges in Murray’s article that Chick-fil-A has in fact been dabbling in LGBT-related donations for a while. While it’s never donated to a minority transgendered ethnic dance community, that we know of, it threw cash with limp-wristed wistfulness at some gay film festivals and an Iowa Pride picnic. Murray turns the knife: “It didn’t exactly beg for its corporate life, but it did suggest that it would be nice if it could have one.”
And now here we are, and here’s the Salvation Army, holding their red kettle and ringing their little bell and feeling just slightly confused. And yes, you bet I’m a little bit angry about it all. Angry, and also alarmed, because if the Salvation Army can be made to pay today, what about the little guy who sticks up for the Salvation Army on his FaceBook page tomorrow?
But at least there’s a happy ending for one person out of all this: Tim Tassopoulos. For my part, I can only think of Thomas More’s words to Richard Rich in A Man for All Seasons, when Rich betrays him in exchange for being made attorney-general of Wales. Why, Mr. Tassopoulos, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales?