Tuesday, July 31, 2012

keep your cows in the closet

Well, no point in putting this off any longer. Today’s the big day. The day good folk everywhere (but mostly in the southern U.S.) go to celebrate their own bigotry, to which they have blinded themselves, by eating good food. Dear readers (and especially dear readers of the future, who may have forgotten totally about this incident), today is Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

Here are five points I wish to make, summarized in the previous paragraph:
  1. I like Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A makes good food. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and Chick-fil-A was a big part of my childhood. There are few meals more satisfying than an eight-piece chicken nugget box with waffle fries and coleslaw on the side, followed by an Icedream cone. This is still true. Plus I’ve always thought it was neat that they gave all of their workers the day off on Sunday, regardless of whether the employees were Christians or not. Enforced rest seems to be a good practice for a company to adopt, although it is certainly not one I think must be followed by all.
  2. People who eat at Chick-fil-A are not bad people, not even if they decide to eat there today. They are, for the most part, good people. (I pose this as an ethical statement, not a theological one, in case anyone’s trying to guess my stance on total depravity or something like that. Which I doubt.) Many of my friends and family members are among them. I have eaten there even this summer, when it was available. There’s little to judge a person’s ethics in what fast-food restaurants they choose. For one thing, none of us could actually function in the modern world the way we do if we insisted every good or service we purchase be produced by a company whose policies we uniformly agree with. For another, as observed in point 1, the food is good, and there are some good practices in place. I like to recognize what good is being done even when I am criticizing.
  3. Opposition to marriage equality in our legal system is bigotry. More on this below.
  4. Good people who act to prevent the legal recognition of same-sex marriages while claiming they still desire to treat all people equally have blinded themselves to their bigotry. More on this below.
  5. Going to Chick-fil-A and purchasing their food specifically to endorse their company’s funding of anti-gay causes, including organizations that lobby against the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, is a celebration of bigotry. The company is not suffering. They do not need your “support”, except insofar as you support their products rather than their executives’ ideologies. Eat their food if you wish. I even recommend it, as far as the quality of the food goes. But don’t try to pretend that raising your chicken-sandwich-with-a-pickle high in support of “traditional marriage” isn’t at least as absurd as boycotting the restaurant because its executives are anti-gay. Mike Huckabee is “incensed at the vitriolic assaults on the Chick Fil-A company”? Really? Because apparently he thinks critics are upset simply because the people that owns the company are Christians, which is reflected in the fact that they have not knelt to pressure to open their doors on Sunday or to stop their activism against same-sex marriage. I hope you can see the false equivalence there. No one is harmed by not being able to get their chicken sandwich one day a week. The same is not true of anti-gay legislation.
All of that was a prelude to say, W. T. F. ? Chick-fil-A is now a battleground in the war for marriage equality? One that both sides take seriously? I guess people need symbols.

Leaving that aside, let’s take up the issue of marriage equality again. Specifically, as it relates to Christianity in America. Being in support of or opposed to marriage equality is not a matter of faith. At most, it is a religious matter, but only insofar as religion and faith are distinct. If you are a Christian, your faith is in Jesus as the Son of God and the source of salvation (whatever salvation may mean to you), and in God’s work to sanctify you through the Spirit. It is not in the institution of marriage. It is not in denying the rights and personhood of others because you don’t understand how their sexuality could be different than yours, nor do you realize how much a part sexuality plays in one’s identity (including your own, including all those times you or your pastor played up what are appropriate “masculine” and “feminine” roles, including all those times sexuality isn’t about pleasure).

Your religion may dictate to you that persons of the same sex should not be married. That is fine, to an extent. You don’t even really have to justify that view in order to hold it. Your church or other religious group will have to come up with some kind of justification in order to enforce it inside the community, but within those bounds it can be self-reinforcing and can be held as a distinguishing—one might say ritual—characteristic. In order to enforce that law outside of your religious community, however, you have to make two cases, and each has to be stronger than the case made within the community: you must argue, first, that an injunction against same-sex marriage is a divine or otherwise universal law, which supersedes all other relevant statutes; and second, that this spiritual law ought to be enacted in civil law, lest all of society suffer from the lack.

Incidentally, my religion makes no such claims about same-sex marriage. I have not been convinced by either of the necessary cases. Of course I know the verses from the Bible you’ll hold up. I recommend reading these detailed and devout reflections on the meaning of those passages. But for me what is more important is how relationships are treated within the full scope of God’s revelation (I don’t just mean the Bible—I mean the ongoing work of God’s people to understand what it means to love as God loves). Despite what the memes floating about may tell you, the Bible is not a manual, and it is not a dictionary. It is a testament and a testimony, a record of the poor understanding of a few people who beheld God’s work in the past. Its primary themes are justice and mercy, along with the promise that God will bring those about. And if it means anything to you, when you try to claim that heterosexual marriage is a tenet of Christian faith, not simply of your religion, it is clear to me that you don’t want me in your church any more than those awful, unrepentant “practicing” homosexuals. This is why, while normally I respect Billy Graham and the evangelism he has done throughout his life, I am angry with the statement in which he says that the Cathys are making a “strong stand for the Christian faith”. It’s not just bad politics—it’s bad theology. (Because I admire the way Graham has shown Christian compassion in the past, I suspect with others that this statement is not actually his.)

Dan Cathy thinks “we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him” because so many of us are seeking to establish equal rights of marriage for people of all sexual orientations? I say we are far more likely to be judged for our management of money, both in how we treat the poor and how we luxuriate in material goods. For some, the solution is to abandon wealth. I say the better solution is elevation, not abasement. But that is a topic for another time.

This is not an issue of tolerance. It is an issue of righteousness. The righteous shall not be oppressors. I have seen no evidence that opposition to same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage leads to anything but oppression. One may harbor this view silently (but that hardly counts as “opposition”, does it?) and actually manage to treat others equally and well, with no external indication of one’s personal, inequitable views. No wonder so many people feel like they’re being falsely accused of maliciousness due to their privately-held opposition—it doesn’t play a part in their daily lives, and they do actually treat others justly! But as soon as that view emerges into the public sphere, it metastasizes, it denigrates those against whom it is directed, it reasserts the centuries-old belief that homosexual persons (even more so those who are bisexual, transgendered, or queer) are not as worthy of respect as heterosexuals. This despite any protestations to the contrary.

“By your fruits shall you know them.” Jesus gave this proverb regarding people, but I believe it applies also to doctrines. We have seen in recent years the horrific effects of the doctrine that “same-sex relationships are forbidden.” The Westboro Baptist Church. The anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, supported by many Christian leaders in that country. One pastor’s outrageous (and short-sighted) idea to “get rid” of all homosexuals. If those won’t cause you to re-examine whether the church should be anti-gay, what will? And yet it seems to me that many of my Christian brothers and sisters are inclined to tsk mildly, tilt their heads, and say, “Well, they’re not wrong in principle.” The thing is, the principle doesn’t work at the level of our local congregations, either. No one who is homosexual has ever, to my knowledge, been welcomed by a church that teaches, actively or passively, that homosexuality is wrong. I don’t mean no one at the church would shake their hand if they came in for a visit. I mean those who grow up in such churches are ashamed and divided within themselves, until they cast off those teachings, and those on the outside see no cause to develop any relationship with the congregation. Once the issue is raised, it makes GLBTQ persons into second-class citizens. They know it. The rest of us know it. If you don’t know it yet, it’s only because your church’s policy has succeeded in keeping “the gays” at bay, and you haven’t had to confront the issue. That, my friends, is a failure of ministry and charity.

One final side point: I don’t know who came up with the idea that gays and lesbians are looking for “special rights” rather than “equal rights” when they seek marriage equality, but it is patently absurd and I’m astonished at how often I hear it. They would not be gaining more rights than men and women who marry in heterosexual couples, because everyone would then have the right to marry a person of either gender. The very people saying same-sex marriage is a special right would also have access to it; their rights would also be expanded! Shouldn’t that make them happy? Just because they don’t wish to claim that right is not an excuse to deny it to others.

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