Sometimes a Chicken Sandwich Is Just a Chicken Sandwich
Sometimes a chicken sandwich is just a chicken sandwich. Except, it seems, when it’s from Chick-Fil-A, and you find yourself in the midst of a culture war. In fact, the two of us are passionate participants in that war: Matthew is the lead writer at mereorthodoxy.com and a socially conservative evangelical Christian; John is a gay man, a religious skeptic, and a well known marriage-equality advocate.
We differ on the definition of marriage, the existence of God, and other important stuff. Yet we’re also friends, not in the happy-pappy “can’t we all just get along” sense, or worse, in the self-congratulatory “look at how tolerant I am” sense, but in a more challenging and thus more meaningful way. We actually listen to each other, even when it’s hard.
Which is how we discovered last week some common ground in the whole Chick-Fil-A brouhaha. Some of it is easy: We agree that Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy has the right to opine as he wishes on controversial topics, however unwise a business decision that may be; that religious conservatives have a right to express their solidarity by eating fried chicken for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, however unwise a dietary decision that may be; and that gays and their allies have a right to boycott the restaurant and to protest peacefully, however ineffectual such boycotts may be. For comparison, consider the National Organization for Marriage’s “Dump Starbucks” campaign. (Starbucks supports marriage for same-sex couples.)
More substantially, we agree that public officials overstepped important constitutional bounds insofar as they suggested that Chick-Fil-A would be denied permits because of its president’s personal opinions. Perhaps most surprisingly, we agree that this whole thing has gotten out of hand on both sides.
In an online Southern Baptist publication Dan Cathy endorsed “the biblical definition of the family unit,” and he later denounced this generation’s “prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.” These remarks could have been an occasion for thoughtful dialogue on a whole host of topics: Christian humility, for example, or free speech, or marriage, or the value of pluralism. Instead, they’ve become yet another occasion for dialing up the heat in the culture wars.