Oh, you know the one.
Earlier this summer, Dan Cathy, owner and COO of Chick-fil-a, gave an interview (you can read the complete interview online, and I encourage you to because context is everything), where he made this apparently very controversial statement:
"We are very much supportive of the family, the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."
And then the proverbial chicken hit the fan.
Within 5 minutes of this comment going viral, I was already worn out from the Facebook rumble alone. I couldn't even bring myself to blog about it. All I read was "I am boycotting this bigoted company!" or "Free speech! Protect free speech!" or "Thank goodness someone is speaking up for biblical values!". I couldn't (and really didn't want to) get a word in edgewise, but I found myself thinking about the debate that was brewing. A lot. Something about the whole "conversation" (which is not the right word - there was little listening or exchanging of ideas) really troubled me, though. I actually lost sleep over it, because I didn't know what to think. While it seemed to be crystal clear to so many others, it didn't seem so easy to me. Meanwhile, everyone else in the universe appeared to be preparing for either a chicken sandwich boycott or to stand in line for hours to support the restaurant, while I grappled alone with the whole bizarre scenario.
Now here is where I'm going to lose people...because if you have an opinion on this, it is most likely a strong opinion and you are already ramping up your argument with either Scripture references or examples of people groups who have wrongly faced discrimination in the past. Wait. Just wait. Because this is my blog, I'm going to process through this my way. I hope you'll hang on and go along for the ride with me, but if your blood pressure has already risen reading up to this point, you might want to skip this post and google "cute kitten pictures" to calm down. We all know I'll be back to telling the "I wish my boys would wear pants" stories we all know and love soon, so please stop back again another time.
Between you and me (because the internet is where intimate conversation truly happens), I honestly can't figure out what Dan Cathy said that was so outrageous. Maybe I missed something, but I don't see what is so terribly offensive about one man, even the owner of a multimillion dollar restaurant chain, saying what he supports. I'm no statistical genius, but I'm guessing the odds of someone - anyone - publicly taking a stance everyone agrees with 100% is, well, rare. That same day, I imagine hundreds of other interviews were given and even more outrageous statements were made on a variety of topics. Why this one sparked such a nerve for so many on all sides seemed a little...fishy...to me. Let's face it - you don't have to be Scooby Doo to figure out that the guy who runs the company that is closed on Sundays so his employees can go to church and be with their families is probably going to support "traditional" family values. Rocket science, it is not. Pot stirring, anyone? I mean, really. The nation which spawned Jerry Springer and Maury Povich needs more yelling and drama? Sigh...
Then I got to thinking. Because I am a heterosexual, Christian woman who married really, really well and happily the first time around maybe I just have the luxury of not getting it. Nothing negative is being said about me, so my feathers stay serenely unruffled. (Not a bad gig, if I do say so myself.) But...when I step back, I can identify not quite as magnified situations - primarily adoption related - when I am on the outside looking in. Examples? Family tree assignments. Medical history forms. When confronted with the question, "Why are you all so pasty white, but your daughter is so tan?" While I am completely comfortable with our family and the way we've chosen to create it, it is sometimes exhausting to be reminded that we are still not normal. I agree with the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman, but I have a heart that just plain hurts for anyone that knows that constant struggle to fit the definition of "normal". You don't know how comfortable "normal" is, until you're not.
And then I was confronted with The Decision. To eat at Chick-fil-a on Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day or not.
I did not.
I don't say that with any self-righteousness at all. I still wonder if I did the right thing, but I can also honestly say I only care what God thinks of my decision (and please don't be so sure you can speak for Him in this instance), and hopefully (assuredly!) He will keep teaching me on things that make me go "hmmmmm". If I am a Bible believing Christian who also supports "traditional family values", why didn't I eat there to help make a statement of solidarity?
Because of a friend of mine from college who is gay. And because I love Jesus. And those two things together convinced me to stay home.
Now, let's review what I am not saying. I am not saying that those who chose to stay home were also definitely right or those who ate at Chick-fil-a were wrong. I am not saying I love my gay friends more than Jesus. I am saying that for me, I couldn't find peace going to Chick-fil-a that day.
I don't disagree with what Dan Cathy said. I don't disagree with his right to say it. He, like every other American, can give his money wherever he wants. (For real though, if we are going down this road why is no one looking into how much money Tom Cruise gives to Scientology?) But if eating at Chick-fil-a that one day could possibly be construed by my gay friend as a statement of hate, I couldn't do it. And while most people who ate there wouldn't ever want to be associated with a statement of hate, I knew for the people I care about in my life and world (yes, I love them even though they are gay and we possibly disagree on pretty much everything except how cool we all are) it would feel like that. I feared it would be presented as what (who) folks were against. I didn't - couldn't - do that to someone I care about.
I also don't feel like free speech is best defended by ordering a number one with a Coke. I know many people went feeling like this was a free speech issue. It alarms me slightly that the lines to defend free speech at Chick-fil-a wrapped around the buildings twice, but I can walk right in to my polling station and wait less than 5 minutes to cast my ballot. You want an effective way to defend free speech? Stand for three hours in line to vote.
If eating at Chick-fil-a was supposed to be a spiritual indictment against a particular segment of the community, I didn't feel comfortable with that either. It felt to me like Christians were trying to send a message. This is a case for me where delivery is everything. If I am not supposed to be the Holy Spirit to my husband (which is the first thing you learn at any good southern Baptist women's event) who "knows" me in the biblical sense, I didn't feel comfortable making a more loud, but incidently safer, anonymous stand on the Holy Spirit's behalf when I don't have these conversations within the boundaries of faithful and authentic relationship with all gay people everywhere. If the ones I know and love ever want to have a conversation with me about Jesus and biblical values, it just seems kinder to talk and listen to each other one on one and with the understanding that I'm just not going to stop loving (and liking) them even through tough stuff. Some topics just deserve delicacy (not the yummy type) and kindness. (And humor. I really believe strongly in that.) Not all conversations go well with a side of waffle fries.
Now...have I eaten at Chick-fil-a since the official Appreciation Day? Uh, that would be a yes. (Three count chick'n mini combo with a Dr. Pepper is the breakfast of champions. Unless you're my holistic doctor. Then a kale shake with reverse osmosis water and a handful of supplements is what I meant to say.) As long as I am within driving distance of one of their restaurants, I will eat there from time to time because I like their chicken.
This whole chicken sandwich "thing" has reminded me that not everything I want a black and white answer to has an easy black and white answer. I do believe there are some hard and fast black and white truths, it is just the walking them out that reminds me that life is most often spent balancing on a very gray tightrope. I am still praying about this. Still praying that God will show me His heart, and what I can do or not do and say or not say to represent Him well. I don't know how I did on this one. At least He knows my heart. And that it is still teachable.