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🚨 URGENT: Mere Orthodoxy Needs YOUR Help

Friendship, Opposition, and Chick-Fil-A

August 2nd, 2012 | 7 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I've had just about enough Chick-Fil-A over the past week to last more than a lifetime, and I didn't even visit the restaurant today (more on that in a minute).

Chick-fil-A Chick-fil-A (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I've been reading and digesting, trying to nail down precisely what I think our response to all this should have been.  And not doing a particularly good job of that, frankly.  My thoughts have been muddled, more so than on an average day, as I've tried to sort through the cultural logic beneath both the protests and the counterprotests and what my own obligations and duties are in light of it and my desire to be faithful to the word of God.

See, I understand that people don't like Dan Cathy's remarks or the fact that Chick-Fil-A gives money to defending traditional marriage.   And I understand that makes them not want to buy Chick-Fil-A and to make a big fuss over it.  I get it, just like I get how people who are conservatives want to do that with Starbucks.

And I understand how silly politicians needed a reminder that, you know, people are still okay eating food at restaurants that support traditional marriage.  The naked hostility toward Chick-Fil-A by city leaders should be worrying to us all.  And those Christians who objected to supporting Chick-Fil-A might wish to consider what they will do to support religious liberties to make up the difference.  A letter to the editor might do, or perhaps some agitation against the HHS mandate (which was ironically implemented yesterday). 

But look, it's easy to simply suggest that people are reinforcing an "us versus them" message by buying Chick-Fil-A, or that they're merely doing it because they love "shoving it in [a gay person's] face."  Those messages are probably unavoidable, even if not intentional, and that's just the unfortunate reality of the thing.

But let's also remember that "us versus them" goes both ways, and the wonderful elected officials who poured gas on the fire weren't exactly offering terms of peaceful coexistence.  Yes, perhaps Christians should take the way of the cross and accept their permit rejections with joy.  But is there that much harm in enjoying one last supper before they do?

Look, I didn't go to Chick-Fil-A today.  I have a job and it doesn't take me near one, and judging by the photos I didn't have the time to wait.   And frankly, I've been on the fence as to whether I think Christians even should.  Ethical consumption doesn't entail these sorts of symbolic actions, and while it might be right to support the restaurant there's also something to not letting the right hand know about the left when we're doing what we ought.

But this bit from Zac Hunt, well, it finally cleared things up for me:

For me, “shoving it in their face”just doesn’t seem like the response of the Jesus who said “turn the other cheek.” Even if you disagree vehemently with homosexuality and gay marriage, the response Jesus expects from you towards them and those that would decry your position is clear: love them.

Frankly, Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day just doesn’t seem very loving to me. It seems a lot more like a battle to prove who’s right and who’s wrong.

The command to love our neighbor is a real one, and it's true that a pervasive and unyielding "us versus them" mindset is inhospitable to obedience .  But there are genuine points of opposition between how I see the world and how a secular gay person might, points that it does no good to ignore or downplay.  After all, it was Blake who said opposition was true friendship, which may be one of the few things he actually got right.  We don't have to drop our intellectual differences in order to be friends:  but we might have to be friends in order to see what's really at stake in those differences.

And because of that, I officially regret not going to Chick-Fil-A--and inviting my gay friends to come along with me, at my expense, for a rollicking argument about religious liberties, ethics, and whether chicken can be simply chicken. Actually, that would doubtlessly go too long to be comfortable, so I'd also buy 'em Starbucks to make the afternoon's expenditures "gay marriage neutral," to coin myself a phrase.

Whether they'd take me up on it, well, that's up to them.  But see, one way to overcome the "us versus them" mentality is to remind them that the questions of liberty and justice are the sort that we all live or die by.  If it turns out to be true that gay marriage is unjust because it necessarily infringes religious liberties, well, then so much the worse for gay marriage and the society that implements it.  And vice versa, you know, because if it's true that not letting gay people marry is actually unjust then, um, what precisely is stopping us? 

We may have our opinions on those, and unanimity will be impossible.  But the question is clearly not settled in any meaningful form.  For us to move forward, there must be commitments in our democratic discourse that go well beyond our own sense of aggrievement or entitlement toward an unyielding and unbending resolve to understand the truth.  It's in that desire, that shared sense of inquiry and pursuit, that the civic good of friendship is ultimately forged and reforged.

It is also the truth, alas, that the passions and counterpassions of these seasons invariably sacrifice.  Once the frenzies are whipped up, on either side, the impulse to overstate, to let the rhetorical punches overshadow the rigor of reason, to keep the outrage stoked, becomes almost irresistible.  (It takes something of a great man to turn it down and the world knows precious few of those.)  Being of an academic temperament won't let us off the hook either:  in the end, the mob who shouted "Crucify" was made up of both potters and Pharisees.

Still, the question of who is right and who is wrong won't be won by the chicken or coffee consumed.  And therein lies my worry about the entire affair.  But it is a question that cannot be ignored.  And it is a question that, once answered, will remind us of the possibility of opposition and test our resolve to see whether friendship can still remain.  For the truth has sharp edges, as sharp as a sword.  The divisions it introduces, by saying this and not that, will always be accompanied by the possibility that others will feel impelled to take their leave.

Which is only to say, "a battle to prove who’s right and who’s wrong" is precisely what we are in.  But it is a battle that should be fought cheerfully, on both sides, with the sort of candor and honesty that doesn't require belittling each other's motivations or aggrandizing each other's offenses to score a few rhetorical points.  It is a battle for the truth, not against each other, a battle to create a space where the truth can be spoken and heard with freedom.

And it is a battle that, next time, may find me and a few friends hashing out over Chick-Fil-A and coffee.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.