By Angela Yarber
I recently penned an open letter to Dan Cathy regarding his public stance against gay marriage. I assumed Christian consumers and LGBT activists — two groups that are not always mutually exclusive — would also respond to Cathy’s statements. But I never imagined quite how many boycotts would ensue.
As of now, for Aug. 1-3 alone, there are events that will encourage consumers to eat at Chick-fil-A, to kiss a gay person in front of Chick-fil-A, to witness to the gay people kissing in front of Chick-fil-A or to eat at KFC for all three meals instead of Chick-fil-A. These nationwide events do not include all the smaller protests and supportive endeavors of local organizations, seminaries, churches or advocacy groups.
Since my letter, several people have asked if I’ll protest, boycott, patronize KFC or kiss my partner while enjoying the salty delicious aroma of waffle fries wafting from Chick-fil-A. In short, the answer is “no.”
I am a proud gay person and not the slightest bit ashamed of my partner, but we just don’t kiss in public. So you won’t find me snagging a smooch in the Chick-fil-A parking lot. Plus, I’ve already said my piece about the federal rights given to straight couples that are being denied to us in my letter to Mr. Cathy.
Believe it or not, I don’t think that boycotting, protesting or eating elsewhere are going to help LGBT couples obtain equal rights. In fact, my abstaining from Chick-fil-A’s waffle fries has very little to do with LGBT inclusion or equal rights.
I stopped eating at Chick-fil-A years ago for other equally important reasons. Namely, I’m a committed vegetarian. And I care about where my food comes from, how farmers are paid and the impact my food has on the environment.
One commentator has noted that “fried chicken sandwiches have become ground zero for the culture wars.” It seems that this debate has not created opportunities for thoughtful dialogue between individuals who disagree. Instead, it has led an array of conservative Christians to tell me that I — an ordained Baptist minister — am damned to hell or that my life is disgusting or to describe the ways my flesh will smell when it burns.
On the other side, it has led many liberal Christians to call anyone who enjoys a chicken sandwich a bigoted and hateful homophobe. Clearly, no one is taking the time to listen to the other. And, unfortunately, I don’t think anyone will. Not in this debate. Not when it comes to their beloved chicken sandwiches.
What I can hope for out of this debacle is for persons of faith — on both sides of the issue — to become more thoughtful consumers. If you don’t want your money to support anti-gay organizations, don’t patronize companies that give to such organizations.
Similarly, if you don’t want your money to support companies that use slave labor, don’t patronize those companies. If you believe that farm workers should be paid fairly, there are a whole host of other restaurants to add to your boycott.
If you want your food to be produced sustainably from local farms, you better add even more restaurants to the list. And if you don’t want vehicles to guzzle thousands of gallons of diesel fuel as they ship the food you enjoy to many restaurants across countries and continents, the businesses deserving of a protest grow ever more.
I say all this simply to point out that the way persons of faith choose to spend their money matters. The restaurants where you choose to eat matter.
Whether the restaurant is giving money to anti-gay groups, using chocolate produced on backs of child labor or paying their tomato farmers fair wages, the companies you choose to patronize matter. Choosing to spend your money at such places says something about what you value, about what you think it means to be a Christian.
Is it easy? Not at all. Does it involve researching almost every detail of every product you buy, from food to clothing to household items to restaurants? Yes. Will there be times when you inadvertently support an organization with whom you disagree? Probably.
As an LGBT minister, I care not only about the way our community is treated, but also about the way farmers, animals, workers and the planet are treated. And if demanding that all creatures be treated with dignity and respect means I won’t eat delicious waffle fries, Snicker bars or at restaurant with unfair practices, it’s a price I am willing to pay.