Culture, Current Events, Faith, Theology — July 30, 2012 8:17 am

Sometimes a Chicken Sandwich is Just a Chicken Sandwich: Or why I will still eat at Chick-Fil-A, just not on August 1

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I sometimes choose to wade into lose-lose discussions such as this one. Partially this comes from a naivety that allows me to make the mistaken assumption that people actually want to have a dialogue; partially this comes from an arrogance and brashness that assumes that I have something important to say, or even worse, that somehow I’m the one person who can score a win in a lose-lose situation. The arrogance!

I am under no such assumption with this post. Instead, I am painfully aware that there is a good chance that nobody will like what I have to say and everyone will be upset that I didn’t take one stand or the other. I can live with that.

Over the last few weeks, I noticed several Facebook friends making claims such as, “oh no, I’m going to miss Chick-fil-a”, etc. I find this sentiment largely overblown and reactionary. In contrast, I am going to approach a pro-gay marriage boycott of Chick-fil-a in the same way I approached anti-gay boycotts of Disney and Levi’s during the early 2000s, or the 2008 call by the American Family Association to boycott McDonald’s for its “pro homosexual agenda” … with complete indifference.

You remember the Southern Baptist boycott of Disney because it hosted gay pride days in its parks? No one else does either. Did you know Levi’s was a major corporate sponsor of a European gay pride event during the same period of time? Doubtful. The Southern Baptists did (as did the Boy Scouts), and they included them in a list of corporations to boycott. The thing is, we don’t remember those things because they weren’t effective.

I’m not saying that a boycott must be effective for it to be meaningful. But I am calling into question how much meaning a boycott can have in our current climate. For one thing, the types of events that are organized on Facebook often capitalize on a momentary sentiment. It doesn’t mean much to take a stand against buying a chicken sandwich. Besides the people you made the commitment to boycott with are online, so you aren’t really in an environment where you will be held to your commitment.

Another reason that I am skeptical of boycotts is because they no longer hold the same leverage that they once did. During the Civil Rights Era, boycotts were often directed at local businesses. These businesses already operated on smaller margins and their local nature meant that they were entirely dependent on whole communities of people to keep them in business. Today, we are talking about boycotting multi-national corporations whose profit margins are far greater and whose success is not tied to any particular community. In fact, often the success of these corporations is already at the expense of local communities.

Wal-Mart is a great example of a corporation that many people refuse to support financially. People have been boycotting Wal-Mart for years. [NB: I have boycotted Wal-Mart since the mid 2000s when they used questionable tactics to build and operate in the town of Stuart, Virginia]. The problem with boycotting Wal-Mart is that for most people this means going to a different big box store instead. Similarly, boycotting Chick-fil-a by eating at Kentucky Fried Chicken is not a very compelling statement. Sure, KFC may not be actively funding organizations who are politically engaged in defending a traditional view of marriage, but they are constantly under scrutiny by PETA for a number of animal cruelty concerns. Eating ethically – spending money ethically – is far more complicated than issue based politics. Where a particular issue really grabs you, you might feel compelled to boycott a particular corporation and I will not tell you that is wrong. But I also don’t think giving money to Target instead of Wal-Mart, or KFC instead of Chick-Fil-A, makes the world a better place.

A chicken sandwich is not where I draw the line. I would feel differently if I thought that Chick-fil-a would not serve or hire a gay person, but that is not the case. Sometimes, a chicken sandwich is just a chicken sandwich. And Chick-fil-a makes a damn good one.

But then again, sometimes its not. And August 1 will be one of those days. On August 1, Mike Huckabee and friends will be eating at Chick-fil-a stores all over the nation in order to show their support for Cathy’s statements. I will not be eating at Chick-fil-a on August 1. On that day, a chicken sandwich stands for something different. And I don’t think that is right either. Chick-fil-a’s goals and mission as a corporation are not the same as Mike Huckabee’s goals and mission as a public figure. It would be easy to confuse the two. If I were Chick-fil-a, I would try to let August 1 pass without much fanfare. As pro-family patrons pour into the store in order to demonstrate support, I would urge employees to take their order politely, ring up their bill, and say that famous “my pleasure” that all Chick-fil-a employees know how to say. On August 1, Chick-fil-a needs to remember that its just a sandwich.

Another day that a chicken sandwich is not just a chicken sandwich is August 3. On August 3, a number of protesters have called for kiss-in protests and other such events. On August 3, I would urge Chick-fil-a managers to consider the potential their sandwiches have to be more than sandwiches. In the face of people who are protesting, I think Chick-fil-a should be intentional about practicing some of those biblical principles it holds and demonstrate some of that famous hospitality upon which it has built its business. Feed your enemies. Don’t try to coerce them into leaving, don’t try to counter their message with a different message. Simply feed them when they are hungry and give them lemonade and sweet tea when it gets hot outside. On August 3, a chicken sandwich has the potential to be a demonstration that even the most significant disagreements are capable of being navigated with dignity.

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  • I like your article, Choosing your battles is a skill that isn’t talked about often enough. You can hate Wal Mart for their human rights values or you can hate Target for the fact that they donated money to conflicting caused concerning gay rights. Both of these things go against your principles, but you can’t boycott every one. What place does a sandwich company have to even have a stance on gay marriage?!

    However, for the record, Chick fil A does not hire openly gay people.

  • Well said. Only thing is, don’t say that people against gay marriage are “pro-family”. I have friends that have two dads or two moms and they are also families.

    Otherwise, I agree with all of this. It’s the same deal when grocery store workers are striking and they don’t want you to cross the picket line.

  • Amen, brother! I am right there with you.

  • I think the statement “But I also don’t think giving money to Target instead of Wal-Mart, or KFC instead of Chick-Fil-A, makes the world a better place” is unhelpful to this conversation.

    First, that seems to assume that other large box stores are the only alternative to Wal-Mart, or fast food chains are the only alternative to Chick-Fil-A.

    Second, if I care about LGBT equality and did choose to support KFC over CFA because of it, your argument suggests my choice is insignificant. This strikes me as akin to suggesting the influence of one person’s shopping decisions is negligible, which is also a counterproductive statement. That’s like suggesting that an individual’s efforts to vote or recycle are trivial.

    If you support LGBT rights, but choose to continue patronizing Chick-fil-a, I would compare you to an environmentalist who does not recycle. While it is still possible to advance the cause you support, your behavior makes you an undeniable hypocrite.

    Also, what’s your intention with this article. I would think that you want to influence thinking or behavior in some way? I see this as discouraging voting with one’s dollars. Is that your intention?

    • Thanks for your response. You bring up a good question, namely, my intention.
      It’s two-fold. The first aspect is to steer the conversation away from the level of being pro or anti chick-fil-a to the realization that in spite of what we think we don’t “vote with our dollars.” There is something to this idea that is true, but it is not as significant as we think (although, you are right, its not entirely insignificant). The illusion is that we are being active when we are really just continuing a consumerist mode of living with a different façade. A friend of mine, who is a Mennonite, used to wear a button every election day that said, “If voting made a difference, they wouldn’t let you do it.” Now, I still vote, but I do think you could change that to say, “If boycotting made a difference, they wouldn’t let you do it.”
      I’m not saying, “don’t boycott.” You will notice that I am currently boycotting Wal-Mart. But I am saying boycotting is a practice that requires a different understanding to make it intelligible. This means that boycotts need to be understood as requiring patience, a great deal of humility about whether or not you will accomplish anything, and accountability from a social group far more significant than Facebook.
      The second intention that this brief blog had was the intention to suggest that I think there are times when a chicken sandwich – or anything – can be more symbolic than I originally suggested. It should not be ignored that some people intend for Chick-fil-a to be more symbolic than I think it is, and when that happens, I think it is best to just not be a part of it. Another example is “God Bless America”, now played during the 7th inning stretch of all baseball games. I cannot stand and sing that song with the rest of the stadium because it symbolizes something different than what that might mean in another location. It means something patriotic that can be problematic when overly mixed with religious rhetoric. But I don’t quit going to baseball games. I just don’t stand up until “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Similarly, I won’t go to Chick-fil-a on August 1 because I realize that there is the potential for a chicken sandwich to be combined with rhetoric that is problematic on that day more so than on other days. But I will probably go back on August 8 or so.
      Again, thanks for your comments.

  • I’m sorry that I don’t have time to write more.

    I guess I just think this article is unhelpful, possibly deeply unhelpful.

    How have your LGBT friends responded to your plans to got back to Chick-Fil-A on August 8 or so?

    I found this commentary on the whole issue to be a helpful way of framing things:

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