Within a few minutes of each other, two Facebook friends whom I greatly respect and admire posted variations of a single theme: There are a whole lot more important things going on in the world than fighting about Chick-fil-A. One focused on the 25,000 people who die every day because they lack adequate nutrition. The other focused on a number of friends who face terrible, even hopeless, fights against cancer.
Without denigrating the significance of either of those very real, very awful problems, I cannot agree.
Now, to the extent that we’re simply fighting over Dan Cathy’s rather uninteresting views on gay marriage – news flash: southern Christian opposes gay marriage! – then I can see where they’re coming from. But Cathy’s views have shone new light on Chick-fil-A’s contributions to various groups, some of which are repulsive, and reminded us that discrimination and injustice remain very much alive and well in the United States. I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by downplaying these real concerns, no matter how serious the problems to which we compare them.
In fact, they remind me a great deal of the now-famed Jen Hatmaker post, the well-written, poorly considered call for Christians to get into the basement to ride out the latest storm in the culture wars. Except apparently Hatmaker’s basement serves Chick-fil-A, which means she completely missed the point. She writes:
If you are weary of the storm, come on downstairs. We’re going to get on with the business of loving people and battling real injustices and caring for the poor and loving Jesus. We’re going to go ahead and offer mercy to one another, even if it is viewed as “soft” or “cowardly” or “dangerous.” (Emphasis hers.)
That sounds good. Except that to thousands of gay men and women, there are real injustices going on upstairs, as well. Alise Wright put it far better than I could:
I really want this to be enough. But here’s the thing.
For a lot of people, this is a real injustice.
Somewhere up to 40% of all homeless youth identify as LGBT, and of those, almost 80% left because their families rejected them when they came out.
That’s a real injustice.
There are more than 1100 federal benefits denied to same-sex couples.
That’s a real injustice.
LGBT youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
That’s a real injustice.
Dan Cathy’s comments contribute to this injustice, and that is a problem – and it is an important problem. But an even bigger problem is Chick-fil-A’s monetary support for injustice, in the form of its contributions to groups that stigmatize, demean and even slander LGBT men and women.
Equality Matters has a fair rundown of the groups Chick-fil-A has supported through its charitable arm, the WinShape Foundation.
In 2009, WinShape gave $1.7 million to what Equality Matters deems “anti-gay” groups. That’s an accurate label in its strictest sense, but some of them – the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, for example – are just Christian groups with typically conservative, I would say ignorant, views on homosexuality and gay marriage that are not the focus of their organization. It doesn’t make those views (homosexuality as a choice rather than a generally inborn trait, for example) right, and in 50 years I firmly believe Christians will look back at the use of the Bible to oppose gay marriage the same way Christians now look back in embarrassment on the way the Bible was used to support slavery and segregation. But I’m not going to say FCA is “anti-gay” when that issue isn’t really on their radar.
Nevertheless, WinShape has also supported the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund, the “implementation and funding arm” of a group formed to fight against “the downward spiral of marriage and the traditional family in America,” whatever that means (it usually means opposition to gay marriage, as I haven’t heard too many Christians lately rail against divorce); and the National Christian Foundation, which is “a grant-making foundation” that in turn donates money to some of the same groups WinShape supports directly.
But the four groups to whom Chick-fil-A has donated that raise the biggest alarms are these:
- Focus on the Family, which as I’ve discussed before, dismisses efforts by public schools to reduce the bullying of LGBT youth, despite overwhelming evidence that such bullying leads to drastically increased rates of suicide. James Dobson has described the gay-rights movement as “the greatest threat to your children” and “of particular threat to your wide-eyed boys.” Focus on the Family has described “the homosexual agenda” as a “beast” that “wants our kids.”
- The Eagle Forum, which opposed the Supreme Court’s decriminalization of gay sex and has railed against the “gay agenda,” which is sadly typical fear-mongering designed to prey on the fears of ignorant Christians.
- Exodus International, whose “ex-gay” reparative therapy the organization itself is now claiming to repudiate is so dangerous, it’s been banned by the American Psychological Association. Exodus has labeled being gay as “perverse,” and its methods have unquestionably helped fuel the alarming suicide rate among LGBT youth.
- Family Research Council, which has rightly been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, makes explicit what is implied by groups like Focus on the Family and the Eagle Forum by repeatedly – and falsely – alleging that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles than straight men. As recently as 2010, the group’s president said pedophilia is “a homosexual problem.”
In addition to the $1.2 million WinShape donated to the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund and the National Christian Foundation (which in turn donates to at least two of the four groups highlighted above), Chick-fil-A in 2009 gave nearly $20,000 to these four groups, which are responsible for fueling some of the worst rhetoric against gays and lesbians. But not just gay and lesbian adults – gay and lesbian children, who are most at risk of being bullied, rejected and abandoned; most likely to become homeless; and most likely to kill themselves. Because when James Dobson calls homosexuality a “threat” or Phyllis Schafly calls it “perverse,” or Tony Perkins says gay people are more likely to be pedophiles – gay teens listen, and they believe, and they despair, and they act.
Chick-fil-A supports that kind of rhetoric with the immense resources at its disposal. And that matters.
Dan Cathy and his supporters can claim his restaurant doesn’t discriminate, and in a technical sense perhaps that is true. Chick-fil-A has not, to my knowledge, ever turned away a customer or applicant because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. But Chick-fil-A, by supporting with word and deed the stigmatization of men and women whose crime is being born different from the majority yet asking to be treated the same, is making discrimination easier. Chick-fil-A supports, promotes and funds real injustice that leads to real consequences, including a plague of suicide that has claimed hundreds upon hundreds of young people who cannot live with their sexuality.
Whatever your ultimate stance on the Bible and homosexuality, that matters. Whether you decide to patronize Chick-fil-A or not, it is important. We should not dismiss it. Rather, we should mourn it. We should fight it. There should be no place among Christ’s followers for discrimination and injustice, and their support by some of the most prominent of those who claim his name is well worth discussing.