“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
It seems like a good milestone to stop and pause in wonder at how amazing Twitter is, and how delightfully generous, loving, and healing total strangers can be, even as friends are being cruel.
I’m simply gobsmacked by the response a little blog post intended for a few friends can receive, and I feel honored to have found a place on your Twitter feed, your Facebook feed, your website.
After the events of the past few days, I’m simultaneously undaunted, hopeful, and amazed, and want to share with you some of the reasons why.
Chick-Fil-A had a cable TV network and phalanxes of church-based political operatives supporting them, virtually guaranteeing a day of record-breaking sales. Lines around stores make for easy, TV-friendly shots. The short-terms gains for the restaurant and for the network of “religio-political” organizations they support will no doubt continue for a time.
But, in the long run, it matters how we nourish ourselves, and there was not much nutritious going on at Wednesday’s Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. There was little on the menu that was good for their bodies, little in the crowd that was good for their souls, and little in their big day that was good for their movement.
I do believe that some people were there in well-intentioned defiance of perceived government over-reach, but the celebratory atmosphere turned the day into a feast of smugness disguised as faith and anger disguised as cheer, and I have good reason to believe that neutral people noticed.
Smiling to wound is its own punishment; over time, it erodes a smile’s sincerity. That’s Sarah Palin’s future, and it’s the eventual future of the church-based arm of the anti-LGBT movement. You can’t disguise hatred as love and expect your love to go untarnished.
So, while they were gorging on empty calories, assembling the usual partygoers for the easy win of a fast-food lunch to publicly celebrate the right to fund inequality, we who oppose Chick-Fil-A’s harmful giving were feasting on more wholesome fare. We were doing the better, harder work of creation, connection, and persuasion. We were challenging our friends, and, yes, losing some friendship, but also forging newer and more productive ones, and establishing relationships that will last for years to come.
We refused to be told how to feel or that it wasn’t important. We refused to keep quiet. We kept telling the truth, and we began to connect in ways that will last long after Fox News has moved on to something else.
The comments came in trickles, then in waves, then in oceans. It became impossible for me to read and respond to each of them in a timely way, but I read as many as I could. Sure, there was hate mail, but not much. The responses were overwhelmingly positive and positively overwhelming. Many, like this one, contained stories of changed hearts and minds:
“I was kind of stuck in the middle on this debate. I have lots of gay friends and I understood why they were upset but didn’t understand why it became such a huge issue…. Last night I commented on someone’s post that it is spiraling out of hand and someone linked your article. I just felt that I needed to tell you that…I am no longer lost in understanding why its such an issue and I will not be eating there again. I think that this is just the start of something big and I hope that Human Rights wins out against hatred in the end.” – Rev. Jason Pitman
That is so cool. There were many such sentiments, some from Christians who have embraced our dignity and equality, some from opponents of Same-Sex Marriage who nonetheless don’t wish to support Chick-Fil-A’s harmful giving, and some from people who simply didn’t know the extent or scope of that giving.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to the open minds among us, and to everyone who refused to be silenced or give up. In this polarized time, it’s sustaining to know that we can still reason together.
In addition to frank statements of changed minds and opened hearts, there were responses so sweetly personal that they moved me to tears, like the mother who engaged her young daughter in a conversation about Dan Cathy’s statement that we are “prideful and arrogant” to try to define marriage.
“Do you have a definition of marriage?” the mother asked.
“It’s when you mean so much to a person you can’t get enough of each other,” the daughter replied, and together they decided to eat elsewhere from now on.
Some of you were not quite convinced. You truly grappled with the points I made and wanted to share my post, but would be challenged on the veracity of my claims about Chick-Fil-A’s giving, or about Christianity’s compatibility with LGBT rights. For you, here’s a page a friend and I put together with more detailed information and resources on Chick-Fil-A’s harmful giving.
For those who contacted me with good-faith attempts to engage on the topic of Christianity and same-gender love, I have a very special resource to share. This courageous young man, Matthew Vines, does an incredible job of explaining why his very respectful, very devout approach to the Bible is not incompatible with same-gender love. I urge anyone who is truly interested reconciling the Bible and Homosexuality to watch, in its entirety, this video by this astonishingly articulate soul.
Some people shared more pointed questions and reservations. Some didn’t like the vulgarity of the title (here’s another version with the title cleaned up). Some were outraged by the mayors who are trying to keep Chick-Fil-A from their towns (my post was about what I expect from my friends, not what I expect from Rahm Emmanuel), and some simply wanted to hurl Bible verses at me, which invites rebuttal, since anyone can do it to anyone else (“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” – Ezekiel 16:49).
I’ve been amazed by the frankness and openness with which people have shared their personal struggles. These stories have already broadened my perspective and I’ve so many more yet to read.
“First of all, let me say I agree…with your basic opposition to Chick-fil-A’s actions and I have decided to join the boycott of CFA restaurants. I am heterosexual, but a close family member is lesbian. I love her dearly…and I can’t imagine why someone would want to get in the way of someone else’s love and family.
“That said, I did want to answer your question about ‘What has CFA ever done for you?’ Well, actually, quite a bit.
“I am a single mother with limited resources. Eating out in restaurants is not something I get to do a lot. In fact, even if I could, it’s very awkward for me to go into a fine restaurant where mostly couples are dining, and be the only one who is without a partner, dragging along a small child. I choose my eating out days carefully and over time I found that the best option for me was CFA. Every Tuesday, my daughter eats free at CFA. We eat there for almost the same price as if I made a home cooked meal. I get to sit back and relax, play on my cell phone, read my mail, whatever, while my daughter gets to play with other children in the enclosed play space. There are children of every race there and they all play together.
“So, there you have it. That is what CFA has done for me. I didn’t know, until know, about what CFA was doing against gay people and I’m very sorry to hear it. Please know, however, that though narrow-minded and bigoted, they do have some goodness mixed in with the intolerance and have in fact helped a lot of people.
“So I make the decision to boycott them with mixed feelings, but I weigh the freedom and safety of my gay and lesbian fellow citizens more heavily than I weigh the benefits of what CFA has done for me. I just wanted to let you know my perspective, in case somehow, the virulence of the rage against CFA could be mitigated.” – [Name Withheld by Request]
My initial post was a search for common ground among some pretty diverse friends. That circle of friends has grown exponentially and I still found the common ground I sought: Most everyone who responded realized that, late-night comedians aside, this issue has never been about chicken. Fast-food’s ubiquity and the growing visibility of LGBT people have suddenly demanded that many everyday, non-activist people pick a side and take a stand, suddenly rendering this issue personal. For a wide array of people, this issue is no longer one of ideas, but of family, friendship, community, kitchen table economics, freedom, respect, love, faith, betrayal and, for some of us, sacrifice.
We in the LGBT community are always challenged to let our own oppression teach us empathy for those who have been, and continue to be, oppressed or even gunned down as economic, racial, ability, gender, religious, or cultural minorities.
Likewise, when we call ourselves Christians, no matter how we hurt in those moments when we feel persecuted by society or even government, we are challenged not to appropriate the language of the oppressed to describe our mere inconvenience, but to let those moments teach us empathy for the truly downtrodden.
Empathy isn’t just some feel-good term. Empathy takes strength. It’s like a muscle that needs nutrients and exercise or it atrophies into uselessness. So, as an exercise in empathy, I’d like to make a commitment to you. With the permission of those who wrote to me, I want to share with you some of the many passionate, funny, honest correspondence I’ve received about the very personal struggles they face every day around issues of homophobia, family, and society. I’ll share one every few days, with a few of my thoughts, until there are no more to share.
Let’s nourish one another with “unarmed truth and unconditional love” wherever we can find it, making sure there’s enough room at the table for everyone who’s come to believe in equality and dignity for all people.
And, when our political foes get tired of waiting in long lines to chow down on tasty but ultimately empty self-satisfaction and willful ignorance, let’s be quick to call them over, kick out a chair, pass them a plate, and welcome them home.
Wayne Self is a playwright and composer whose current project is a musical tribute to the 32 LGBT and allied victims of the 1973 arson fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, LA. Considered by many to be the largest hate crime against LGBT people in U.S. history, the fire is sometimes seen as a lesson in the perils of silence. ”Upstairs” will give voice to the victims of the fire–many of whom self-identified as Christian–and is scheduled to premier next year, in time for the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. For more information about the Upstairs fire, please visit http://www.bilerico.com/2012/02/new_orleans_inferno_the_upstairs_lounge_fire.php. Republished with author permission.