A Christian Left Perspective On Chick-fil-A

Since when does the so-called Religious Right own the trademark on the word Christian? In the days since Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy made public his remarks about "the biblical definition of the family unit," a heated national debate has been set off.  Not to mention Cathy's assertion that, “We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”

Chick-fil-A Kiss-in. Photo courtesy of Paul Weiskel


I’ve noticed an annoying tendency among both conservative Christians and secular (or at least non-Christian) liberals.   In comment threads, social media posts and newspaper interviews, I have encountered the irritating assumption that there is only one kind of Christian. That simply isn’t true. Christians are not a monolithic group. Many of us on the Christian Left happen to support gay rights and believe that marriage equality isn’t in conflict with biblical principles at all. Some of us don’t identify with Cathy’s moralistic, fire-and-brimstone view of Christianity.


In the churches I’ve attended - from Scotland to San Francisco to Omaha - there is widespread support for marriage equality. These folks aren’t ignoring biblical teachings, as I’m sure some would argue. They’re putting those teachings into context. The Bible - like many holy books - is subject to interpretation and debate. It’s full of poetry, parables and paradoxes. For the first time this week, I heard the term “biblically-based” marriage. I know what it’s supposed to mean, but using the Bible to establish the superiority of heterosexual, monogamous marriage seems a little faulty to me, but I’m not a theologian.

The inclusive congregation of Glide Memorial Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of Yusuke Kawasaki.


My mother-in-law, however, is.   Rev. Anne Wrider has been an Episcopal priest for more than 25 years. She was something of a pioneer in the world of vestment -wearing women and an early participant in HIV/AIDS ministry. I asked her what she thinks of the term, “biblically-based marriage.”


“The Bible condones polygamy all over the place, “ Anne told me over the phone. She suggests that “biblically-based marriage” could not only include polygamy, but also a woman having to marry her rapist and a man having to marry his brother’s widow.   She said of Cathy and other conservative Christians, “If they want biblically-based marriage, they need to have all of it and not just what they choose.”


Photo courtesy of Honor Bound

Anne explained that she believes the Bible is about relationships - our relationship with God over time. She points out that people’s relationships with God were different in 36 B.C.E. than they are in 2012 and that the Bible must be taken in historical context. Also, while the Old Testament mentions homosexuality - right alongside not eating pork and sacrificing lambs - Jesus doesn’t have a thing to say about it. He did talk about men respecting their wives, which was progressive at a time when women were essentially chattel. Anne also suggests that we have the example of the way Jesus lived his life. He was not a rule follower. He spent his time with the outcasts of society and talked about helping the poor and the downtrodden.


Anne went further with her criticism of conservative religious leaders and the organizations that Chick-fil-A has been denounced for supporting.   “People who use the Bible that way always take only the parts of the Bible that reinforce their own opinions….they use the Bible as a weapon, which frankly I think is sacrilegious.”


Screen shot of Fox News headline.

While Dan Cathy and other religious conservatives absolutely have a right to practice their version of Christianity and to speak out about it, I am equally entitled to disagree with those views. I understand that the ostensible reason for Mike Huckabee’s Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was to support Cathy’s First Amendment rights and I’m sure that some people participated with that in mind.   But I think that argument is a convenient cover for condoning the suppression of LGBT civil rights. It’s only a First Amendment issue if the government tries to impede those rights, which it is not doing. I also fully acknowledge that there are many in the conservative Christian community, such as my colleague Bobbi Jo Rohrberg, who care deeply about their gay friends while maintaining their support for what they see as traditional marriage. There is a lot of variation across the Christian spectrum.


Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. Photo courtesy of Jason Steffens.

It’s impossible to make every shopping decision based on politics and social views. I’m certain I unwittingly patronize corporations that support causes in conflict with my views all the time. Sometimes I patronize those businesses despite knowing full well that my money isn’t going where I’d like it to go. I won’t be eating at Chick-fil-A anytime soon, though. Dan Cathy’s comments turned his company into an emblem of sorts in the marriage equality fight and to patronize Chick-fil-A would mean that I was telling my gay friends that their relationships are not equal to mine.


Rev. Wrider said it best. While Jesus doesn’t talk about homosexuality, she reminded me, “He says a great deal about not judging others. Lots and lots about not judging.”