What should we make of the Chick-fil-A furore?

Chick-fil-A are back in the news again. This time, it is not the boycotts and protests that are making waves but the company’s own response to them. You can read the FAQs here for an overview of what has happened.

The key facts are these. Chick-fil-A had been the subject of boycotts and protests because they had been characterised as supporting ‘anti-LQBTQ+’ charities. In the UK, Chick-fil-A’s first restaurant in the country, based in Reading, was closed down as a result of such protests. These protests took issue with Chick-fil-A’s support for The Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. These groups were supported because of specific youth camps and children’s projects being run. Nobody taking part in any of these things were required to be Christian, to sign any pledges, nor to be members of these organisations.

Chick-fil-A claim that their mission is ‘nourishing the potential in every child’ and that they give to ‘the most effective organizations in the areas of education, homelessness and hunger.’ The Salvation Army have responded with the following statement:

We’re saddened to learn that a corporate partner has felt it necessary to divert funding to other hunger, education and homelessness organizations — areas in which The Salvation Army, as the largest social services provider in the world, is already fully committed. We serve more than 23 million individuals a year, including those in the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, we believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ population. When misinformation is perpetuated without fact, our ability to serve those in need, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or any other factor, is at risk. We urge the public to seek the truth before rushing to ill-informed judgment and greatly appreciate those partners and donors who ensure that anyone who needs our help feels safe and comfortable to come through our doors.

It is hard to avoid Joe Carter’s conclusion:

If the company said they were intentionally donating to companies that were not “inclusive” they would face a backlash. But they would also face criticism—as they are doing now—if it’s believed they made the decision to reject faith-based organizations who hold an orthodox Christian view of homosexuality. And few critics on either side will believe—even if it’s true—that their decision was made solely, as Tassopoulos claims, to “donate to the most effective organizations in the areas of education, homelessness and hunger.”

So, what are we to make of all of this?

Totalitarian orthodoxy

Be under no illusions, there is a new orthodoxy that is nothing short of totalitarian. It asserts that you may think and say whatever you like, so long as it accords with the dictates of bien pensants. At the top of the hierarchy of rights (and, make no mistake, equality has nothing to do with it) lies LGBTQ+ affirmation. And be sure, affirmation is what we are talking about. Not tolerance and equality (which, in a liberal democracy, are right) but active affirmation of benevolence.

In this case, problems started for Chick-fil-A when its chief operating officers, Dan Cathy, said that he didn’t support same-sex marriage. Apparently, that is not an opinion one can tolerably hold (which is odd given that it was the law in the UK and US even five years ago). The sexular thought police have deemed this a wholly unacceptable position that is not allowed to be thought or expressed and will be punished.

Such is the frothing madness of the position, that they will stop money going to charities that are providing social services and seeking to help the homeless simply because it is assumed that they are anti-LGBTQ+. Despite the Salvation Army’s protestations to the contrary, the totalitarian mob have ruled against their supposed thought crimes, and now those who rely on their social service provision – including many LGBTQ+ people – can stay homeless and receive less or no support until somebody else who holds the right views can set up a legitimate, better thinking, organisation that will have the same reach. The Salvationists have been ruled guilty by association and their good deeds do nothing to compensate for the wrongness of their thinking that has been entirely assumed.

Chick-fil-A will now alienate everybody

The move by Chick-fil-A to withdraw its funding from the Christian organisations it supported is evidence that they have not learnt lessons from the numerous other times this sort of thing has happened. Here is what usually happens:

  1. A mob whips itself up into a frenzy over some controversy
  2. The defendant stands their ground for a while, leading to more opprobrium.
  3. Eventually the pressure becomes too great and the defendant backs down.
  4. The accusers see this as an admission of wrongdoing (regardless of how it is couched)
  5. The admission is then used as a stick with which to further beat the defendant – their original wrong-think must be punished
  6. Penance is duly paid by the defendant to prove that they are, now, truly right-thinking
  7. Each act of penance supplies only further evidence of wrong-think for the accusers. No sin is ever forgiven, no grace is ever shown, no transgression is ever forgotten.

This is precisely what happened to Tim Farron until he was hounded from his post as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Dozens of other examples can be cited. But the big point here is that, in so succumbing to the pressure, nobody will now be pleased. The mob will never be sated. No apology nor act of penance will ever undo the fact – as far as they are concerned – that you didn’t hold the appropriate views to begin with. There can be no forgiveness and no mercy in the new orthodoxy.

Conversely, all their supporters will also feel badly let down. People who went out to bat for them, who defended their right to say and do what they did in the name of tolerance and freedom, will feel betrayed. They will have used up social capital only for those at the centre to turn round and change their mind to appease those who can never be appeased. This move will serve only to alienate those who were otherwise loyal and will do nothing to appease those who were agin them. Even from a purely pragmatic point of view, this volte-face was bad move.

Being Christian offends the new orthodoxy

It is interesting that two things seem to have caused this row. First, the comments from the COO that he didn’t support same-sex marriage. Second, the assumption that only the Christian organisations Chick-fil-A support are necessarily anti-LGBTQ+. So there is a first assumption that being anti-same-sex marriage is necessarily anti-LGBTQ+ and a second assumption, running off the back of it, that to be Christian is therefore to be anti-LGBTQ+ (none of the non-Christian charities came in for any criticism).

But here is where we run into a problem. The Christian belief on sex and sexuality is very simple.

  1. All people – regardless of gender, colour, creed or sexuality – are made in the image of God
  2. Being made in the image of God imbues all people with inherent dignity and worth regardless of sin
  3. Therefore, all people are worthy of dignity, worth and respect. Sin (whatever form it may take) is not a ground to remove or reject that dignity and worth.

The Christian has a way of calling something ‘sin’ (which we all do) without undercutting the human dignity and worth of the individual (which we all retain). The Christian would argue that we do not have to affirm every choice and lifestyle to insist that a person still has dignity and worth as God’s image-bearer. This is why we can remain friends with people who deeply disagree with us. We can love each other and yet not affirm every choice and decision every person makes. Just as I love my children, even when they do things that I believe are wrong, without affirming them in their misbehaviour so we can continue to love others even when they think, say and do things that we don’t think are right which neither diminishes our love and respect for them nor means we have to affirm it.

But the new orthodoxy has no such ability. People are either righteous right-thinkers or sinful wrong-thinkers. If we are right-thinkers, we can be self-righteous about our right-thinking. If others are wrong-thinkers, we don’t need to treat them with dignity and worth. If you think the wrong things, we cannot be friends lest I sully myself with your wrong thinking. The holy can have nothing to do with the unholy lest I appear to be affirming unholiness. The only way to appear righteous is to make clear that we are not unholy, which requires public affirmation that we possess the right virtues and publicly lambasting those who demur. It is the very legalistic righteousness from which Christ came to free us. The markers might be different, and the moral affirmations might have changed, but be in no doubt it is the same old works righteousness that lives and dies by subjective comparison to others.

Whilst I don’t have any problem with those who dislike Chick-fil-A’s stance on anything boycotting or protesting against them, views of right and wrong have clearly become skewed beyond belief such that we are looking to stop them supporting charitable work with needy people – to whom it is given without discrimination – because of perceived views that they don’t affirm all the right things. It’s not that the charities they support are working for objectionable ends, merely that they haven’t affirmed what is – in the eyes of those seeking to make it so – the appropriate view to flaunt. We would rather see the homeless not helped, the poor and marginalised left as such, than give money to a group that hasn’t affirmed the moral greatness of LGBTQ+ lifestyles in all their fullness.

This is fundamentally the problem. We have moved from a position that sought for others to leave us alone and allow us to live our lives to ones where we now must affirm every aspect of my life, in glorious technicolour, and any dissent will not be tolerated. We have shifted from leave me be to bow the knee. The first is entirely right right and proper, the second less so. And in the process, the insist that others bow the knee in conformity. It is the totali-fascist view of tolerance. All people, views and lifestyles must be equal, but some are definitely more equal than others.