The Chick-fil-A issues has been much commented on, so I might as well wade in along with the others.
The first thing that should not need to be said is that Mr. Cathy has the right to speak as he pleases whether or not I agree with what he says. The second does need to be said, and that is that the mayors of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco also have the right to speak out, but not the right to announce a preemptive ban on a business that otherwise meets all legal requirements to exist in their cities. A vindictive Mr. Cathy might open a restaurant in each city just to make a point, even at the cost of losing a lot of money.
Moving on, having listened to news excerpts of his speeches and writings, I’m terribly disappointed to learn that Mr. Cathy has little understanding of the bible, and easily confuses custom with exegesis. Marriage is often mentioned in scripture, and in such a wide variety of settings that I don’t think one can draw any kind of line that defines what God says marriage is. The church hierarchy in the Christian west has tended to accept and enforce, in the name of God, whatever the cultural norm was at any given time, and there have been many changes in that norm over the centuries. As for my denomination, the Episcopal Church, I think our recent ten or twenty years of study was probably the first time that we have taken the time and invested the energy to do careful and prayerful theological study on the question of marriage. Even now, our recently authorized rites of blessing are for same sex unions, not marriage per se. Going against the cultural norm is not easy, even if we are convinced that it is the Godly thing to do, and the direction in which cultural norms are changing.
That aside, I have not given much thought to Chick-fil-A for many years, but this episode brought to mind a men’s prayer breakfast in New York City that I was invited to attend sometime around 1996 or ’97. Mr. Cathy (the elder, I presume) was the featured speaker, and had been described to me as an upstanding Christian man who was unafraid to run his business by Christian principles and speak boldly for Jesus. The only thing I knew about Chick-fil-A was that I had walked by its outlets in the Atlanta airport many times.
The prayer breakfast seemed to revolve around two themes: first, to thank God that we successful (or wannabe successful) men (mostly white) were especially blessed – thank you Jesus; second, to assure one another that God looked favorably on our desires for the kind of people we believed ourselves to be, the kind of country we lived in, and the way we did business. What soon became clear was that this Christian testimony was nothing more than a reactionary political agenda wrapped in an American flag to which the name of Jesus had been affixed as many times as possible. It was patronizing to the nth degree, self laudatory, and indeed he did speak boldly for Jesus, which is to say that he authorized himself to speak authoritatively on Jesus’ behalf. For what it’s worth, I don’t recall that he had anything to say about homosexuality or marriage.
I was dumfounded. I had never heard such condescending, self serving hubris in all my life. At the same time, it was equally clear that he was a true believer. Whatever else he was, he was no phony. He really believed everything he was saying to the last syllable. That meant that, for at least a part of the audience, he was a most persuasive salesman. Not for all. New York City is a place where skepticism flourishes. As for me, I left with an unpleasant sense that the patriotic, mercantile Christianity he was selling had little to do with the Christian faith that I had been a part of all my life, and now served as ordained clergy.
What I did not know then is that he spoke, if not for Jesus, for a great many others who believe as he did, as his son does now, and that troubles me. They are free to say whatever they like. It’s their First Amendment right. They do not have the right to stand unopposed by others exercising their First Amendment rights.