By Katherine Burgess
Over the summer, supporters of gay marriage led boycotts while advocates of traditional marriage launched an “Appreciation Day” amid the flood of controversy surrounding the fast food chain Chick-fil-A. Both sides acted on deep-seated convictions, but nearly two months later neither accomplished its goal.
Instead, activists on both sides only furthered the divide between the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and the Christian conservative community. This drove the two groups even further away from desperately needed dialogue and understanding.
The controversy began July 16 when Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy said in an interview with the Baptist Press that the company supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.”
Gay rights groups called for a boycott of the company in order to support gay marriage while many – particularly conservative Christians – joined former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in enjoying the chain’s chicken sandwiches Aug. 1 to support both traditional marriage and Cathy’s right to free speech.
Many of my fellow Union students joined in on the controversy, most alongside the numerous Chick-fil-A supporters, some alongside those opting to go elsewhere for their chicken sandwiches in protest against the company.
Arguments abounded in Facebook comments and deprecating names were hurled in every direction as deeply emotional issues of sexuality and religion were discussed in callous, insensitive terms – often from people professing to follow Christ.
Those who opposed Cathy’s statement meant to strike a blow in favor of gay marriage but ultimately had no economic effect on Chick-fil-A. They showed there will be backlash to anyone who opposes gay marriage but their actions had no long-term results. The company was not hurt financially, and Cathy did not retract his statements.
Likewise, those who turned out in Huckabee’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” gave the company one good day of business, but eating a chicken sandwich on one particular day did not result in the furthering of legislation favoring either free speech or traditional marriage.
These two different reactions to the controversy resulted in something else entirely: creating an even greater chasm between two groups that have been divided by misunderstandings and hatred for years.
Throughout the controversy, many conservative Christians felt as though the Chick-fil-A boycott meant others were attempting to violate their right to freedom of speech and belief.
The reactions of many of these conservative Christians resulted in what was likely even greater hurt to the LGBT community.
Many members of the LGBT community and their supporters felt discriminated against – and that the overwhelming response to Huckabee’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” meant conservative Christians hated them, considered them abominations and were willing to fiercely fight to keep them from their rights.
What conservative Christians meant as “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” instead, regardless of its intent, came across as “We Hate Gay People Day.”
The Chick-fil-A controversy did have a lasting impact, but not one that either side should have desired.
For years, many conservative Christians and members of the LGBT community have been unable to converse, unable to maintain friendships and unable to reach any level of understanding. The two groups have been polarized, and the Chick-fil-A controversy – particularly the conservative Christian reaction – resulted in even more polarization, more vitriol and more hurt.
Neither a person’s sexual orientation nor a person’s views about sexual orientation are legitimate reasons to treat him or her with anything less than dignity and respect.
Even a simple action like buying a chicken sandwich on an “Appreciation Day” can, and did, communicate the exact opposite of that much-needed dignity and respect.
Nearly two months after the frenzy of support and furor surrounding Cathy’s statements, we are left with more division and more strife. We are also left with even less of the conversation and compassion that the difficult issues of sexuality and religion so desperately need.
Buying a chicken sandwich is much, much easier than engaging in a conversation with someone who holds vastly different beliefs. However, Christ called his followers to engage and love others – actions which were not communicated by much of the conservative Christian community during this recent controversy.