Muslims Have Their Scarves, Christians Their Sandwiches

Political religion takes different forms. For political Islam, a women wearing a head scarf is a symbol of devotion and of defiance against western secularism. For American Christians, it looks like eating a chicken sandwich is a signal of a citizen’s belief, morality, and politics.

All of a sudden, biting into a fried chicken sandwich has become a political statement.

Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain known for putting faith ahead of profits by closing on Sundays, is standing firm in its opposition to gay marriage after touching off a furor earlier this month.

Gay rights groups have called for a boycott, the Jim Henson Co. pulled its Muppet toys from kids’ meals, and politicians in Boston and Chicago told the chain it is not welcome there.

Across the Bible Belt, where most of the 1,600 restaurants are situated, Christian conservatives have thrown their support behind the Atlanta-based company, promising to buy chicken sandwiches and waffle fries next week on “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”

The rest of the news story is here.

As theatrical as the controversy over Chick-fil-A may be (and the company may actually do well from the adverse publicity which is still publicity), one point stands out, though by now it may be a little stale. According to this news story, the mayors of Boston and Chicago have said that Chick-fil-A is unwelcome in those cities. According to Rahm Emanuel, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.” The mayor likely said this thinking that he was taking a courageous stand for diversity and tolerance. But he was also expressing great intolerance in the name of diversity and tolerance.

That may be the intellectual hobgoblin that haunts everyone living in a liberal democracy, though usually only libertarians see that tolerance means toleration even for groups or persons whose views are nutty or objectionable. But it is odd that bright people like Emanuel don’t see that they are erecting a form of intellectual orthodoxy that is just as inflexible as anything the Religious Right might construct.

What Emanuel also fails to see is truth that Thomas Jefferson recognized as basic to living in a free republic. The president’s line about the irrelevance of religion would seem to apply here: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Does Chick-fil-A actually hurt Emanuel or other residents of Chicago just because the owner objects to gay marriage? Ideas are supposed to be freely held in America, as long as they don’t hurt others. (Hurt feelings don’t count since we all face people, ideas, and acts in the United States that don’t empower and affirm us.) Since Chick-fil-A provides a service that many use, and creates jobs that produce tax-payers, why does Emanuel actually care about Dan Cathy’s ideas?

Yes, liberals can be hypocritical. But so are conservatives. What’s surprising is that liberals can be as dumb as (they think) their political opposition.

Postscript: Matthew Lee Anderson makes a good point when he distinguishes “tolerant” (i.e., liberal) from “intolerant” (i.e. Religious Right) consumer boycotts. The latter objects to specific products, the former to ideas. So it’s not the chicken sandwich that offends, but the ideas of the guy who makes it. Perfectionism lives.

23 thoughts on “Muslims Have Their Scarves, Christians Their Sandwiches

  1. “Amazon’s Founder Pledges $2.5 Million in Support of Same-Sex Marriage”. I buy & sell books through Amazon. Can I keep doing this if I promise to eat Chick-fil-A, too. Won’t I at least be back to equilibrium?


  2. As one who works right next to a Chick-fil-A, eats at it 5-15 times per week, worked at a Chick-fil-A for three years in high school, and lives in an area where Chick-fil-As are more common than McDonalds, I have two comments on the news story quoted above:

    1) This has always been the stance of Chick-fil-A, its nothing new. It was just more widespread this time around. Next week the news media will go into shock that Chick-fil-A owners pledge not to drink alcohol; Chick-fil-A assures this to be the case through interviews with family and friends, and prolongs the interview process for two years prior to potentially being granted a franchise. For the former reason, this writer never pursued what he believed to be a career that best matched his talents.

    2) And more importantly: Notice the assumption of the media, that seven days of work will automatically lead to more revenue and profit than just six days. The reality is actually the opposite but the news media…and many Christians…are unable to comprehend this thought.


  3. I just want to know why they weren’t accusing President Obama of being hateful while he held (at least publicly) the very same stance on marriage up until a number of weeks ago.

    And he claims to be a Christian too, correct?



  4. At first I thought this was the stupidest thing ever; why would Mr. Fil-A jump out and make a big deal about being against gay marriage? There should be a 2K of restauranteurs, to prevent this kind of nonsense.

    But later I heard it really came down to Chik Fil-A corp. making contributions to anti-gay-marriage organizations. Whether the start of the publicity firefight was a pro-gay activist picking a fight, or Chik Fil-A unprovokedly boasting about their contributions, I don’t know.

    Either way, if the mayors of Boston & Chicago are banning CFA on the basis of their political contributions (to non-terrorist organizations), is that even legal? Is anybody actually accusing CFA of practicing discrimination against gay customers or employees?


  5. Rube,

    Maybe the suits haven’t been filed against CFA over providing a hostile work environment for gay employees – yet. Given the politically sensitive nature of the issue and a populace that is litigious, it wouldn’t be a total shock. I remember during the Prop. 8 hoopla in our neck of the woods when some employees at the Grand Hayatt on the San Diego Harbor took great offense at Doug Manchester’s (the owner of the resort and SD real estate mogul) stance against legalizing gay marriage and his contribution to Roman Catholic political groups to oppose the legislation, so they sued him. Should they have, no, but that’s the thin-skinned nature of American politics. What I found so duplicitous about Manchester’s position on the matter of same-sex marriage is that it was common knowledge in the hospitality industry (my line of work) that he had a mistress – which ultimately lead to the demise of his marriage and a good deal of his assets. His own marriage vows weren’t worth keeping, but darn it, he sure as heck didn’t want gays to have access to that sacred institution. Of course the discussion is more complex regarding who supports/opposes gay marriage and why, and whether there is a fair amount of hypocrisy on all sides of the issue. But, whether or not CFA is actually creating a discriminatory work environment will not stop anyone from filing a retaliatory suit.


  6. Well if Mr. Fil-A had acted like a Christian and kept the political donations his right hand was making a secret from his left hand, instead of trumpeting it about for no reason (if indeed that’s what happened), then accusations of a hostile work environment should be baseless.

    So did Manchester’s employees win their suit?


  7. So did Manchester’s employees win their suit?

    I couldn’t say, my guess is it went the way of most litigation – settled out of court with a non-disclosure agreement.


  8. I’d agree that some of the reactions to Cathy’s interview, such as those by the mayors of Chicago and Boston, reflect a certain intolerance.

    Still, it’s worth noting that Cathy’s statements reflect a failure to recognize that CFA is not an ecclesial body and that running a restaurant is not an act of worship. Then again, Cathy’s restaurants are primarily located in evangelical enclaves, where soft-core theonomy is as much a part of the culture as fried chicken and milkshakes. After all, CFA has thrived because a number of Southern evangelicals conflate dining at CFA with partaking of the Eucharist.

    Of course, that begs the question: Is evangelicalism better defined by a set of theological commitments, or by a set of sociological commitments? CFA succeeds because the latter is probably more true than the former.

    Then again, are my attractions to 2K theology based more on theology or sociology. I suspect that a number of 2K proponents are folks who are disposed to evangelical theology but who would rather be dining at the Union Square Cafe than at CFA.


  9. “A Chicago alderman vowed to block a Chick-fil-A proposed in his district, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported him, saying, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.”

    Yeah, It’s already been established that the Daly political machine is an hegemony not matched anywhere else in the union.


  10. Is evangelicalism better defined by a set of theological commitments, or by a set of sociological commitments? CFA succeeds because the latter is probably more true than the former.

    Or maybe because they make a passable chicken samwich at a competitive price? I mean, how many people (before this kerfuffle) were even aware of the evangelicalism of CFA’s leadership? And even for the local version of the same (In-N-Out), how many customers really care about the tiny verses hidden under the rim of the cups, vs. how many just want really good burgers?


  11. Well Rube,

    Down here on the border between the south and the west we all knew about CFA’s religious commitments. But you make a point. If they were selling an unappetizing product, their religious commitments wouldn’t have carried them. They don’t qualify as the plumber in the christian yellow pages who people patronize just cuz.


  12. WALTER: He lives in North Hollywood on Radford, near the In-and-Out Burger–
    DUDE: The In-and-Out Burger is on Camrose.
    WALTER: Near the In-and-Out Burger–
    DONNY: Those are good burgers, Walter.

    Let’s hope the good folks at In-and-Out never take a political stand.


  13. They would be out of their element. I daresay it would cause them to enter a world of pain.

    Say what you want about the tenets of Dan Cathy, at least it’s an ethos!


  14. Substitute “United Reformed Church”, “Orthodox Presbyterian Church”, or “Roman Catholic Church” for Chick-fil-A. I wonder how far away we are from getting a few more left-wingnuts on the Supreme Court who tell us the first amendment isn’t what we think it is when it comes to speaking against homosexuality. Good luck church planting in Boston or Chicago at that point. They would have a hard time dislodging the RC’s though…


  15. Erik,

    I doubt that that’s anyone’s endgame. After all, we live in a country where a chorus of evangelical pastors can call for the extermination of gay people and be held in esteem by a substantial number of people.


  16. Rube,

    I doubt that there’s much of a difference between a CFA sandwich and a similar sandwich at Wendy’s.

    Besides, I’ve heard a number of folks say, “We go to Chick-Fil-A because of their Christian values.” So, while CFA would probably fail if the food was bad, its distinguishing feature is the cult of Branson-style Christianity that pervades the place.


  17. DGH,

    Amen on IN-and-OUT Burger! This post is a breath of fresh air. The pointing out of alleged Right-wing buffoonery and hypocrisy is getting tiresome for me, not because I doubt its existence, but because it doesn’t do us any good to pretend the “idiots” are only on one side. There are some serious problems posed by the political, cultural, and religious Left. And hey, let’s not forget that their man is currently in the White House as “The Man.”

    In any case, I think that while there is much paranoia that, at any moment, the Religious Right is going to gain the upper hand and impose a hard-nosed theocracy, these Liberal mayors seem to be the ones setting the stage for totalitarianism.


  18. Of course, the ethics of eating factory farmed meat is not a debate conservative Christians will be having any time soon, but that would be a better reason not to eat at Chick-fil-A.


  19. Sorry but In-and-Out was in the vanguard of Political advocacy.

    “Chick-fil-A is hardly the only fast food outfit to make its founders’ religious leanings part of its recipe. Western U.S. burger chain In-N-Out, founded in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder and still privately owned, has since at least the late 1980s, printed citations of bible passages on various pieces of packaging.

    The verses themselves are not explicitly printed out, but rather text on the soft drink cup reads “John 3:16” which indicates the bible passage, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The single burger and cheeseburger wrappers bear “Revelations 3:20” – “Behold: I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me,” the milkshake cup cites, “Proverbs 3:5” – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” and there are others as well.

    In-N-Out, however, makes no mention of their religious leanings on their website. They have made no public statement on the matter, other that company spokesman Carl Van Fleet reportedly saying that Richard Snyder, son of the founders told him, “It’s just something I want to do.””


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