Why eating at Chick-fil-A isn’t the same as taking communion

My concern regarding the current Chick-fil-A flap goes beyond the particular issue at hand. More important, I think, is what the incident reveals about the continuing phenomena of Christians waging culture wars of all kinds.

When the primary lens that we use to view the world comes filtered through the partisanship of left or right, every arena of public or private life becomes politicized by the culture wars. One’s position in the culture wars thus ceases to be a limited political stance and becomes a lens through which one views all reality. In short, it becomes a competitor with a properly Christian worldview.

Some background for those who may be unfamiliar with the most recent battle: Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy ignited a firestorm with an interview with the Baptist Press, during which he affirmed a traditional definition of family. The reactions to Cathy’s statement were swift. The Jim Henson Company, creator of the Muppets, disassociated itself from the restaurant chain and the mayors of Chicago and Boston made it clear that Chick-fil-A wasn’t welcome in those cities. In response, Mike Huckabee launched a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” on his Facebook page, which now has more than 500,000 signed up to attend, including 93-year-old Billy Graham.

When a culture-wars worldview overtakes a Christian worldview, one result is that we become unable to recognize that things like food, commerce and the arts operate in a way that should be irreducible to a political stance. They provide goods and services that contribute to human social life, regardless of one’s political leanings. Politicization and partisanship, however, produce a world where a Chick-fil-A sandwich transubstantiates into the ideal essence of family values and watching The Muppets Take Manhattan is a sign and seal of one’s unflinching support for the Democratic Party’s platform. The world created by the culture wars is a sacramental world. The competing gods it makes present are idols that lock us irrevocably in a war, leading us to reduce our neighbors to nothing more than either co-belligerents or enemies to be defeated.

In this context, Christians need to disconnect the cultural goods and services provided by numerous institutions (including Chick-fil-A) from the gods of politicization and partisanship. We are enabled to do this when we recognize the true sacramental power found not in ideologies of left or right, but in the waters of baptism and the bread and wine. Christ’s presence produces peace that breaks down the dividing wall of hostility, in the 1st and the 21st century. In response, we can disenchant the sacramental world created by the culture wars by simply carrying on with our activities in such a way that doesn’t compute with the logic of the ideologies of both left and right.

So, if I am hungry for a chicken sandwich, I will eat at Chick-fil-A. What is the meaning of this? Simply that I’m hungry for a chicken sandwich. If I want to watch the Muppets, I will. What is the meaning of this? Simply that I find the Muppets amusing. We typically do not ask about the religious affiliation of our plumbers, grocers, accountants and mechanics because we recognize the reality of common grace. In a similar way, we should recognize that the political positions of our retailers, book-store clerks, Internet providers and pharmacists are not as big of a deal as we are often led to believe.

In the end, being pacifists in the culture wars may turn out to be the best way to embody the Christian worldview. Instead of worrying about winning, we can start to truly seek the shalom of the culture to which we’ve been sent.

What Do You Think?

  • Have believers allowed political allegiances/ideologies to take precedence over a Christian worldview?
  • What would an attitude of shalom look like in the midst of the American culture wars?


Comments (16)

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Well said, Branson.  Thank you for sharing this perspective.

I agree with you.  You can’t see the world in black and white and demonize the other side because they don’t agree with you, and blindly supporting the “conservative agenda” is idolatry.  Thank you for naming it what it is.

I take issue with your suggestion that some acts are inherently apolitical.

The choices we make about what we eat, what media we watch, what we buy, are inherently and always political choices, using a more expansive definition of the “political” in terms of the “polis”—anything implicating questions of how we organize and maintain society—rather than the narrow “partisan” usage.

When one buys a sandwich at Chik-Fil-A, one provides material support to a number of political (in the expansive definition) viewpoints—not just Dan Cathy’s opposition to LGBT equality, but also to American currency as valuable, to meat-eating, to CFA’s payment and treatment of their workers—in short, to the systems in which Chik-Fil-A exists. Buying a farmer’s market tomato, a McDonald’s burger, or a $100 bottle of wine is a similarly political act.

It seems to me that separating justice concerns from consumption is making one place in our lives off-limits to Christ—which, given the role of consumption practices in perpetuating injustice toward our fellow children of God, is rather troubling.

But again, that’s not limited to CFA—we should examine whether everything we consume is in line with our justice commitment through Christ.

Separate out partisan Culture Wars? Sure. Separate out politics entirely to pull consumption outside of morality? Never. We’ve already allowed for-profit “business” to present itself as amoral, to our shame; let’s not do that with our own personal “business” as well.

“Have believers allowed political allegiances/ideologies to take precedence over a Christian worldview?”

I think we have, and we’ve done this for a very long time.  Remember the boycott movements of yesteryear where churches would produce lists of companies to boycott because somewhere in their supply chain was something “un-Christian”?

But then, the other side has the same behavior.  I’ve seen plenty of comments in pop media that notes if you’re for gay marriage, you’re not going to eat at Chik-Fil-A. 

Guilty by association is all this really is about.  People assume that if you associate with a certain crowd, you’re one of them… even if you only partially agree (or don’t agree at all!).

“What would an attitude of shalom look like in the midst of the American culture wars?”

Simple: we integrate into culture as much as we can, we intentionally build relationships with God’s creation that don’t submit to His Holy Ways, and work to show them the true God.

“Guilty by association is all this really is about. People assume that if you associate with a certain crowd, you’re one of them… even if you only partially agree (or don’t agree at all!).”

While there is a lot of “guilt by association” in our national political rhetoric, I really don’t think this is an example of that… because this situation is one in which those who buy a chicken sandwich from Chik-fil-A aren’t just “associating” with the opponents of LGBT civil rights, they’re materially supporting that opposition.

Part of every dollar spent at Chik-fil-A ends up in Dan Cathy’s wallet, as he’s the president and COO and owns a third of the company—and he’s indicated that he not only opposes LGBT civil rights, he also donates funds to organizations that spearhead political opposition to LGBT civil rights.

That takes it beyond “guilt by association,” in my opinion, to a place where if I ate at Chik-fil-A, I would be giving money to organizations who push the view that my gay and lesbian friends aren’t full human beings entitled to equal rights.

It wasn’t Christians who were making a big issue about this. Those who were somehow surprised that a restaurant that is closed on Sundays might embody other Christian ideologies were the ones who got upset. I see nothing wrong with defending a Christian point of view. I agree that we don’t need to seek out services based on their beliefs, or seek to know the beliefs of those who provide a service to us. However, if we are to learn those beliefs and they are in direct opposition to our Christian beliefs, I think it’s ok to make a PERSONAL decision as to whether or not to continue to receive those services.

Thanks for the responses, especially James. To clarify, I don’t think I suggested that any acts are inherently apolitical (in fact, I would argue quite the opposite). Rather, there are more to certain acts than what you would see if you looked through the framework provided by the culture wars. So, James, I would certainly agree that all our acts are political in the expansive term. What I’m arguing is that weaponizing a chicken sandwich in the culture wars actually distracts us from the real political, ethical, and economic issues going on in (for example) eating fast food, and that those choices should not be politicized, as though a just wage or treatment of animals is somehow a partisan issue. That is, it distracts us from recognizing that there is such a thing as the common good. I would, however, argue that issues such as food ethics, just wage, etc., are more intrinsically connected to eating a chicken sandwich than are the owner’s views on topics that may not be directly related to his or her actual business. So, to be clear, I don’t want to separate justice concerns from our consumption. I want to separate our use of goods from a cultural warrior mentality that identifies the enemy not as injustice but as my fellow humans who happen to belong to a different political party.

Eric, in response to the David Sessions article, which I think is quite helpful overall, I would question the logic that produces the equation: money = power = selfhood. Perhaps that is the way that a capitalist economy does in fact run, but Sessions’ equation accepts the logic of capitalism, which I am trying to get beyond, by highlighting the fact that there are real human goods, regardless of how anyone spends their money. The logic of “vote with your money” accepts rather than questions the very system that Sessions seems to dislike, where those with the most money win all the votes, electoral or otherwise. Like Sessions, I want to keep human values in the forefront of politics and economics, but I think the way to do that is by refusing the ‘culture wars’ narrative, which operates primarily as a form of the will to power and ends up reducing other humans (and any legitimate goods and services they might provide) to enemies to be overcome.

The personal is political. Every day, we vote monetarily, for the world we further.

While I understand the media attention on Chick-Fil-A, I’m baffled that BIGGER FOOD ECONOMY ISSUES are willingly dismissed by Americans.

Most chocolate produced in the world benefits from the labor of CHILD SLAVES. http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/19/child-slavery-and-chocolate-all-too-easy-to-find/

This has been clear since 2001, but Americans don’t want to part with (or pay more) for this luxury good EVEN TO PREVENT CHILD SLAVERY.

While I don’t agree with Dan Cathy’s views on marriage, I support his First Amendment right to hold it.  Does that mean I want to support him economically (and offer him more financial power to further his views)? Probably not.

I KNOW I won’t be buying anything chocolate until child slaves are no longer used in its production. Because that is clearly wrong and should offend all people.

Thanks, Branson…

Although I agree with your theological interpretation here, I have to wonder about the implicit economic vision: are we bound to the self-narrated economics of consumerism? (i.e., if I want to do this, I will do it, regardless).  Yes, there is freedom in opting out of the culture wars, but I would argue that we should use that freedom to begin imagining and implementing local economies of care, where we know the people who produce our food and goods, and where each transaction is one of mutual care: the seller expresses care by offering quality goods at a fair price, and we return the care by paying that fair price (or even more).  Neither side is out to gouge the other.  As we abide over time in these local economies of care, we will build friendships in which we can eventually, and hopefully more peaceably, discuss deeply held political values.  This is a slow, local and conversational approach, it focuses on making friends and not enemies.

More here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slowchurch/2012/08/01/chick-fil-a-are-boycotts-faithful-politics/

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