Unfortunately, neither of us were able to get out to a Chick-Fil-A franchise last week in support of "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day," but it's probably safe to say that we would both work much harder to set aside our daily work routines to witness the (improbable) introduction of Jirom, a native of Eritrea, to Thomas Menino and Rahm Emanuel.
Featured in a recent article by Katelyn Beaty, editorial director of the "This Is Our City" series for Christianity Today, Jirom (along with many others) has benefited enormously from the Christian ethics that undergird the Chick-Fil-A organization and very often inspire its owner/operators.
While Menino and Emanuel have sought to use their considerable influence as mayors in two major American cities to wreak economic damage on the Chick-fil-A organization as a result of its CEO's stance on gay marriage (however humbly verbalized), both Jirom and franchise owner Erik Devriendt breathe a huge sigh of relief that neither of these political figures is able to exert any influence in their hometown of Richmond, Va. As we read the overwhelmingly positive and life-affirming story coming out of Richmond, we both have to pause and wonder how long it might be before it becomes commonplace for a publicly-stated opinion to bring about serious legal and financial backlash, simply because those opinions are not in keeping with the latest boundary-pushing social change going on in our country?
Whether you affirm the viability of gay marriage or take the more traditional view against legalizing same-sex unions, the larger issue here should trouble all of us. A businessman has stood up and indicated he holds an opinion regarding gay marriage. We don't see that he's purposefully making business decisions that marginalize or persecute those who don't agree with his opinion, and yet the result is that he is being threatened by elected officials simply for holding that opinion.
Can we all just pause and think more deeply about this for a minute? Are we all in favor of having one group's agenda – whatever the issue – so forcefully pressed upon our culture so as to redefine what is OK for us to even believe and speak openly about?
The New York Times' opinion writer Ross Douthat pointed out in his July 31 article "Chick-Fil-A and Social Change" that "the very language of the movement (to legalize gay marriage) is explicitly designed to exert this kind of pressure: By redefining yesterday's consensus view of marriage as 'bigotry,' and expanding the term 'homophobia' to cover support for that older consensus as well as personal discomfort with/animus toward gays, the gay marriage movement isn't just arguing with its opponents; its pathologizing them, raising the personal and professional costs of being associated with traditional views on marriage."
As Christians, we hold the culturally-unpopular belief that truth is singular and exclusive (John 14:6); this belief can often provide cause for relational strife. We get it. How much more unpopular does the Christian worldview become when it collides with the modern god of our American era, namely an unrestrained sexuality in all its forms? But until quite recently – say, the past 20 years – we have all had the ability to recognize points of exclusion and division and yet affirm every individual's right to maintain their own belief system.
For us, it seems the height of irony that those pressing for a "more inclusive" worldview are no longer satisfied with the simple freedom to live within our social structure and make choices for themselves about what they believe and value. Rather, there is a growing desire to establish a belief system that will unapologetically label competing worldviews as "wrong," "bigoted" and "homophobic," along with a willingness to enact legislation against the free-market entrepreneurship that has contributed so much to what makes this country great.
Are we, as American citizens, really prepared to have our views "pathologized" by any special interest group and our freedom to live out our own beliefs threatened with punitive legal and financial sanctions if we don't support the agenda of said group?
For our part, we are encouraged to read story after story of faithful believers who are relentlessly seeking after the good of the city, as Christians have been commanded (Jeremiah 29:4-7). We applaud the efforts of businessmen, such as Erik Devriendt, who quietly work for the good of the city in which God has placed them. And we mourn the loss of civilized discussion and debate that was once a point of pride for being an American. It would seem that the twilight of everyone's right to politely disagree is very much at hand.