Patrick J Hamilton

Bell Ringers & Chicken Slingers: When 'Christian' Companies Go Too Far

Filed By Patrick J Hamilton | August 01, 2012 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: boycott, Chick-fil-A boycott, religion, religious extremism, Salvation Army

ChickfilA.jpgLong before the Muppets packed their bags and jumped ship, years before HRC jumped on board the boycott wagon, I've had friends who've been posting about and boycotting Chick-fil-A. For just as long if not longer, I've been seeing posts and links and articles about the evangelical roots and exclusionary practices of the Salvation Army.

I jumped into the pool of activism over Target's questionable exercise of the Citizens United ruling, when their donated money made a very short trip from the pockets of CEO Steinhafel to the coffers of "Christian rock minister" Bradlee Dean, who's been on record espousing the "religious" merits of death to gays. And I'm jumping back in the pool now, over how Chick-fil-A and the Salvation Army have turned Christian beliefs into an agenda of organized bias and damaging, almost tangible, hate. Time to say Hell No.

For a long time, I was willing to give both these organizations a pass. I think it is the right of a private company or group founded by people of faith to run their companies within the religious beliefs by which they abide, as long as they break no laws or overtly deny anyone service or services.

I never cared that Chick-fil-A was closed on Sundays any more than I minded that the camera shop I go to in Manhattan, run by Orthodox Jews, is closed on Saturdays. I never even cared when Chick-fil-A catered anti-marriage events.

I always knew both Salvation Army and Chick-fil-A were Christian-led companies, so their stances against church weddings for the LGBT community never surprised or even angered me. They were conservative in their beliefs. But, I always thought, they were entitled - even if I didn't agree. Easy enough to steer clear, to find another sandwich, another thrift store, another place to drop a charitable dollar.

Sometimes, you can overlook or forgive something for only so long. But no longer. So why now? Because both Chick-Fil-A and the Salvation Army have finally and fully dragged their crosses too far across the line, each in their own way, by both changing the game and ending my patience.

Chick-fil-A's COO Dan Cathy stepped squarely out of bounds when he started to play bigtime politics in an attempt to influence a larger sphere of people with his own conservative religious, and anti-gay beliefs. And he did it with money he didn't seem to care whether or not it came from gays or straights.

In 2010 alone, nearly $2 million of that chicken-and-pickle money was donated to anti-gay and anti-marriage-equality groups, like NOM and others in their sphere whose singular purpose is to shut down equality and to discriminate against or "reform" gays.

They funded groups with wildly misleading names that have "Family," and "America" in them, at least one of which is on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of documented hate groups. In statements made to The Baptist Press defending his acts and donations, Cathy remained unapologetic, unwavering, aggravated and confrontational. A bigot, for chrissake.


Meanwhile, the Salvation Army has created another tempest outside its little red kettles and second-hand stores. When "Major" Andrew Craibe, a Salvation Army Media Relations Director for their Australian presence, was interviewed on public radio by LGBT reporter Serena Ryan, he made no bones about defending scripture passages that non-celibate gays should be put to death. Not denied marriage licenses, not denied equality, but put to death.

Ryan: According to the Salvation Army, [gay parents] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?

Craibe: Well, that's a part of our belief system.

It was not taken out of context, and he was given several chances to back down or reframe. He didn't.

Even though this recent instance was in Australia, the baseline thinking, and the faith-based bigotry of the Salvation Army extends to our hemisphere too. It's been passed off for too long as merely conservative thinking. It's more than that. It's extreme thinking. It's dangerous thinking.

It's the kind of thinking that teaches kids who've been dragged into churches that gays are less than, unworthy, unfit and unclean. Even as some of those same kids struggle with a feeling they are somehow different. Even if they don't know, yet, that difference is being gay. It's the kind of thinking that leads to gay bashing, abuse, self-loathing and suicide.

Growing up, I was an (unmolested by priests!) altar boy, and went to twelve years of Catholic school, although I learned most of my usable religion - love thy neighbor, don't cheat, do unto others - in one year of Lutheran kindergarten.

I started to question religion in high school, when a priest who seemed pretty gay to me stood up in front of our religion class and told us that being gay was unnatural in the eyes of God, because it was a denial of God's plan for us to procreate. In spite or because of my pounding heart, my hand shot up. EVERY head in the room snapped around to see why.

"Father, if that's the reason, why are priests celibate? Isn't that a natural denial of procreation?" Every eye turned back on him, he turned beet red above his white square of collar, and the bell rang. Salvation, by the bell. We started a different chapter the next time we convened.

I still identify as Catholic, although I no longer attend services. I stopped going in college when I realized in that one hour, I was having more impure thoughts about the Brown University crew team sitting in the pews around me than I was having all six other days combined. Church, at that point, seemed, well, counterproductive.

Please be clear on this: I'm not at all out to bash religion. I have long said that I have the utmost respect for anyone of ANY faith who finds within it comfort, peace, or reassurance. I have great friends who have found and extend the open embrace of churches that welcome them. I am a huge fan of Faith in America, started by Mitchell Gold to stop faith-based acts of hate, bias, bigotry and exclusion without alienating those who seek a life of faith. I applaud churches, like nearby St. Paul's "[email protected] St. Paul," attempting to serve their communities with gay outreach programs, inclusive and inviting. I marvel when the man who sells produce from the street cart near me falls to his knees on the busy sidewalk, fully exposed in his faith and worship, especially in a city that still casts a suspicious eye on mosques and prayer rugs.

When religion is used as a barrier, when the Bible (or Torah or Koran) is used as a book to be thrown, and faith is used as a weapon, when the line between Church and State is erased in a blur of sermons and hypocrisy and cashflow, that's when we should all take issue - even if it happens under the guise of charity, salvation, or from behind a seemingly innocent storefront, with or without a drive-through window.

When you take religion to extremes that exclude, promote hate, deny basic rights, even if you base it on the Bible, you're no different than the men who flew planes into the World Trade Center. Either way, eventually, you end up with blood on your hands. No sandwich is worth that. No ring of a bell can cover that up.

Read more from The Bilerico Project about Chick-fil-A here, and the Salvation Army here.

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