Thursday, August 2, 2012
Chick-Fil-A: What Have We Learned?
The recent media flap over the statement by the owner of Chick-Fil-A that he opposes gay marriage, and the consequent attempt by gay activists to boycott restaurants in the chain, followed by a show of solidarity for the company and its franchises by opponents of gay marriage, illustrates a very important point about American’s love for freedom of expression. It is highly selective.
Both sides want freedom to express their opinions regarding controversial subjects but would also like to curtail the ability of their opponents to do so. Both sides want their opinions to be taken seriously and respected even though they often disparage the opinions of their opponents. Both sides claim moral legitimacy for their beliefs and practices and naturally refuse to grant such legitimacy to opposing views.
The history of our nation is a history of such controversies, the most famous being, of course, the struggle over black slavery. But there were others: Jim Crow laws, the right of women to vote, prohibition of alcoholic beverages, polygamy, legal prostitution, Sunday blue laws. And now, in our time, the “hot issues” revolve around abortion, birth control, euthanasia, stem cell research, and of course gay rights, including gay marriage.
As a nation we have approached these problems in a variety of ways: all out war in the case of slavery; constitutional amendments in the case of Jim Crow, women’s voting rights, and prohibition; state and federal laws to regulate polygamy, prostitution, and blue laws. None of these issues was easy to resolve and the resolution of each of them left a portion of the population dissatisfied with the result. But those who were displeased found ways, through either active avoidance, or passive resignation, to live with the new status quo. Occasionally someone or some group decides to flaunt the will of the majority and the courts are required to determine if they have that right or if they must be forcibly required to abide by the law. Such “civil disobedience” is a method of protesting that society has “gone off the rails” and needs to be put right again. But there is a price to pay for such actions.
In most cases – in the cases currently troubling our society: abortion, birth control, euthanasia, and gay rights, the struggle is between those who have no intention of doing these things but feel strongly that they must prevent anyone else from doing them, and those who feel it is their right to decide for themselves what is permissible for them to do. The options available to us for resolution of our differences are political-legal regulation, moral persuasion, and a combination of the two.
The difficulty with political-legal solutions is that they can be overturned as we saw with prohibition, and with various Supreme Court decisions. Political-legal solutions do not determine right and wrong, they only declare the present state of toleration for certain behaviors. Only moral persuasion offers a solution likely to last; it brings agreement as to the rightness or wrongness of various behaviors.
But moral persuasion takes time to work. Its effectiveness is lessened by human imperfection. And, over time, the conclusions about what is moral or immoral can change.
So what are we to do while we wait for our political system and our moral community to do their work. If we value the freedoms our forefathers have handed down to us we need to dial back our rhetoric, attempt to understand what our opponents are feeling and saying, work in a civil manner to persuade others of the righteousness of our cause, patiently and respectfully work to enact the laws that reflect our sense of right and wrong, and, above all else, treat others in the manner in which we wish to be treated ourselves.
We are constantly reminded that we live in a highly polarized time. There may never have been a time in our history not highly polarized, but it is certain that ours is. Much of the polarization of American politics has little to do with the issues discussed above; these issues are merely convenient pawns being used by powerful interests who know they can marshal certain elements in society to their cause by feigning a desire to correct the particular ills that are troubling the culture. The Republican Party, since the days of Ronald Reagan, has used the conservative Christian community to propel its candidates into office but has, for the most part, done little about the moral issues they care about. The Democratic Party plays to the fears and aspirations of various minority groups, including gay rights activists but, like the Republicans, seldom do anything substantial about the concerns these groups have.
To a Conservative, words like “liberal” “progressive” “compromise” are dirty words. “Socialist” is treasonist. To a Liberal, “conservative Christian” “neo-con” “right wing” “Tea Party” have equally negative connotations. As long as we continue to define each other by these terms we will make little progress toward resolving differences between us. It will take brave souls to begin the process of dialogue. Such people will not be electable to public office. But if enough of us become those kind of “peace makers” we can slowly begin to put the engine back on the track again.
Under our system of government the owner of Chick-Fil-A has every right to own and express his opinion. He appears to base it on a long tradition supported by most of the religions of the world. And those advocating homosexual marriage have every right, under our system, to advocate for what they believe to be right and fair. It is possible for both sides to hold their opinions while still respecting those who disagree with them. We do it all the time in a myriad of situations.
For the first 250 years of our nation’s history homosexual couples have had to abide by the laws and moral understandings that forbid them to establish open and legal marriages. If those laws change then those who see homosexual marriage as morally offensive will have to live with that situation in just the same way that they have learned to live in a society in which other of their moral persuasions have been rejected.