Earlier this week, a ThinkProgress reader wrote us, objecting to our description of Chick-fil-A as a “Christian-run” company. He cited the many steps the Episcopal Church has taken toward supporting LGBT equality as “real Christianity in action,” accusing Chick-fil-A of using Christianity as “cover for their own bigotry.” Obviously, ThinkProgress cannot and will not impose judgment upon how any individual, anti-LGBT or otherwise, expresses their religious beliefs. Nevertheless, the reader’s concern has considerable merit, and as conservatives flock to “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” it’s important to consider what exactly they are defending and how.
Arguably, the rise of the Christian Right is due for a 40th anniversary to mark the appropriation of Christianity by conservatives like Pat Robertson, Phyllis Schlafly, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and Ralph Reed. This coalition of mostly evangelical Christians, Catholics, and Mormons has largely succeeded in reducing the cultural definition of being Christian to those who share their beliefs. The present-day ravings of faux-historian David Barton seek to push even farther and erase the religious diversity at the heart of American patriotism. The “culture war” over LGBT equality presents one of the clearest dividing lines, with anti-gay talking heads like Tony Perkins over-dominating the media on behalf of “Christianity” while LGBT-affirming Christians are severely under-represented.
Some have tried to shrug off the controversy about Chick-fil-A’s donations to anti-gay hate groups and condemnations of marriage equality, but it provides a very clear example of how conservatives hide behind the respect they expect for their religious beliefs to avoid accountability for the harm caused by their anti-gay words and actions. In doing so, they maintain a wedge between “Christianity” and the LGBT community that is far more volatile than the race wedges they have attempted. Here are some current examples of this “cover” in action:
- Mike Huckabee said Chick-fil-A must be defended against “hate speech and economic bullying” from those who “disenfranchise” Christians.
- Sarah Palin decried Chick-fil-A’s detractors as the ones who are “intolerant, bigoted, and hypocritical” for not agreeing with the comments made by its president, Dan Cathy.
- Conservative columnist Star Parker accused “homosexual activists” of a “hate campaign” against Chick-fil-A for the “crime of being a Christian.”
- Robert Knight of the conservative American Civil Rights Union described the Chick-fil-A controversy as a “smear campaign” and “fascistic assault” by “enraged liberals who are at war with nature and nature’s God.”
- Chicago Archbishop Francis Cardinal George stood by Chick-fil-A because allowing marriage equality would violate the “constitutionally protected freedom of religious belief and religious practice.”
- Former Los Angeles Archbishop Cardinal Roger M. Mahony accused those who disagree with Chick-fil-A of trying to “punish us for clinging to and expressing our faith beliefs.”
- The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue believes educated white people “want to punish those who hold to the traditional view,” an effort he describes as “madness laced with fascistic elements.”
- Even the National Organization for Marriage’s official “Thank Chick-fil-A” page identifies a “culture increasingly hostile to traditional and especially Christian values,” urging supporters to “stand firm by your Christian beliefs.”
But this is all a façade — one rife with Biblical hypocrisy, at that. There is nothing about the Chick-fil-A controversy that has anything to do with so-called “religious freedom.” The company donates millions of dollars yearly to organizations that actively work against the safety and health of LGBT people. Its president preaches that gays and lesbians should be scorned as “twisted up stuff” who “invite God’s judgment” upon society. These are all actions with direct consequences for LGBT people, and religion in no way justifies them. Certainly, many who identify as Christians — including many LGBT people — see Chick-fil-A’s anti-gay principles as foreign to their inclusive faiths, but their voices are largely absent from the public conversation.
The takeaway here must be how lopsided the “religious freedom” talking point is. If standing up for the fair treatment of LGBT people is an attack on conservative religious beliefs, then denying LGBT equality is just as much an attack on inclusive religious beliefs. Religion, itself, is thus a moot point in the debate, a “headless monster” used by conservatives only to further stigmatize and disenfranchize the LGBT community. Nobody should tolerate that, no matter how they spiritually identify.