To Chick-fil-A, or Not to Chick-fil-A?

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Given the cannibalistic Republican primary and the growing acrimony of the presidential campaign, this is no year for chickens.

Candidates of both genders are manning up for a brutal campaign. As former President Harry S Truman famously advised, anyone aspiring to public service too chicken to withstand the heat would do well to “get out of the kitchen.”

It’s been a hard year for chickens locally, too. This past winter the Newport Beach City Council got into a flap over the propriety of keeping live chickens in the backyards of this city. Personally I consider it cool to keep a few chickens around. On matters of coolness, though, I like to consult my pal Roberta Newman, who teaches Liberal Studies (no wonder we’re friends) at NYU and lives in a century-old Victorian in the leafy neighborhood of Old Flatbush in Brooklyn. Roberta assures me that live chickens are permitted in the backyards of New York City. In fact, she recalls a rooster who regularly patrolled her neighborhood.

“Some of my neighbors thought it was a fighting cock or a potential voodoo sacrifice (we abut a large Haitian community – most of whom are devout Catholics),” she writes. “[But] I think it was just someone’s rooster. I nicknamed it El Gallo De Cielo (The Rooster of Heaven), after a Tom Russell song I love.”

But the Newport Beach City Council, unmoved by the coolness of the idea, retained the city’s ban on chickens, though I happen to know that there are still a few illegals clucking about.

This column, however, concerns chickens after the end of their life cycle – as in food for our dinner. I grew interested in the recent boycott and anti-boycott of the fast-food company Chick-fil-A, a flap that started after its president, Dan Cathy, spoke out against gay marriage. While the debate may have felt tiresome to many – people know where they stand on the gay marriage issue and must we reconsider it over waffle fries and chicken sandwiches? – it sent me into a midsummer reverie on some of the subjects that compel me:

Boycotts

As one who supports gay marriage, I initially wondered whether to boycott Chick-fil-A. Then I thought, “Wait a minute. How do you boycott something you’ve never patronized?” I’m not a fan of fast-food restaurants and have never visited this particular brand.

That probably won’t change, though I’d add that boycotts can be a slippery path to tread. I know of people who won’t attend Woody Allen films because they don’t like the way he has conducted his personal life. But creating a film is an integrated process involving hundreds of people, all conducting their lives with varying degrees of success or failure. Where do we draw the line?

A boycott shouldn’t be a quick decision – I’d want to think about it and consider the unintended consequences – like missing some really good movies.

Free speech

I support Dan Cathy’s right to speak his mind. I’m just glad I’m not a Chick-fil-A employee.

Cathy’s words as president of the company carry an influence throughout the organization. What he says can affect others’ livelihoods – again, it’s the idea that an enterprise, be it a film or a fast-food company, is an integrated community.

So just because you can speak out, doesn’t always mean that you ought to – or, as I used to tell my kids, “Just because it’s legal doesn’t always make it right.”

Christian values

Like Dan Cathy, I’m a Christian, a long-time believer. But I stand on the other side of the social issues that the Religious Right has taken up in recent decades.

A pastor on the Christian Left, whom I admire very much, has preached that social mores change over time. What worked in first-century tribal societies doesn’t necessarily make sense in contemporary culture.

Another minister, a friend and a conservative, had a sign in her office that read, “Jesus died to take away your sins, not your mind.” Amen to that.

The inclusion of LGBTs as fully equal makes sense to me, both spiritually and intellectually. We have lately come to a deeper understanding of gender preference; we should incorporate that knowledge into our belief systems.

I see this each week at the Presbyterian church I attend, which ordains LGBTs as deacons and elders, and welcomes them as congregants. I’ve seen the relief and joy in gay friends’ eyes as they come realize they’re in a safe church and free to worship, to paraphrase the old altar call of a hymn, just as they are.

What I didn’t bargain for, though, was the effect of such inclusion upon us heterosexuals. Somehow, because my church accepts LGBTs just as they are, we straights seem to have grown freer to live more authentically, just as we are. After all, how many of us aren’t in the closet about some secret or another?

So the next time you hear a Dan Cathy speak out against gay marriage “as a Christian,” please remember there are plenty of Christians in town who fully support gay marriage.

A final word on chickens

It turns out that the Religious Right has further cause for alarm. Did you know that 1,500 species of animals display some sort of homosexual behavior? In the lengthy New York Times article, “Can Animals Be Gay?” a Stanford University biologist suggests that the reporter regard “these animals as ‘multitasking’ with their private parts.”

Great heavens.

And gallus domesticus (the humble and by now possibly bemused chicken) is among those 1,500 species. Inquiring minds want to know: Is Chick-fil-A serving up gay chicken?

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