In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

True Colors

Who would have thought that an important role
in defending liberty and the family would be played by
. . . chicken sandwiches?

In the vanguard of modern culture's assault on the institutions of marriage and family is the small (only four percent of adult Americans) but vocal group of people who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, together with their activist allies in the political, media, academic, and entertainment spheres. Due to the wealth and prominence in high social circles many of them enjoy, and their proximity to the levers of cultural and political power, the gay community wields an influence in our society out of all proportion to their numbers--and despite the adherence of most Americans to traditional standards. This can be credited in no small measure to their tactic, in recent years, of characterizing their cause as one for tolerance and justice--things generally acknowledged as good--and against hatred and abuse--things everyone regards as bad. In their crusade to undermine Judeo-Christian values in public and private life, they have staked out what they believe is the moral high ground, or at least what passes for it today, and--with the help of an eagerly compliant media establishment--have been wrapped in the aura and the rhetoric of the African-American civil rights movement. The recent controversy surrounding national fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A, however, exposed for all to see just how misleading that posture is.

It all began in early July when the company's president and COO Dan Cathy, son of its founder S. Truett Cathy, was interviewed by the Christian news organization Biblical Recorder and answered a question about the company's support of the traditional family.  "We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy said. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.  We give God thanks for that. … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families." If you read the full interview (reprinted by the Baptist Press) you'll see that Cathy was never asked and never brought up the subjects of homosexuality or "same-sex marriage"; his remarks concerned exclusively how the company works to strengthen family life in general and that of its patrons and employees. Cathy said later in a radio interview that, “as it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ . . . I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.”

 Dan Cathy, President of Chick-Fil-A
None of these remarks included a condemnation of gay people personally, advocated their mistreatment, or purported to be a statement of official Chick-Fil-A policy. Nevertheless, they were seized upon by gay leaders and the mainstream media, and twisted into a corporate declaration of war against them (several commentators have noted CNN's overt mischaracterization of the original interview as having mentioned "gay marriage"). Almost immediately the Jim Henson Company, which created toys for the chain, backed out of the partnership and pledged to donate money the company had received from Chick-fil-A to a gay rights organization.

Predictably, grandstanding politicians sought to capitalize on the gay community's "outrage."  Without any evidence that Chick-Fil-A refuses either service or employment to gays, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent Dan Cathy a letter accusing the company of "discrimination" and warning that its efforts to locate in that city would be resisted by local authorities. San Francisco mayor Ed Lee tweeted: "Closest Chick-fil-A is 40 miles away and I strongly recommend they not try to come any closer."  Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel declared that Chick-fil-A did not represent "Chicago values," and voiced support for a city alderman's intent to block construction of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in his district. Another alderman demanded that Mr. Cathy stop associating with groups that oppose same-sex marriage as a prerequisite for a business permit, and a councilman in New York made a similar threat.  Some college students even launched a campaign for the closure of Chick-fil-A restaurants on their campuses.

This assault on freedom of speech and commerce prompted quick, loud, and suprisingly universal condemnation in newspaper and magazine editorials around the country (google "Chick-Fil-A editorials"), and even by some gay bloggers. It moved former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to call for Americans to stand with Dan Cathy and his company by patronizing his stores on "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," Aug. 1. In response, millions of people flocked to Chick-fil-A outlets that day, enjoying their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries as a way to show support for the restaurant and for the freedom to express Biblical values. Most stores were packed and in many waiting lines snaked out the door; in some, the food ran out well before closing time. Chick-fil-A sales that day beat previous records by as much as 50 percent, and it has been estimated that the chain booked almost $100 million in sales in just one day. The controversy bought Chick-Fil-A more free, positive publicity than it could have ever purchased with money.

Perhaps stung by the unexpected outpouring of support for their foe, gay allies vandalized a Chick-Fil-A store in Torrance, California by spray-painting "Tastes Like Hate" on the side of the building, and bullied a Chick-Fil-A employee at a drive-through window. The young lady later publicly forgave the man who had berated her.

Several days later the gay community tried to mount a demonstration of support for its cause at Chick-Fil-A stores, in the form of a "kiss-in" featuring same-sex couples publicly smooching. It was sparsely attended, and barely registered as compared to traditional marriage proponents' Appreciation Day.

On top of all this, on August 15, one Floyd Lee Corkins II, a strong supporter of gay rights who worked at a Washington, D.C. community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, entered the headquarters building of the conservative Family Research Council--which has steadfastly supported the president of Chick-Fil-A and his opposition to same-sex marriage--and shot a security guard after stating, "I don't like your politics," or words to that effect.  At the time he was carrying a backpack full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches. After the wounded guard took away his gun, Corkins said,"Don't shoot me, it was not about you, it was what this place stands for."

In a nutshell, the whole Chick-Fil-A affair has turned out badly for the gay community and its allies. Their "leaders," especially the politicians, did them a great disservice through their intolerance and "bullying"--the very sins of which they accuse people of faith. This, and their effort to demonize and punish any differing viewpoint or speaker, have exposed gay activists as would-be brownshirts--the nickname for SA street thugs in Nazi Germany who intimidated Jews and socialists (and homosexuals, coincidentally), and enforced boycotts against Jewish-owned businesses. This doesn't look much like Martin Luther King and his civil rights hosts peacefully marching and singing "We Shall Overcome."

At the heart of gay activists' problem is their own program to equate, in the public mind, Biblical faith and traditional moral and family values, on the one hand, with "bigotry," "intolerance," and "hatred" on the other. These words, of course, are now deeply associated in the American consciousness with racial prejudice and discrimination--things generally understood in civilized society as contemptible, illegitimate, and even illegal.  For one who accepts this equivalence, even unconsciously, it follows that such faith and values--especially with respect to the definition of marriage, the gay cause de jour--are likewise beyond the pale and socially unacceptable. For the same reasons, anyone who adheres to or expresses agreement with such faith and values is necessarily a bigot or "homophobe," today's version of a "racist."  The clear intent in popularizing these notions is to delegitimize Biblical concepts of morality and family, and those who espouse them, thereby undermining their political influence and encouraging their banishment from public life. By this means the public is "softened up" to accept gay marriage and behavior as entitled to at least equal dignity within society and before the law, and removes political roadblocks to implementation of the activist gay agenda. It also serves to wear down resistance among Christians themselves. No one wants to be thought of or publicly denounced as hateful and abusive toward others, or associated with those who are; certainly not serious, reflective Christians. So they relent, through a combination of guilt feelings and social intimidation, and buy into the concept that a Christian acceptance of gays as people must carry with it acceptance of their activist leaders' political and social demands.

Notwithstanding the success of this program for activist gays and their allies in some parts of the country, the Chick-Fil-A controversy has shown its very serious flaws. One is that the activists' heavy-handed tactics have prompted a backlash by millions of religious believers fed up with being painted as hateful and equivalent to racists, and fearful that, unless they forcefully respond, their beliefs, values, and freedoms will be suffocated to death by the new "religion" of political correctness. Politicians and policy-makers cannot ignore the vast numbers in which believers turned out to support Dan Cathy and Chick-Fil-A, or the increasingly united front that people from diverse faith traditions are presenting to exert their influence and expound their common principles through such efforts as the Manhattan Declaration.

Those same demonize-and-punish tactics exemplified in the Chick-Fil-A affair also tended to paint gays and their allies as enemies of free speech. Citizens and commentators theretofore ambivalent about same-sex marriage, or even generally in favor of it, were brought out in support of Dan Cathy's and other believers' constitutional right to express their views without government retaliation. In this respect the gay community should take a lesson from history: in the 1830s- and -40s, many thousands of people in the northern United States, who had been indifferent to slavery or even sympathetic to Southern interests, were won over to the abolitionist cause when hostile mobs in the North, egged on by local politicians and civic leaders, invaded churches, assaulted abolitionist speakers, and trashed or tried to shut down businesses owned by abolitionists or free blacks. Many thousands more fence-sitters rallied to the abolitionist cause after 1850 when the new Fugitive Slave Law authorized federal officers to force any citizen, anywhere in the country and regardless of his convictions about slavery, to help capture and re-enslave runaway bondsmen. As one historian observed, "[w]hites who wavered on the question of abolition could be drawn to [its] support . . . if they became convinced that the long arm of slavery was reaching into their personal lives, whether by mob action, economic threat, free speech and free assembly restrictions, opposition in churches, or denial of the right to petition the government." [Milton C. Sernett, North Star Country: Upstate New York and the Crusade for African American Freedom, p. 52 (Syracuse University Press, 2002)]

Moreover, the demonization of Biblical views about marriage and family has so corrupted the thinking of political leaders, some of them sporting law degrees, that they failed to appreciate the foolishness of making plainly unconstitutional threats against a legal business merely because its owner expressed opinions with which they disagreed--threats from which they were soon forced to retreat in confusion. If they thought it was the right thing to bar Chick-Fil-A from Chicago or Boston because its owner's relgious views were inconsistent with local "values," were they going to then going to expel from their cities the Roman Catholic, Mormon, evangelical Christian, orthodox Jewish, and other religious organizations and their members, or businesses associated with them, because their beliefs and opinions are consistent with those of Chick-Fil-A's owner?  Would they start burning Bibles? Again, this resembles less a civil rights crusade than the portent of a modern-day Kristallnacht (the night in 1938 when Nazi brownshirts attacked Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues).

Open and honest debate about marriage and family issues, and their just resolution through democratic processes, are impossible to the extent either side tries to gain political advantage by demonizing the other and discouraging or obstructing the free expression of its views. If either seeks the moral high ground, it must accord people who hold different beliefs as much tolerance, respect, and acceptance as they demand for themselves. Religious believers and others who oppose the "gay agenda" should remember that most gays are not fanatical activists but people just trying to live their lives, and learn to interact with them in the respectful, considerate way they would like others to treat them. They should accept gays as fellow children of God, errant though they may be, and refrain from speaking to or about them in contemptuous epithets. And, if believers are to be credible and persuasive advocates for Judeo-Christian family values, they must condemn and avoid heterosexual misbehavior (including adultery and pornography) at least as forcefully as they do homosexual conduct. For their part, gays must respect others' right to express views different from, and even contrary to, their own. They need to accept that one can disapprove of their behavior or lifestyle, or or oppose their political agenda, without being a bigot--and can even accept them as people.

And, everyone needs to acknowledge that the defense of traditional marriage and family life, against efforts to redefine them for the benefit of gays or any special interest group, is a legitimate point of view backed by thousands of years of teaching and social experience in all cultures--not an expression of hate justifying its demonization. Dressing up suppression of this point of view in the guise of a crusade for "civil" or "human" rights is simply a perversion of those terms, and won't change the fact that it is as least as much bigotry as is "homophobia."

POSTSCRIPT:  On a short road trip this past weekend, my family was privileged to have lunch at a Chick-Fil-A near Cleveland, Ohio--our first visit to one (living in Western New York, the closest stores to us are in Erie and Scranton, PA). What a marvelous experience! The store was clean and nicely decorated; the food was hot and delicious; and the staff was incredibly helpful and friendly. They came around repeatedly and filled our water cups, even though we hadn't even paid for the drinks!  The wall decorations included boards that explained the company's charitable, leadership, and family-building programs. The manager was floating about helping the staff with various chores, and he chatted with us for several minutes (and gave us a small bag of their scrumptious barbecue sauce packets to take home). If you've never visited a Chick-Fil-A, give them a try next time you're near one!

Sarah and Todd Palin at Chick-Fil-A

MORE FUN:  Think that one-man/one-woman marriage, and the freedom to advocate it, is an exclusively Christian matter?  These things are also important to conservative and orthodox Jews, as demonstrated by this delightfully tongue-in-cheek article by rabbi and businessman Yaakov Rosenblatt called My Beef With Chick-fil-A.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

My Better Half

Today is my darling wife Melany's birthday (thoughtlessly, I almost mentioned the number, but caught myself at the last moment--a mistake like that could be fatal!  ;-)  I don't think I've ever expressed, in a public forum, just how wonderful this lovely lady is and how much she means to me. We've been married 31 years, and I'm still learning from her--and all good things, too.

It was on a Saturday night in September, 1976, at someone else's birthday party in our apartment complex near Michigan State University, that we first met. As I recall she was sitting on the floor with a plate of cake in her lap, chatting with whoever was around. I was immediately attracted by her radiant smile and cheerful, easygoing manner, and sat down on the floor next to her--pretty uncharacteristic for a buttoned-up bookworm like me. We had a nice conversation about something since forgotten, and then--being the selfless, generous person she was and is--she introduced me to another young lady. She's often told me since that she instantly regretted doing so. No lasting harm done; after a few weeks' diversion, we both had to admit that our initial instincts were best, and we started over. Before my graduation that June, we had an "understanding," as folks used to say. But first I had to finish law school--and then there was a year of work to accumulate a nest egg. More hesitation, then commitment--for good! We got married on the Fourth of July, so we'd always have fireworks on our anniversary!

The years since then have been a daily revelation to me of God's wondrous grace and providence. There's no "rational" explanation for why an introverted, skeptical boy from western New York and an outgoing, optimistic girl from central Michigan would somehow find each other, be mutually attracted, and yoke their whole futures together--and stay together--despite all the forces of geography, destiny, personal predilection, and life challenges that would buffet them over the years. How has she found it in herself to put up with all my shortcomings and grievous mistakes, and all the disappointments and unrealized dreams that marriage inevitably entails? Only the merciful and miraculous will of God, and the bountiful guidance of the Holy Spirit, can explain these things. What other force could enable us to have and raise three wonderful children to maturity, and them to stay in the path of righteousness and safety in the face of all the physical and moral dangers confronting them in this modern world?

But God didn't act alone in producing this miracle. More than anyone else it has been Melany through whom He worked. Her example of patience, kindness, diligence, faith, and good cheer continues, every day, to be a wonder and an inspiration to me and the children. She brings out the best in us and has made us far better people than we could ever have been without her. Our family and all that we, our children, and our grandchildren will ever be and accomplish in this life, are her eternal monument. May God bless her abundantly and keep us all together, for long years and forever, in the palm of His hand.