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Michael Rowe Headshot

The Great Chick-fil-A Snake Oil "Faith" Hustle

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Notably absent from the conservative Christian Sturm und Drang over Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy's recent collision with LGBT America (and their increasingly vocal, and visible, straight allies) over his "free speech" to voice his "opinion" is a discussion of the degree to which -- from a faith perspective -- this Emperor is not only without clothes, but is actually frying his chicken in the nude.

As has been pointed out already in countless enlightened editorials and blog postings elsewhere, this was never about "free speech." No one was proposing a law to censor Mr. Cathy's right to his "opinions," as his followers call funneling millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations whose sole purpose is to maintain LGBT Americans in a second-class social, political, and legal status in the United States, organizations that contribute to consigning gays and lesbians to an even deadlier fate abroad -- to wit, funds to the Family Research Council, which lobbied Congress not to oppose the infamous Ugandan "kill the gays" bill that proposed death sentences for gays and lesbians in that country.

The concept of "free speech," which was designed to keep governments from throwing dissenters into prison to silence them, is never more degraded than it is in cases like these. To people like Mr. Cathy's followers, the First Amendment is a sort of shapeless, elasticized polyester pant suit that will stretch to accommodate any amount of ugliness, all the while allowing the wearer to claim that he or she is dressed in something at least technically decent.

It seems unlikely that Mr. Cathy's "free speech" would be something Michele Bachmann, or Sarah Palin, or Rick Santorum, or Mike Huckabee would have cared to weigh in on if Chick-fil-A had an overtly racist message, or contributed to anti-Semitic causes. Surely those would theoretically also have been cases of "free speech," but not popular cases, not ones that would curry political favor with their base voters.

But since LGBT Americans are always expendable to these people, any attacks on their legal or social dignity is fodder for "free speech" posturing.

It's a classic playground bully's gambit: pick an apparently vulnerable and unpopular victim, get your fawning gang to watch for teachers, then have at the victim as viciously as possible. If caught, claim that the victim "asked for it" and hope for the best, and they claim that the only real oppressed group in America today are heterosexual Christians, and seem to genuinely believe that if they say it fervently enough, people will be convinced by them.

Over the past week or so, I've interacted with some of these people in the comments section of Huffington Post, and elsewhere.

What they all appear to have in common is a type of moronic, simmering frustration, mixed with an equally dull-witted glee, as though they truly believe they are on a crusade for justice. Their posts are often inarticulate and badly spelled. They fall just short of calling opponents of Chick-Fil-A's bigotry "uppity faggots" but many seem to genuinely see their consumption of greasy, pre-cardiac disease fast food as a strike against the forces of darkness in the name of their American Jesus.

Or do they?

What surprises me (but doesn't, sadly, at the same time) is the silence from mainstream Christians, at least some of whom must see what a repulsive mockery Dan Cathy and his "chicken-fried Jesus" cult have made of Christ's actual teachings on love and grace.

Quite apart from the fact that hatred is -- or ought to be, at least -- inimical with Christianity as it is understood in the red-letter portions of the New Testament (the hard part for these people, the part dealing with love and humility) Dan Cathy has turned his rage-filled version of Christianity into a sort of lucrative branding slogan in the service of his own bottom line. He's actually making millions from it, and he's done it cynically, and at the expense of other human beings, then sharing that blood money with others like him, whose mandate isn't holiness, but hatred, violence, division, and ostracism.

This week, I've listened to heartbreaking stories of gay sons and lesbian daughters whose parents have made it a point to inform them that they'd lined up in Wednesday's blazing heat in order to drop their thirty pieces of silver into Dan Cathy's coffers at the expense of their own children.

Any decent American Christian should be outraged by stories like those -- as should any decent person, especially any parent -- but in the same way that their Bible recounts the disciples denying Christ during his arrest and interrogation in order to avoid bringing the wrath of the mob down on their heads, that segment of American Christians have found their own place in this history still being written. Instead of trotting out Leviticus, that perennial Biblical horror story, or the misogyny and patriarchal sexism of Paul, they would do well to look to John 13:35 -- "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another," and ask themselves where they think they fit in, or even if they honestly believe they do.

If Cathy were a medieval peddler selling relics of the saints of disputable authenticity, or slivers of the One True Cross, or the nails he claims were used to crucify the Messiah, he couldn't be more of a fraud than he is in this instance.

The spectacle this past Wednesday of "Christians" and other, more generic garden-variety anti-gay bigots lining up around the block to "support" Mr. Cathy's enterprise and to cram their faces with junk food on the specious grounds of "supporting Biblical marriage," or "supporting free speech," was a pageant of banal, cheerful deep-fried American hate, unified in bigotry and detestation of a group of their fellow Americans who were different from them, all the while licking grease from their fingers and congratulating themselves on their piety and rectitude and patriotism.

The fact that Chick-fil-A claims to have posted "record" sales on Wednesday doesn't mean that thousands of Americans waddled into a fast-food joint to deliver a "blow for freedom" or a "blow for Jesus" or "traditional values." America didn't get any holier or more "free" last Wednesday. It just got meaner and fatter, and even more rage-filled than it was before Mr. Cathy decided to sell his version of Christianity instead of chicken.

UPDATE: The FRC denies that it lobbied Congress to to oppose the resolution, claiming that its lobbying efforts were focused only on "remov[ing] sweeping and inaccurate assertions that homosexual conduct is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right.