A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

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Tag: jonathan merritt

Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day: When Free Speech Is A Trap (UPDATED)

by evanmcmurry

Hooray for conservatives and their Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. They have every right to support an establishment that shares their values, as Dan Cathy has every right to proclaim those values, and so on. Freedom, etc.

I’ll only point out that, up until now, Chick-Fil-A still could have scooted out of this thing intact. The chain got a heap of bad press due to the scandal, and likely lost a small consortium of occasional customers who stopped in at a Chick-Fil-A twice a year because it was there when they wanted lunch. Count me among them; I rarely ate at Chick-Fil-A, mostly because I rarely came across them, but I remember them from high school, thought their sandwiches were fine, and was fully aware of and unbothered by their Christian values, as those values seemed to be expressed entirely in positive form, i.e., charity, helping their employees pay for college, and so on. I’m probably never going to eat at a Chick-Fil-A again after this, but let’s face it: I was worth about $18 in revenue to the restaurant over the course of the next decade, so no big loss. If they lost the 5% of their business that was like me, they’d be fine, and Chick-Fil-A would live on in the popular consciousness as That Chicken Place That Is Kinda Conservative But Also We’re Hungry.

Today, though, thousands and thousands of people are conspicuously and forthrightly patronizing Chick-Fil-A because it does not support gay marriage. Again, they have every right to do so, but they’re actively cementing in the public mind the association between the restaurant and the stance. There’s no more sequestering Dan Cathy’s views from the restaurant’s views; there’s no more pretending this was an off-handed remark that got blown out of proportion; there’s no more acting like this was a false controversy ginned up by the lamestream media. Chick-Fil-A, as of today, is Pollo de Bigot, a chain that aggressively disputes the notion that same-sex couples should have the same rights straight couples do.

Conservatives will think this is great. But you know who probably doesn’t think it’s great? The entire gaggle of executives and vice-presidents and board members and investors, most of whom probably don’t give a good goddamn about same-sex marriage, and who just want Chick-Fil-A to be a successful company. As Jonathan Merritt informed us in what now appears to be an unofficial coming-out statement, one of the chain’s primary markets is college campuses, where support for same-sex marriage intersects a tendency to act on political beliefs. Chick-Fil-A will make hundred of thousands of dollars today, and get some more active customers out of the gimmick, but the overall effect will be to widen the impression of the chain as an actively anti-gay company beyond the likes of me, who don’t matter, and into the millions of college students who might be spending $18 a week at the place. These are young customers who could have formed lifelong habits of going to Chick-Fil-A*, but who now have a very serious and compelling reason to go find another chain that’s just as good (or bad). Today’s stunt could create a years-long boycott-by-attrition that will cost Chick-Fil-A millions in lost profits down the road.

Dan Cathy probably thinks today is wonderful; Michelle Malkin and her ilk definitely do. But I bet there are a lot of people in Chick-Fil-A’s corporate headquarters who are watching the attention the restaurant’s getting today and seeing depleted profit margins five and ten years from now. And nobody will be able to blame that fate on the persecution of Chick-Fil-A, or the PC mob; Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day is nothing if not free speech as grand spectacle. But if this entire ordeal shows anything, it’s that the freedom of free speech can also be a trap: it was precisely the freedom to express his opinion that allowed Dan Cathy to start this mess, and it’s conservatives’ unchecked ability to amplify that opinion that could seal it.

* Gross, I know. But you had your munchie fast food joint when you were a sophomore, so don’t judge.

UPDATE (7:02): As I was saying:

NYU head spokesman John Beckman hinted yesterday for the first time that the fast-food shop may not be on the NYU campus for much longer.

Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy’s comments “are out of step with NYU’s views on this matter,” Beckman said, according to the Daily News. The school’s University Senate will “reexamine” this fall whether to keep the chain on campus.

“The University Administration will ask the University Senate to take up the issue of Chick-fil-A’s status on campus again when it reconvenes this fall to make a recommendation on how to proceed,” Beckman said, according to FOX. (via Metro)

That Chick-Fil-A Defender From The Atlantic Was Just Outed

by evanmcmurry

Well fuck me running. I spilled 2,300 words on Jonathan Merritt’s absurd defense of Chick-Fil-A yesterday, only to pop open my computer machine this morning and read this:

Jonathan Merritt, the son of famous evangelist James Merritt, has become a prominent evangelical blogger, writing for, among others, USA Today and The Atlantic (where he most recently wrote about his support of Chick-fil-A). Turns out he’s, as Queerty puts it, also “a deeply conflicted gay man” who just got busted for canoodling with gay blogger Azariah Southworth.

Well, that explains the oddly bad logic of Merritt’s defense of Chick-Fil-A; seems like Merritt might have been using an argument about the efficacy of boycotting an anti-gay organization to paper over something else. (Why the Atlantic published it is a different story.)

You know what would make this better? If he talked in that awful new-agey evangespeak that manages to blame the other party for his behavior while remaining sanctimonious about the nature of the sin. Hit it:

Joe.My.God’s Joe Jervis posted a rundown of the relationship between Merritt and Southworth that occurred in 2009. Merritt says he and Southworth began emailing and sexting each other after Merritt wrote an article saying “that Christians must love people who experience sexual brokenness.”

There it is. Gays, J-Mer would like to have a text you with about your sexual brokenness, for your own good of course. Please be as explicit as possible.

Merritt says he saw a Christian counselor to sort through his childhood and “what I believed God wanted for me. I also began to acknowledge to myself that I have sin in my past, sin for which I accept responsibility. Inappropriate texting, inappropriate actions are inappropriate no matter who the other party is. These were my decisions and no one else’s. It’s from my brokenness, that I feel I can now be transparent, honest, and authentic about these accusations. Those close to me know I have actually been planning to share the story of my brokenness for some time. Because it is part of my spiritual journey. And because it underscores the power of the Gospel to transform lives.”

The only piece missing from this is the CFA connection. I’m not one to psychoanalyze from a distance [a-HEM], but I’ll throw down A Flea In The Fur Of The Beast‘s annual budget that Mr. Merritt’s first experience of sexual brokenness happened at a Chick-Fil-A, and his continued patronization and defense of the organization is a way of both returning to the thrill of the original act and flagellating himself for his transgression. The “legendary” sandwiches were just cathectic.

To pile on the sadness, Donald Perry, vice president of public relations at Chick-Fil-A, died suddenly of a heart attack yesterday. All in all, Dan Cathy really seems to have opened a portal of awfulness around his company this week. If Mr. Cathy had a time machine, do you think he would go back and respectfully decline to answer the Baptist Press‘ question about same-sex marriage?

ADDENDUM: Merritt has tried to soften the church’s stance on homosexuality as well, accusing evangelicals of using “clobber scriptures” to unnecessarily condemn homosexuality, for which he took some heat from his own side. So good on him for that.

Also, from blogger Joe.My.God:

This morning JMG reader Dwight tipped us that Merritt will be making a “special announcement” at the Georgia church where his father, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is head pastor and where the younger Merritt had been scheduled to continue a four-week series of sermons.

Update! A Special Message This Sunday, July 29
Join us this Sunday for a special and heartfelt message by the Pastor and Jonathan Merritt. Services are at 9:30 and 11:00 a.m.

Merritt’s Twitter feed has been uncharacteristically silent since Southworth’s revelation. I’ll have an update on his “special announcement” when it’s available.

Behold The Dumbest Article On Chick-Fil-A And Gay Rights You’ll Ever Read

by evanmcmurry

Jesus Christ over rice with white sauce, why is this Chick-Fil-A thing so fucking difficult? As I explained the other day, if you don’t like Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy’s stance on gay marriage, don’t eat at the place. HOWEVER, you also don’t get to defend the head of multi-billion dollar corporation who is actively prohibiting a civil right by crying about the intolerance he’s facing from those choosing not to eat at his restaurant. Dan Cathy has the right to express his opinions, and we have the right not to eat at his chain because of those opinions. Why is this so hard?

Now meet Jonathan Merritt, writing in the Atlantic, who apparently just cannot stand the indignation directed at Chick-Fil-A. Hit it:

Dan Cathy, president of one of America’s largest express fast food chains, has been frying more than chicken filets this week.

Great lede! Ha ha ha…it’s funny cuz presidents of companies don’t actually work.

The Chick-fil-A executive infuriated gay and lesbian groups when he again defended his company’s anti-gay marriage position in an interview this week with a Christian news outlet.

And infuriated a lot of other people. This is gonna blow your mind, but more than gay and lesbian groups care about gay and lesbian rights. I hope you won’t make that mistake for the rest of your article.

Not surprisingly, his comments were met with fury by those who support same-sex marriage.


The company was labeled a “hate group” by many on Twitter and in the blogosphere, and drew promises of boycotts from notables including The Office star Ed Helms. Meanwhile, Americans who patronize the chain’s 1,600 locations were left wondering what to do. Should they swear off the legendary chicken sandwiches to support gay rights?

Chick-Fil-A’s sandwiches are not legendary. They’re better than they have a right to be. But let’s not get carried away.

Or could they eat one of the filets anyway, knowing their dollars would be but a drop in the bucket for a chain that has more than $4 billion in annual sales and donated a pittance to groups they may disagree with?

I don’t think you’re quite getting the point of boycotts. Part of the goal of a boycott is to financially impact the company so as to compel change in its policies. The other part is individually seated: if you are gay, or have a gay family member, or a gay friend, or just an active conscience, you are likely see the prohibition of same-sex marriage as a deal breaker, in the way that many saw segregation as a deal breaker, and choose not to eat at places that oppose same-sex marriage, out of a personal conviction not to contribute to something to which you strongly, almost molecularly, object. Over time, as friends say, “Hey, let’s go eat at Chick-Fil-A,” and you say, “Let’s eat somewhere else, I don’t want to support a place run by bigots,” your objection becomes a means of spreading your opinion. A friend of yours who may not have taken the issue of same-sex marriage that seriously now has cause to reflect that someone does take it seriously enough to make changes in daily habits over it. You don’t have to bring down the company to make a boycott effective.

Or, to put it more simply: if you were gay, would you ever eat at a Chick-Fil-A again, knowing its owner thinks you should be denied a basic human right? You probably wouldn’t, and your financial impact on the company wouldn’t sway you one bit. The same goes for people who know and care about gay people. That’s the point, or at least the motive, of a boycott.

I’d argue the latter — and this has nothing to do with my views on gay marriage.

Of course it doesn’t.

It’s because Chick-fil-A is a laudable organization on balance, and because I refuse to contribute to the ineffective boycott culture that’s springing up across America.

BOYCOTT THE BOYCOTTS! You see what I was JUST saying about the moral weight of withholding support, even when it doesn’t have a financial impact, as a means of spreading opinion? Thanks for backing me up on that. And in the same paragraph!

First of all, Chick-fil-A is not a hate group. In a statement released yesterday, company leaders made their commitment to equal service clear, “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

Well, that settles that. A corporation would never, ever dissemble in an official statement.

As a native Atlantan, I’ve dined at the chicken chain more than I’d like to admit over more than two decades and even interacted with its leadership team. I’ve never witnessed any customer refused service or even treated differently.

First of all, gross. Second of all, I’ve eaten at a lot of Denny’s in my road-tripping life, and never seen them discriminate against African Americans. That doesn’t mean they don’t do it. Merritt’s relying on a sliver of anecdotal evidence to characterize the behavior of a corporation he admitted a few paragraphs ago was so big it couldn’t be brought down by a concerted boycott. If Chick-Fil-A is bigger than a movement, it’s bigger than Merritt’s personal interactions with it, no matter how numerous.

On the contrary, Chick-fil-A is known for offering world-class customer service to each person that walks through one of the restaurant’s doors.

Where the fuck are these Chick-Fil-As this guy’s eating at?

Additionally, the organization gives millions of dollars each year to charitable causes — and not just to “pro-family” groups. It funds a large foster care program, several schools of a higher learning, and a children’s camp. It has provided thousands of scholarships for Chick-fil-A employees to attend college and grow past the service sector where they got their workplace start. (On Friday, the company provided free meals for Aurora, Colo., policemen.)

Good on them. Fair point.

And the company’s leaders claim to do all of this out of convictions rooted in the Christian faith. Anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the company should know that it does not hide its commitment to biblical values. Its corporate statement of purpose since 1982 has begun, “To glorify God…”

Again, it’s their business, though you’re going to regret this paragraph later on.

Given this, that anyone was surprised by Cathy’s statements is, well, surprising.

You said earlier, “not surprisingly.”

Like many conservative Christians, he does not support gay marriage.

Bigots, too. A lot of bigots don’t support gay marriage. I wonder what a Ven diagram of conservative Christians and bigots would look like. Couple of circles making out, prolly.

I’m flummoxed that so many consumers are so quick these days to call for boycotts of any company that deviates from their personal or political views. For one thing, boycotts rarely cause actual pocketbook – rather than PR — damage. Most consumers don’t care enough to drive an extra mile to get the same product from someone else. 

Actually, a lot of people these days are driving the extra mile for food products based on moral concerns. It’s called the foodie movement. Wanna see a Ven diagram of foodies and people who support gay marriage?

And that’s especially the case for companies as large as Chick-fil-A, which has prime locations on many college campuses where there is little head-to-head competition.

Ha! Wanna see a Ven diagram of college students and people who support gay marriage? This potential boycott is looking bigger and bigger.

But my bigger question is this: In a nation that’s as divided as ours is,

Stop it.

do we really want our commercial lives and our political lives to be so wholly intermeshed?


And is this really the kind of culture we want to create?

Nope. We want a culture in which two people in love can marry each other. Thanks for asking!

Culture war boycotts

Ah, there it is.

cut both ways and are much more likely to meet with success when prosecuted by large groups of people, such as Christian activists, who are more numerous than gays and lesbians and their more activist supporters.

Srsly? Merritt, who do you think’s winning el culture war? And not to put too fine a point on it, but they’re called “rights” because that word means one group more numerous than another can’t deprive that second group of the integers of citizenship. You just summed up exactly why the issue of same-sex marriage is so pressing that it calls for concerted actions like boycotts. Good job.

Gay and lesbian groups were famously rankled when pro-family activists reacted against Kraft for posting a photo of an Oreo cookie with rainbow-hued filling last month in honor of Gay Pride Month, and also when similar groups protested JCPenney for announcing lesbian talk show host Ellen DeGeneres would be its next spokesperson.

So should the 45 percent of Americans who oppose gay marriage opt for Chips Ahoy! instead of Oreos?

Hmm. 45 is less than 50. What was the percentage of people who opposed gay marriage a few years ago? 57? Really? You guys are getting less numerous by the minute.

Should they begin shopping at Belk instead of JC Penny? If they did, it wouldn’t make any more sense than the endless failed calls for liberal consumers to boycott Urban Outfitters, because its owner is a conservative and Rick Santorum donor, or to not order from Domino’s Pizza, because it was founded by a Catholic conservative who helped fund anti-abortion causes.

Would that be Domino’s Pizza, the chain that recently ran an entire ad campaign based on the premise that it sucked so much it was reduced to running an campaign admitting it sucked? I don’t think abortions are the worst of Domino’s problems anymore.

On both sides of our latest culture war divide,

It’s not a culture war, dude. One side wants rights, the other wants to deprive them of rights. Your side calls it a culture war because you think it makes the petitioning for rights sound frivolous. Again, you’re losing that battle.

we must learn to have level-headed disagreements without resorting to accusations of hate speech and boycotts.

Deal! You give us gay marriage, and we’ll call off the boycotts. Oh, wait, that undermines your point.

As Josh Ozersky argued on TIME Thursday, “businesses should be judged by their products and their practices, not by their politics.”

Said the guy from TIME who can legally marry.

I agree: I don’t care how my dry cleaner votes. I just want to know if he/she can press my Oxfords without burning my sleeves.

Said the guy from the Atlantic who can legally marry. Also, nice class blindness.

I find no compelling reason to treat sandwiches differently than shirts.

That’s because you eat at Chick-Fil-A. Dear god, what do your shirts look like?

From a business standpoint, some might say Cathy’s comments were imprudent if not downright dumb.

Bigoted, too. You can be bigoted from a business standpoint. Unless your point is that business concerns automatically exclude moral concerns. In which case, Chick-Fil-A’s merit badge for Christian-based charity work goes out the window, too.

But in a society that desperately needs healthy public dialogue, we must resist creating a culture where consumers sort through all their purchases (fast food and otherwise) for an underlying politics not even expressed in the nature of the product itself.

Earlier you knocked people for not knowing about Chick-Fil-A’s Christian core: “Anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the company should know that it does not hide its commitment to biblical values.” Told you that you were going to regret that. More at the end of the article on this point. 

If white meat’s not your thing, try the Golden Arches.


But if you want a perfectly fried chicken sandwich, Chick-fil-A, will be happy to serve you — gay or straight. In this case, those who boycott are the ones missing out.

On marriage. We’ve been over this. That’s the point of the boycott.

Well, that was fun. Now: there’s a hidden binary in Merritt’s article that undergirds all of his fried-chicken logic: Christianity is moral, in Merritt’s world, and gay rights are political. He’s fine with holding up Chick-Fil-A as a laudable corporation for its Christian-based charity work (and rightly so), but then doesn’t think they should be held accountable for the bigoted views of the owner. The former is an example of a “laudable organization,” the latter an example of “underlying politics;” he’s obviously miffed that a lot of people didn’t know about Chick-Fil-A’s religious foundations, but doesn’t think people should pay one minute’s attention to its stances on anything else. Merritt clearly thinks that religious concerns have a legitimate role in business but that political ones do not, and he also clearly thinks that the gay rights movement’s non-voluntary inclusion in the “culture war” makes it political, and therefore irrelevant to Chick-Fil-A in a way that its religious motivations are not.

A debate can be had over those points, though Merritt would lose on both counts. The gay rights movement is not political, it’s moral, and, to the extent that it concerns how a human defines his or herself and is intrinsically changed by how he or she is defined by society, it’s practically existential. The idea that one’s sexual orientation is somehow less crucial, or less legitimate, than one’s faith, is specious in the first and last instance.

But if Merritt wants to have that debate, it would at least be interesting and generative, as opposed to the above article, which is stupid and stultifying. So, Merritt: any time, any place. In the meantime, good luck boycotting the boycotts.