Brad Hirschfield: Regarding Chick-fil-A, is boycotting a company because of its president's personal views really the way to go?

Aug 01, 2012

Is there a difference between what individuals decide and policies advocated by political leaders of entire cities? Is this really a life or death issue as some are suggesting? Brad Hirschfield will live chat with readers at 1 p.m. ET about this topic. Submit questions and opinions for Brad to respond to now.

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To is Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day -- an event launched by former Arkansas governor andPresidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.  According to their website, over 100,000 people have signed up in support.  According to the mayors of major cities, including Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, not only should people NOT appreciate Chik Fil-A, they believe that the company has no rightful place in their cities.  Does any of this make sense?

 

Does Boycotting a company because of it's views on an issue unrelated to their work make sense?  Is this whole thing becoming a liberal version of the Park 51 / Ground Zero Mosque battle in which people are venting their frustrations in inappropraite ways?

 

Let's get started!

There are lots of companies I do business with all the time that are involved in political issues I don't agree with: polluting the environment, manipulating the financial system, declaring bankruptcy to get out of labor contracts. Gay marriage is not near enough the top of my political priority list, that I'm going to get actionable on this particular issue, when I overlook so many others.

I think we are all in the same boat, at least as far as doing business with companies which are lead by people whose politcs we may not like, and thank you for your honesty about that.  I wonder why people, especially the mayors of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco can not be as self-aware. 

 

Is it because they think it's good politcs?  They are wrong, certainly in the long term, because in the name of being progressive, they are actually be regressive.  Is it because gay marriage is such an emotional issue and they leaped into the fray before carefully looking at what they were doing?  I think that may be it.

 

I am also struch by your mentioning where the issue of gay marriage falls on your list of important issues.  Does that mean that if it were higher on your list you would support a boycott?  If so, then you do think boycotts for unrerlated politcal views ARE appropriate, but that this issue is not significant enough to merit one.  That's a position worth rethinking, I think.

Mayor Emmanuel has characterized Chick-fil-A's values and "not Chicago's." But he still has a cozy relationship with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who is much more anti-gay than Chick-fil-A is, and is anti-Semitic as well. Is this just politics making strange bedfellows; or is pro-gayness a standard to which only certain groups are held?

You are right to point out the Mayor's inconsistent, if not hypocritical, application of standards regarding gay rights and inclusion.  No doubt it is shaped by some measure of politcal expediency, and also by an ingrained hostility to fundamentalist Christianity, especially when it applies religion to public policy.

 

You are certainly right about the issue making for strange bedfellows.  The ACLU defending Chick Fil-A?  If that isn't seemingly strange bedfellows, what is? 

 

Of course, when you stop and think about it, what it really points out is that we get into bed with different people for different reasons.  If all parties to this controversey could just remember that, we could find more creative and productive solutions to this issue, especially as so many important values are shared by both groups which are divided on this single issue.

I don't necessarily hold it against a company because their executives hold personal political views. Domino's Pizza CEO Tom Monahan is active in Pro-life/Anti-abortion politics, but I don't boycott their chain for that reason. I boycott them because their pizza is terrible.

Well, I can't speak to your conclusion about the quality of the pizza for the same reasons that I won't comment on the quality of Chick Fil-A's chiken.  First, this is not the place for me to advertise, either positively or negatively, and second, the food is not kosher, so I don't eat it!

 

That said, you make a very important distinction.  The personal views of a corporate leader should be separable from their corporate policies, and in the case of Chik Fil-A, they are.  Now, if they started discriminating against gay people -- either employees or customers, this would be a totally different conversation.

To me the boycotting of Chick-Fil-A is fair game because the company itself put its views out for consumption. The company leadership has put its beliefs on display, made substantial contributions and participation in favor of traditional marriage/against gay rights and made comments about their views. How people choose to respond is entirely fair game, and if mayors and other political viewers- who are elected as the representatives of their cities- feel that those views is antithetical to the view of the city they represent, then they should by all means say so.

I don't know what "fair" means.  If you mean they are within their legal rights to express thier views, then yes, but if you mean that taking the action those mayors have suggested is legal, then you are totally wrong. 

 

If your mean that it's fair for people as individuals to patronize whatever businesses they choose, then yes, we agree.  but if you think it's wise to punish a business based entirely on a single issue, especially one unrelated to how they run their business, then no, that is not wise.

 

And I won;t even talk about how silly it is to have a debate about values which isolates one value for political purposes, as ooposed to ignoring a whole host of values which may well deserve support even if we agree that on this issue, the company does not.  How would deal with a company that works tirelessly for gay rights, but treats it's employees like garbage, for example?

While I could not disagree more strongly with his personal views, I really do not get boycotting his restaurants, which do not discriminate in hiring or serving. If folks want to boycott every institution that's against gay marriage, they'll need to go so far as to stop buying all petroleum products--for goodness' sake, the vast majority of OPEC countries impose the death penalty on homosexuals, which seems a fair lot worse than the personal opinions of a chicken magnate.

Right you are!  The thing is, it's far easier to stop eating fried chicken sandwhiches than it is to stop using petrolium based products.

 

I do appreciate that people feel that this is going on in their home town, so they feel it more directly and feel that they can impact it more directly as well.  Neither of those considerations should be dismissed, but neither should the danger of going after issues simply based on how convenient they are to address.

I had gay friends telling me that I should avoid Chick-fil-A before the recent quote by their president. Was there an earlier issue surrounding an employee or customer being mistreated because of his or her sexual orientation? I have always known that Chick-fil-A holds family and religious values as being important. It comes as no surprise that their leaders would also support the traditional definition of a family as one man married to one woman. I only fail to see how this impacts their employees or customers unless they have a policy in place that treats gay people differently. I wouldn't be surprised if they also said they didn't think that two unmarried adults (man and woman) shouldn't have kids.

You are correct on all counts.  And you open the door to the whole issue of "tradtional family", or as Mr. Cathy calls it, "biblical family".  But what is traditional?  What is biblical?

 

Does Chik Fil-a support returning to one man and multiple women?  I don't think so!  But THAT was the (Hebrew) bibilical norm, and certainly still very popular practice during the time of the New Testament!!

 

People can and even should advocate for whatever norms they want, but we would all do well to stop tossing around words like tradtional and biblical so casually and inaccurately.

I understand that two people can form a loving bond and support each other in many ways beyond the definition of friendship. But, I only recognize one definition of marriage, and that is between one man and one woman and is meant to last until the death of one or both members of the marriage. I also feel that people should wait to have physical relationships until after they are married. As such, any unmarried couple (heterosexual or homosexual) having such a physical relationship are living outside of my standard of marriage. I understand that the gay community wants rights, but I should NOT have to change my moral standards in the process. I am not the judge of the living and the dead. I want people to be able to live in a happy, healthy world and don't want to make it more difficult for others to be happy. I am afraid that the trend is towards looking at the short term benefits of a relationship and the "fun" it can offer without finding the long term commitment.

The key is your use of the word "I".  I think we all slip too easily between what we want for ourselves and those closes to us with what ought to be for all of the rest of us.  I am with you 100% about not being coerced into embracing gay marriage, sexuality outside the context of marriage, etc.  But where we disagree is that you leave no room for legal and social reality existing outside the bounds of your embrace.  That's the real issue here. 

 

The realm of the possible and the legal should pretty much always be at least a little wider than our onw personal embrace, especially if we are more on the conservative side.  That is what distinguishing legitimate conservtisim from illegitimate coercivismm.

 

And btw, if your real concern is short term pleasure taking over from long-term relationship -- a concern I share -- you might want to consider advocating FOR gay marriage.  Who else is fighting so hard for the right to make long-term committments in our era or short term thinking?

Is it just Cathy's personal views we're talking about? The company has donated millions to organizations opposed to gay marriage. Some employees claim that their religious views are investigated before they are hired. One long-time manager alleges she was fired because they thought she should be a stay-at-home mom and has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit. I'm sure many corporate leaders have views with which I disagree, but they're also not seeking to implement them through the policies of the company, and taking the profits earned from my patronage to actively support causes that I find offensive.

Were the case you mentioned found to have merit, you might be onto something, but it was not -- not, at least, as far as my research shows.  As to the use of private wealth whcih was legally gained, my guess is that were you to apply that test to any company, you would likely find a reason to stop patronizing them.

 

At some point, we all need to appreciate the difference between how people treat others, especially in public and as it relates to their public relationships, and how people live their private lives, including their politics.  Without that, we simply wind up with competing camps who all share the view that it's not worth dealing with anyone who isn't exactly jsut like them, and that's a pretty ugly world in which to live.

If people are going to have a kiss-in or stop eating at Chick-Fil-A because of personal views are these people going to do the same for so many other corporations? Apple relies on glorified Slave Labor ala FoxConn. Nike relies on child sweatshops. Big Oil relies on the military machine to keep profits up. Yet the last time I was at a Nationals game people were driving there in thier SUV's listening to their IPos and wearing their favorite Nike apparel.

Yup.  Which is why, in so many ways, this is about people being able to pick an issue with low cost to themselves and high reward on the moral correctness scale.

 

My advice?  When those to scales get too divergent, it probably means one has gone from appropriate social and economic activism to self-congratulatory brow beating of others.

i believe it is appropriate to boycott but I'm very uncomfortable with political leaders trying to enforce something that is not clear legally. Speak your mind you can't dictate policy.

A VERY fair and important disticntion, even if we don't agree about the propriety of boycott.  That's a nice way of my saying that I think these mayors are nuts!

 

Saying to others that they are un-Chicago?  What in the world was R.E. thinking?  The fact that one starts from what is typically thought of as a progressive position does not justify what is nothing less that McCarthy'ist laguage and policy.

It's not "just" the personal views that same-sex couples don't deserve to be treated equally under the law that people are reacting to. It's that, over years, they have donated millions to anti-gay groups including The Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Exodus International, and others. On top of fighting to not let LGBT people marry legally, they spread junk science, lie about LGBT people being pedophiles, support having laws that would make being LGBT illegal, and use debunked "reparative therapy" to try to change people's orientation. There's real harm caused by their donations, and that's a stellar reason not to give them one red cent.

We agree about both their track record and about the harm done by those organizations, at least broadly so, because I think that some of them also do some good.  But how do you decide that that issue and that issue alone, is how you will spend your money?  And what about all the stock holders of all those public corporations who are enriched by corporate success and give to those same places? 

 

Applying your standard, there is no end to the thing and no way to have economy unless it is peopled exclusively both those who share your views.  Ironically, this is where Cathy and his most strident opponents are most alike -- each want everybody to be just like them and are prepared to go to great lenghts to enforce that desired reality.  Sad, really.

Last I checked, we still had freedom of religion and a constitutional right to free speech. I can see avoiding Chick Fil-A if you don't like their sandwiches, but this makes no sense to me. And if you support this sort of boycott, what comes next? Are we now going to boot out all the religious organizations that don't approve of gay marriage?

I am sure there are those who would love nothing more, just as their are conservative religous groups that seek to punsih all those business which support it.  In each case small-minded, single-issue moralizers have taken over from those who seek to carefully balance individual rights, social concerns, and the free exchange of both ideas and money as the keys to a healthy society.

 

Again, were the comapany violating the law, or unfairly discriminating against people whose personal lives they didn't approve of, then this would all have to be revisited,  You do appreciate that, right?

I wouldn't boycott simply because a company's CEO espoused views different from my own but according to reports, C-F-A has donated millions to anti-gay causes. I feel it is reasonable to avoid spending my money in places that will pass it along to orgs I find reprehensible. I don't patronize the place anyway because I don't like their food and I'm not always consistent about researching firms' donations but if it is in my face, like CFA, then I'll boycott.

Thanks for being honest about your practiced inconsistency, especially as it's true for most of us, I suspect.  And you are right that there is some difference, even given that I believe we need to separate between what comapnay exec.s believe and how they run their business's, when those exec.s publically trumpet their poltical views.  I still think that punishing them for doing so sets a dangerous and repressinve precedent, but I take your point.

 

Also, as I will keep pointing out, there is a VAST difference between what private individuals do and what elected officials do and advocte for.  That mayors have politicized this issue as they have, that they have issued warning to the comapany to stay away from thier twon, etc. is truly reprehensible.

Gay marriage supporters should be glad they are just having to organize against Chick-Fil-A. There are some countries without our religious (and religious freedom) traditions where gays are stoned to death. Perhaps we should boycott products from those countries instead.

This is a good observation on which to end because it highlights a strenght in both camps regarding this issue.

 

You are certainly correct about the greatness of this country, the freedoms it affords (if not always fully equally), and the inconsistency of those advocating for a boycott of Chick Fil-A.  But is it also important that we not settle for a position which says that as we are all fine, as long as we are better than those countries where people are killed based upon the person with whom they share a bed.

 

I am, in many ways at least, a proud American exceptionalist.  but along with the pride that generates, come obligations, including the obligation to measure our success against our greatest aspirations, not just against the trak records of other nations in which most of us would never want to live.

Once again, time is at hand, and my hands are tired!

 

Thanks, as always, for so many wonderful questions and comments.

 

Don't forget to find me on facebook and follow me on twitter @bradhirschfield, and come back next week for more ethics in the news.

 

Peace,

Brad Hirschfield

In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by Beliefnet.com, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see www.bradhirschfield.com.
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