Questioned about the opposition his company, Chick-fil-A, has received on its position supporting the so-called “traditional family,” CEO Dan Cathy quipped “Well, guilty as charged.” In a recent article appearing in the Baptist Press (July 22, 2012), he continued that “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.” Chick-fil-A’s charitable division, WinShape Foundation, works with and supports such groups as the National Organization for Marriage, the Ruth Institute, the Pennsylvania Family Institute, Focus on the Family, and Exodus International among others, all fighting to ban marriage for same-sex couples, and some advocating to “cure” homosexuality. Cathy, who rules over a dominion of more than 1600 Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide, argued that “We intend to stay the course. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”
Well, Mr. Cathy, one does not have to be a biblical scholar to know our society does not and has not followed many of the principles the Bible dictates on issues of marriage. Let’s look at some of the religious teachings, many pointing out that the institution of marriage was constructed very differently from what some today consider as “traditional.” Approximately 4000 years ago, Abraham (commonly referred to as “the father of the Jewish and Arab people” and patriarch of Jews, Christians, and Muslims) was a distant ancestor of Shem, son of Noah. When his wife Sarah (who in fact was his half-sister having a common father) was unable to conceive, as it is written, Sarah told Abraham to conceive a child with her Egyptian maidservant Hagar, who birthed a son, Ishmael. Soon afterward, Sarah also conceived a son, whom she and Abraham named Isaac. After Isaac’s birth, Abraham banished Hagar and Ishmael into the desert. In Deuteronomy 25:5: “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” And in Deuteronomy 25:6: “And it shall be that the first-born whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel.” And what about biblical injunctions on husbands and wives engaging in sexual intercourse during a woman’s period? Leviticus 20:18: “If a man lies with a woman during her menstrual period and uncovers her nakedness, he has made naked her fountain, and she has uncovered the fountain of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from among their people.”
Furthermore, I would think that many women today, of all sexual and gender identities and religious backgrounds, may find difficulty in Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” And, Mr. Cathy, do you really promote the commandment to women in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35: “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” I wonder how many parents actually subscribe to Exodus 21:15 & 17, which dictates: “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.”
Actually, some biblical scholars interpret the relationships between David and Jonathan and Naomi and Ruth as romantic love. In1 Samuel 20:16-17: “So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, ‘May the Lord require it at the hands of David’s enemies.’ And Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life.” Jonathan also made a covenant with David. When Jonathan was later killed, David bemoans his death with these words in 2 Samuel 1:25-26: “How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women.” Naomi and Ruth likewise loved one another romantically. In Ruth 1:14: “And they lift up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law, but Ruth clung unto [Naomi].” The word for “clung” in Hebrew is “dabaq,” the very same word in Genesis 2:24 to illustrate Adam’s feelings toward Eve. Interestingly, the vow Ruth made to Naomi is the vow exchanged in many marriage ceremonies for different-sex couples: Ruth 1:16-17: “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”
In light of Chick-fil-A’s statements and connections to organizations opposing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, college and university students throughout the country have organized boycotts and petition drives to terminate their schools’ relationship with Chick-fil-A. In addition, mayors in a number of cities, including, for example, Boston’s Thomas M. Menino, Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel, and San Francisco’s Ed Lee, are discouraging Chick-fil-A from opening new branches in their cities, at least until they pledge to sign non-discrimination statements in the areas of hiring and public accommodations in keeping with their cities’ policies. On the other side, Evangelical leader Rev. Billy Graham issued a statement praising Chick-fil-A and Dan Cathy for taking a “bold stand for the biblical definition of marriage between a man and woman in a culture that has grown openly hostile to the Christian faith and its followers.” (Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (both past presidential candidates) are calling for a “National Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” on August 1, and Bishop E. W. Jackson Sr., Founder and President of STAND (Staying True to America’s National Destiny) has appealed for a “Buycott” of Chick-fil-A, in support of the company’s defense of marriage, and protection of family and Christian values.
I would ask Mr. Cathy and his supporters, to which biblical marriage values and principles are you referring? Do you prefer that men engage in polygamous relationships like Abraham? What about marrying your half-sister? I’m not hearing any so-called “Judeo-Christian” leaders calling on men in childless marriages to take on mistresses, and once they conceive, to exile them and their children from their towns, or for men to marry the widows of their deceased brothers, even when the men themselves are already married. When was the last time we banished a married couple from our communities for having sexual relations during the woman’s period? Should we really kill recalcitrant young people? Was this how we do and should define “traditional marriage” and “traditional families” today? And should we simply block out the verses recounted about David and Jonathan, and Naomi and Ruth? With the recent actions taken by Chick-fil-A, a critical question must be addressed. While the executives of private companies like Chick-fil-A most certainly and clearly have the right to say what they wish and support organizations and causes of their choice, should municipalities and public tax supported institutions such as universities maintain connections with those companies that expressly violate non-discrimination policies, many which now include sexual identity and gender identity and expression as enumerated categories? By opposing the basic civil rights of LGBT people, Chick-fil-A and its allied organizations clearly fall under the definition of discrimination according to these policies.
Former Associate Professor at the School of Education at Iowa State University and currently in the College of Education, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of “The What, The So What, and The Now What of Social Justice Education”, and “Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice”, co-editor of “Readings for Diversity and Social Justice”, editor of “Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price”, co-editor of “Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States”, and co-author of “Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life”.