Editor’s Note: Richard Morgan is a freelance writer in New York and the author of “Born in Bedlam.” He has written for many publications including The Economist, The New Yorker, The New York Times, NPR, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. The views expressed in this commentary are the author’s. Read more opinion articles on CNN.
What do bigots become when they bite their tongues?
It’s a trick question: bigotry is not just a matter of word or deed, but also of heart and mind. You can still be a bigot even though you have a black friend – or even though you are black yourself. You can be a gay bigot, a fat bigot, a bigot with abs, a bigot with breasts, a young one, an old one or an immigrant bigot.
Bigotry habla español and every other language. Whoever you are, bigotry is within your grasp. That’s the liability of being human. And, in this age when corporations are people, too, the way to know for sure that you are a bigot is to look in the mirror and ask yourself if Chick-fil-A is staring back at you.
After drawing backlash in previous years for funding homophobic charities and nonprofit organizations, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and The Salvation Army, the chicken sandwich spot announced on Monday that, as part of “a more focused giving approach to provide additional clarity and impact,” it will focus on homelessness, hunger and education. That is not the change of heart it seems.
This would perhaps be more convincing if Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s CEO, acknowledged as wrong, and directly apologized for the comments that he made in 2012 about the company’s belief and support of “the biblical definition of the family unit.” Instead, the company released a statement saying that “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…Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
Fun fact: there is no “policy debate” about gay marriage. There is settled law. Gay marriage has been enshrined as justice by the Supreme Court since 2015. It’s hypocrisy to claim a commitment to “respect” and describe same-sex marriage, affirmed as legal in the Obergefell decision, as a “policy debate” in the same breath. With its new announcement, Chick-fil-A did the corporate charity equivalent of apologizing without ever saying sorry. It is sobriety disguised as therapy or healing. It is silence hoping to pass as reverence. It is tolerance doing its best impression of fellowship.
It didn’t mention any shift in its views on homosexuality, despite Covenant House International, the homeless charity that Chick-fil-A is associated with, having formed a partnership in 2014 with Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund, which fights queer homelessness.
Such unspokenness is the same faux diplomacy that allows comedian Kevin Hart to say “So what?” – the queer version of “I don’t see color” – when rapper Lil Nas X told him he was gay during a September episode of HBO’s “The Shop: Uninterrupted.” Although Hart goes on to say that it’s important to understand and acknowledge people’s differences, he never says, for example, “I would love my son if he were gay.” (Hart famously stepped down from hosting the 2019 Oscars after a backlash over homophobic jokes he’d made in the past, for which he – eventually – apologized.) This unspokenness is the kind of thing that lets Michael Bloomberg think he can control his own forgiveness with a simple “I was wrong” apology for years of defending and promoting racist policing without acknowledging that such an apology means so many fines, arrests, and convictions were also wrong. An apology centered on the apologizer is vain catharsis, not enlightened or humbled redemption.
Fitting for a two-faced corporation, Chick-fil-A is biting two tongues at once: the one that refuses to acknowledge the right of anyone to love whomever they please, and the one that proudly mingles what the company calls in its 2020 Chick-fil-A Foundation priorities “staying true to its mission of nourishing the potential in every child” with a cowardice about the holiness of those of God’s children who are also gay children.
However self-purported Christians act interpersonally, and however corporations act financially, every formally stated effort of selflessness, kindness, patience, gentleness, self-control – all fruits of the Holy Spirit – are rendered rancid and hollow when personal tenderness is superseded by structural toxicity.
On Monday, Chick-fil-A said that the reason for this change was that its previous charitable commitments – which the company neglected to note were rooted in homophobia – wrapped up in 2018. The new announcement was for 2020’s commitments. But what about them? What about 2019? Where does Chick-fil-A stand on LGBTQ rights?
Maybe Chick-fil-A was so serious with its soul-searching that it took 11 impassioned months to do this better thing. Or maybe it had something to do with a Chick-fil-A in Reading, England – Britain’s first location! – which opened on October 10 and closed eight days later, unable to fulfill even its six-month pilot amid local scrutiny and protest for its bigotry. God only knows.
“Watch your words and hold your tongue,” warns the Old Testament’s Book of Proverbs. “You’ll save yourself a lot of grief.”
But Chick-fil-A has always been far more about the New Testament. In that tome – in the Gospel of John – Jesus is tested by being presented a woman accused of adultery and asked if she should be stoned in accordance with ancient biblical law. This is where Jesus said his famous line that only those without sin should cast stones.
But before that, instead of confronting the woman or her vigilantes, instead of being direct or candidly compassionate, Jesus turned away and drew in the sand. What he drew is lost to time, but the action had the effect of distracting the mob.
Such a lesson has not been lost on Chick-fil-A: distractions work. Can they get an amen?