Christian writer Jonathan Merritt scored a media blitz over the past few days, as he authored separate articles about Chick-Fil-A, the vocally antigay fried-chicken chain, for publication at The Atlantic and Sojourners.
In both articles, Merritt asserted that corporate boycotts — a staple of successful social activism for Sojourners and other social-justice advocates in the 1980s — are ineffective. “Let’s stop boycotting and begin talking,” Merritt wrote in a Sojourners blog post. In The Atlantic, Merritt wrote, “Businesses should be judged by their products and their practices, not by their politics.”
But Merritt was inconsistent in his opposition to boycotts. He wrote in The Atlantic: “Culture war boycotts 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.” In other words, religious and sexual minorities cannot successfully stand for human rights; the best they can hope for, is to politely ask evangelicals for scraps of tolerance.
Merritt’s article in The Atlantic earned him a Quote of The Day over at Joe.My.God.
In order to fully weigh the hypocrisy of Merritt’s arguments and the justification for a response, I believe it is helpful to know a little history.
Twenty years ago, Sojourners was a brave voice against corporate-sponsored apartheid, the defense-contractor- and bank-funded contra war, and the slaughter of innocents by right-wing Salvadoran death squads and Guatemala’s deranged evangelical leader Rios Montt. And until more recently, The Atlantic was a skilled hub of socially conscious muckraking.
Now, it seems, their missions have changed: In this new era of social change, Merritt suggests, we will no longer boldly support progress for minorities or withdraw support from wrongdoers. Instead, we’ll all plop down and eat a bucket o’ deep-fried chicken. Then, as our arteries clog up a bit, we’ll talk. We’ll overlook a couple of critical facts (as Merritt does) about our sponsors and, from butchered Bible verses, we’ll rationalize why Chick-Fil-A’s factory-farmed chicken, bleached biscuits, styrofoam drink-cups, Biblically unclean bacon club sandwich, modest wages, and murky investments are all too exemplary to take a stand against. Meanwhile, the store management will be sending our customer cash out the back door, buying the enactment of laws to gradually overturn freedom of association, freedom of religion, and freedom from unjust incarceration.
Merritt’s casual dismissal of Chick-Fil-A’s donations to Exodus International and the Family Research Council is particularly alarming. Merritt reasoned via Sojourners:
Yes, Chick-fil-A donated money to “pro-family” groups, but most of them — with the exception, perhaps, of the Family Research Council, which received a paltry $1,000 from the fast-food company in the year cited — don’t deserve the derisive title.
Excuse us? In the 2010 tax year, according to Media Matters, Chick-Fil-A donated $1,000 (not a paltry amount) to Exodus after the ex-gay umbrella group’s treasurer co-launched Uganda’s antigay death-penalty campaign. Meanwhile, Chick-Fil-A appears to have donated $1,000 annually to FRC at the same time that FRC was advocating the imprisonment of U.S. homosexuals and the detention and execution of foreign sexual minorities.
Human lives are at stake: a fact that Merritt shuns.
While I oppose unnecessary outing, I am troubled by Merritt’s casual disregard for human rights and the suggestion that Christians (by their sheer numbers) are more entitled to protest than the minorities that evangelicals seek to suppress. I am also troubled by Sojourners’ abject loss of conscience.
With all that in mind, I respect the action taken this afternoon by Azariah Southworth, a former Christian-TV host and former ex-gay — though Southworth’s stated reason for speaking out about Merritt was a desire for authenticity in dialogue, not human rights.
I learned from my own involvement in a late-1990s dialogue project that dialogue requires honesty and transparency: Genuine and trusted conversation cannot happen when one party is required to be inauthentic, when one party’s lives are less valued than the other’s, or when one party omits life-saving information to give himself an advantage.
Addendum: I don’t know whether Merritt is gay, and I don’t believe his orientation is necessarily pertinent to the factual omissions explained above. But if he intends to be an agent for dialogue, he will need to be fairer in his acknowledgment of vital human rights concerns, and open about his personal background.