Chick-fil-Activism: We’re not in Kansas anymore

I once travelled to Brazil with a group of Americans. Our trip corresponded with an international soccer match between the USA and Brazil. If you’re a soccer fan you’ll know that Brazil has one of the strongest legacies of soccer greatness in the world. If you’re an American you’re probably aware that there aren’t many sports at which we think we ought not to be the best–except, say, badminton. Apparently, we’re willing to leave that to the Chinese.

It just so happened that our group took a trip to a mall in Brasilia…while the big match was happening. A friend and I became separated from the group. Shortly thereafter we heard, to our horror, chants of “USA! USA! USA!” Yes, our new friends had taken it upon themselves to show their national pride in the mall where a group of Brazilians were watching game.

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Now, I’m American, but I’m also English and spent the first fourteen formative years of my life in English society. In England, the only people who chant nationalist chants in public at or around soccer matches are hooligans–shaved head-sporting, Carlsberg-swilling, Union Jack-wearing thugs. It seems not only obnoxious, but also somehow disrespectful to attempt to seize control of public space in another country in order to vocalize your desire for the triumph of your national team. If you want to chant, if you want to celebrate, do it quietly or better, inwardly. “Supporting Chick-fil-A” by eating their food en masse and posting photos of packed restaurants feels like the equivalent of shouting down the opposition, as does gay couples kissing publicly in Chick-fil-A dining rooms.

This is what I find to be problematic about the Chick-fil-Activism (on both side) that has gotten so much press of late. The country is close to evenly split on this issue–there is no consensus.

It’s important for followers of Christ to realize that we are living in a post-Christendom society. In other words, the received vies of Orthodox Christian communities are no longer the central narratives of the society. They have been usurped by others and the kingdom narrative of Scripture is no longer the dominant story being told in our culture.This reality changes the way we communicate, or it ought to.

The Good News of the Gospel has not changed. God has not changed. The context in which a timeless Gospel and an unchanging God are proclaimed, has.

Sitting in a bar on State Street in Madison (WI) watching the World Cup, it would be perfectly appropriate to chant “USA! USA! USA!” I’ve done it–joined in as part of the dominant narrative in support of a common view. However, as evangelical Christians we’re not on State Street anymore. We’re in a foreign society and, as a result, a little more tact is in order. Or, to borrow the words of Scripture, “gentleness and respect.”

6 Comments on “Chick-fil-Activism: We’re not in Kansas anymore”

  1. Jeff, since you were in Brazil, wouldn’t a better measure of the Americans’ actions be the Brazilians’ reaction to it?

    I happened to be in the Washington, DC, during the World Cup hosted by the US, and there were Irish and Mexican fans all over the city. I boarded a Metro train filled with Mexican fans, with their colors, flags and chants full on. Another day, an Irish father and his 7yo son started a chant by themselves in a nearly empty Metro station, with no one else around. I thought it was great. Same thing when I lived in Vancouver – I loved it when I passed by an Italian coffee shop hearing the cheers for the Azzurri, or when I knew that Turkey had scored because the guys honking horns and waving flags out their car windows. In any of those cases, I didn’t see Americans or Canadians who seemed upset at the displays of “nationalism.”

    On the other hand, when I visited England, there were several occasions when I was sitting doing nothing, and drunk guys went out of their way to try to start something with me, just because they heard my American accent. My experience was that they couldn’t “leave well enough alone” – they *had* to make an issue of my nationality, whether I wanted to or not. (To be fair, one of the groups who confronted me were Australian.)

    I don’t know who you were with or what their intentions/beliefs were, but if they were like the US Christians I know, they probably saw nothing wrong with their chant because they assume that everyone takes pride in their nationality. They might have even seen it as the equivalent of wearing a Yankees cap to a Red Sox game – part of the competitive nature of sport.

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    • Mike — You might be right. However, I think what I’m trying to get at is my discomfort with taking over a public space to make a point (be it political, cultural, or theological) in a triumphalistic sort of way. If it turns out that thousands of gay couples kiss publicly in/around Chick-fil-As today–I’ll also feel very uncomfortable.

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  2. Jeff .. there are apples and oranges here.

    Yeah .. if you’re in a foreign country, you should be respectful. However, when you’re in the US and you state what you believe based on your religion, and someone says that you can’t put a store here because of your religious beliefs. Who is being disrespectful here? Who is interfering with the free exercise of religion and of speech??

    Certainly not the person who speaks from the heart of his beliefs.

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    • I get your point, truly. And it has merit. Without qualification, I believe it is wrong for elected officials to make statements like those made towards Chick-fil-A and Dan Cathy.

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  3. Thanks for the post, Jeff! I was trying to figure out why the Chick-Fil-A controversy made me uncomfortable (issues aside), and your analogy made it crystal clear. 🙂

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