Putting Our Money Where Their Mouths Are

Okay – so, we’ve had a couple of weeks to digest the flap about Chik-Fil-A’s CEO Dan Cathy’s straightforward statements regarding his support for the idea that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. We’ve also considered that he has donated millions of dollars to organizations dedicated to preventing same-sex marriage from becoming legal in several states.

That, of course, has caused a hurricane of hyperbole — groups from the left have accused the company of “selling hate” and groups on the right have claimed that the very idea of religious freedom is under attack. Both claims are, of course, absurd. The mayor of Boston wrote an op-ed piece saying that he no longer wants Chik-Fil-A to establish stores in Boston and right-wing pols and pundits are lining up for photo ops, proudly displaying to-go bags with the big cursive C with a beak.

The Palins stop in…

Let’s be clear: CFA serves tasty chicken sandwiches, not hate. And who a state allows to marry is a civil, not a religious issue. Also, I fully believe that Dan Cathy has the right to express what he feels and spend his money however he pleases, even though I feel he is working on the wrong side of this issue morally. And though the mayor of Boston is free to have his “your kind isn’t wanted here” opinion, he is also on the wrong side of things ethically and politically. Will he now demand the charitable and political donation records of everyone that wants to establish a Beantown business and pass judgment on who gets to stay?

I do not mean to dismiss the discussion around Cathy, Chik-Fil-A, and gay marriage. Far from it. Personally, I think that this has crystallized the issue for a large portion of the population in a way that ballot measures and judicial appeals have never done. It has become a ready litmus test for whether this is an issue that you care about and where you stand on it. And the truly democratic part of it is that people get to vote with their wallets.

Speaking of which, first poll:

But let’s face it, where you buy a chicken sandwich is a pretty disposable decision and carries a moral gravity akin to swearing off the Lifetime Movie Network during Lent. Its disposability is one reason – in fact, the main reason I think – that people feel so empowered to make fierce blanket statements such as, “I’ll never eat there again!” – it’s easy and when it comes down to it, doesn’t really inconvenience you.

So let’s move on to a second scenario. Last week, perhaps in response to the furor around the CFA situation, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced that he was contributing $2.5 million to defend Washington State’s same-sex marriage law, which is currently facing a ballot challenge.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

As you might expect, there’s been some backlash. Notably, the group One Million Moms (whose ~50,000 Facebook members suggests that their name is perhaps an overstatement) has called for a boycott of Amazon.

And so, question 2:

The OMM boycott is like those called for by other similarly-minded organizations against Google, Microsoft, and Starbucks when they all publicly endorsed same-sex marriage in Washington. None of these boycotts had any apparent effects on those companies and I doubt Amazon will take a big hit, either. And I don’t think it’s because gay-marriage opponents are less ardent in their feelings than the CFA-bashers, but that giving up their gmail, software, kindles, or daily java addiction is probably asking too much when it comes to standing on principle.

So to me, this raises the most interesting question of this whole debate (and I use that term loosely) – where is the line on peoples’ willingness to take a stand against a company’s (or company’s owners/management) position on issues?

I’d like to ask the CFA-bashers to honestly evaluate whether they’d give up Google or Amazon or Facebook (or something else they really liked) if the contributions from those companies were flowing in the other direction? Or what if it was the CEO of Merck making funneling millions into “traditional marriage” causes and you just started on their new cancer medicine?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


34 thoughts on “Putting Our Money Where Their Mouths Are

  1. Yeah, you make a very good point. I could probably get away with not using google except that I’m so used to using it, it’s automatic. And oh yeah, my gmail account. That’s tougher. Amazon is harder. I use that a lot. So yes, it’s much easier to boycott a fast food chain, for me anyway because I hardly eat any fast food. But I’m sure there are companies I use a lot that have views I don’t share. Until I find out about something that really offends me (belief vs. acting on it in a hateful way), I will continue along in blissful ignorance I guess.

  2. Oh, Steve, I think we’re all so tired of hearing my thoughts on this. ;)

    I do try and pay attention to the pro-gay vs. anti-gay companies. If Amazon went in the other direction, it would seriously break my heart, but I would start to purchase books for my Nook app on my iPad and I would shop on Barnes and Noble’s website instead.

    The cancer medicine is obviously different. I can better fight for “the cause” if I’m not dead. So I would stay alive and then fight like hell to get them to change their policy. :) I don’t NEED Amazon* but I may need that medicine.

    * = choked sob**

    ** = SO glad they donated money FOR gay marriage instead of against it.

    • Kelly — there’s always a place for reasoned discussion around here. I specifically waited a while before posting because I didn’t want to caught up in all the initial outcries and want it to sink in a little bit and think about it.

      I applaud your commitment to the cause, I don’t think that many people would when made to choose.

      • Well, this has more of an effect on me than it does on most people. I’d be a bit of an asshole if I would sell out my right to get married for cheap movies and e-books.

  3. I so understand what you’re saying, Steve. I am however proud of Mayor Menino and although I think the two issues are not very similar, if this had been a company that fought against interracial marriages, I think we’d be having a whole different conversation. We here in Massachusetts legalized gay marriage. And if some fool thinks they’re going to blow into town on the platform that we did the wrong thing, they can shove that chicken where the sun don’t shine.

    My personal take on every one of those conglomerates is that hey, have you noticed the wildfires? The dechero? The storms? How long do you think the ironically-named Amazon and companies like Chick etc can pave over natural areas, use massive fossil fuels etc until we all croak? People can go ahead and eat that battery-cage raised chicken. I say, enjoy. I won’t be joining them.

    I don’t support any of these companies if I can help it. I think that some day we’ll wonder why we allowed these monopolies to dominate our lives.

    • Amelie — well, a law is just a law and people work to overturn laws all the time. That’s a perfectly legal thing to do and an important part of the democratic process.

      I also find it hard to accept that a municipality could penalize a business because they don’t like the politics of its owner. The corporation has not done anything illegal (and neither has Cathy) and shouldn’t be penalized. Let the people speak with their business.

      • Steve – well, they wanted to send a message. A political one. It ended up all over the news. They got their wish; unfortunately it overshadowed their product. In that case, too bad so sad for them.

  4. (Just a side note) also worth noting: while they don’t exactly have a “gays not welcome” sign, I doubt gay customers would feel comfortable there. If that’s the case, and my gay friends couldn’t join me for a meal well, I have no good reason to patronize their establishment.

    • Amelie — I’m not sure about that. Having gone to CFA, I have found their service to probably be the best in the fast-food industry. Anytime that I’ve been, everyone has been extremely friendly, courteous, and responsive. I don’t think anything “anti-gay” has trickled down to the workforce. At least the one that I see in CA.

  5. Ok – see I thought that there was some “smoking gun” trail between corporate Chick-Fil-A and donations to anti-gay-marriage organizations and lobbyists (a la the Target case). The latest LA Times blog (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hiltzik-20120801,0,1556559.column) suggests I might have extrapolated (please – if you can make the connection – let me know!). Unfortunately corporate America is peopled by the good, bad and the ugly as in all human endeavors. Without question Cathy hurt the Chick-Fil-A brand; but corporate Chick-Fil-A might be *somewhat* blameless (some Board elected Cathy President). Yes – I knew all along they embraced “christian family values”…but isn’t that each individual’s right? Now – is a corporation an individual (yea – I’m talking to you Supreme Court!)? I am for civil rights. Cathy has a right to his personal opinion; I have the right to shun him and never invite him over to dinner. Due to his recent comments I am less willing to stop by his place of business. When and if his corporation uses their riches to lobby against customers of a certain stripe (pick your stripe) – they’ve crossed a line of hate-ful behavior I cannot support even if I love their spicy chicken biscuits.

    • I think one of the things that separates CFA from other large corporations is that CFA has the image of being a “family business” more than Apple, or Microsoft, or Starbucks which are giant corporations. Because of that, I think Cathy’s comments cast a larger shadow onto the entire company.

  6. This post left a bad taste in my mouth. Not from you…from the topic. When someone uses their influence based on the position they hold in a community, or a boardroom, to promote a cause I don’t agree with, then I will take my business elsewhere. And am happy to do so. However, if it is a personal choice, I’m cool with that.

    It was very clear that Jeff Bezos contributed as a private citizen. I didn’t get that same vibe from Dan Cathy. I think his contributions over the years have been ego-driven. And, sadly, hypocritical.

    Take this quote from their website:
    To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.

    This is their company purpose. Frankly, I find it condescending and not a bit scary. However…

    They sell chicken sandwiches and make a fortune doing so. Their corporate culture is not something I personally agree with but as long as they don’t start handing out napkins with bible verse, their culture is of no concern to me.

    I guess the word that set me off was “we.” He did not say “I.” He did not say “my wife and I.” When the president of a public company speaks out publicly on a topic and uses the word “we” they are talking about the company as a whole.

    And that’s what got my feathers ruffled.

    This was a rather long response to your question, which I didn’t really answer. I’ll do so now. If the story was reversed and it was Jeff Bezos speaking for Amazon, the company, openly supporting a no vote for gay marriage, I’d go out and buy a Kobo. Immediately.

    Regarding Merck and their cancer medication…while a new drug and a Kindle can both be considered lifesavers in their own way, I don’t think the two have equal weight. Perhaps ethically but in reality, death beats boredom. Someone choosing to take a drug manufactured by a company they find morally abhorrent would get the same support from me as they would if they chose not to take the drug.

    It’s all about having the freedom to make the choices that are right for you. In private.

    But what do I know. I’m an atheist with an overly-developed sense of fairness and equality. Who should not be asked these types of questions as it will lead to a rant on her blog about Republicans and who knows what else.

    • BD — I hadn’t really considered the use of “we” versus “I” from Cathy. That does change the feel of it somewhat, doesn’t it? I mean, the sad thing is that I’m sure that everyone that works for CFA doesn’t feel the same way, and yet I’m afraid they will be labeled by others too quickly with guilt by association.

      I think you should rant all you want. :)

  7. Good question. I’m a vegetarian, don’t use Amazon and don’t take drugs. Now if Leonard Nimoy came out as anti-gay marriage, I’d be crushed. Could I give up Star Trek. No way.

  8. I guess I get frustrated with the whole premise. I’m a Christian and the whole discussion sickens me, not from a boycott standpoint, but from a “How the hell is this the issue we’re rallying around?” standpoint.
    “Let me explain. No is too much. Let me sum up.”
    Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. Nothing. But he said a whole crap ton about the poor, about healing wounds, about setting people free, about caring for the ‘least of these’. In fact the number of times God went off (via the prophets) on how much it grieved him/her/it that we were not caring for the poor, aliens, orphans, and widows far outweighs the number of times he got mad because of our sexual issues (both of the hetero and homo variety). We ‘christians’ are rallying around gay marriage as such a huge issue, and yet precious few of us are concerned about things like how the tomato pickers for most fast food restaurants are pretty much living slaves. We get all up in arms about Gay Marriage ruining the sanctity of marriage, and rarely face into the things that are destroying all our hetero marriages.
    It makes me so sad. How many marriages do you know that were destroyed by two gay people getting married? I know of only one, but I know of many destroyed by porn addictions, financial strain, infidelity, lying, selfishness etc. And they were all ‘christians’.
    I’m not trying to be overly hard on my own brothers and sisters, but come ON!
    Why are we still trying to be known by what we are against rather than by what we are building?
    Cathay and Chick-fil-a can put their money where ever they choose. I can also choose to not support it. We can also choose to make a big deal about which side of the spectrum we support
    I just wish that we would choose to confront something that could literally help people around the world, or choose to put our money where Jesus’s mouth is, and have it be an act of caring and fight for justice. I wish we could be known as the people who were militant about fighting generational poverty, or social injustice, or human trafficking, or slave labor.
    We’re the ones who seem to have forgotten 95% of what God called us to do.
    Sigh. That was a long sum up. Sorry for the vent Steve. I’m really grrrr’d about what I hear the vast majority of my christian compadres saying, and your blog just came across my path as I hit the boiling point.

    • I came here to write EXACTLY this post. Bekki has 100% nailed how I feel about these issues. I seriously want to cry because I agree so much (also, I’m emotional for about ten other reasons, but this might put me over the edge).

    • gingersister — you can vent here anytime. And I think this is a vent-worthy subject: the stunning amount of hypocrisy is, well, stunning.

      I think you are dead-on being confused about why Christians would pick this battle as a rallying cry. Do they really think that if Jesus were here today, he’d discriminate against homosexuals? I sort of doubt that he would.

      I do think it comes down in large part to people being lazy — both intellectually and morally. For the left, CFA is an easy target that is a lot more comfortable to bash than say Apple (because of labor practices and raw material acquisition issues) — because, face it, people love their iPhones more than people love people.

      And for the Christian Right, gays have been stigmatized for generations and they don’t have the guts to take a hard look at where that fear and hatred comes from — I don’t think it’s Jesus.

    • Exactly right, gingersister! I find it somewhat odd that the Vatican is coming down on a group of nuns because they spend too much time feeding the hungry and helping the poor and not enough time condemning the gays and protesting abortion.

      In the world of trouble that we are in, who gets married matters a lot less than who gets helped. And that is straight from the rabbi’s mouth.

  9. Great discussion. And I totally agree with gingersister. And your last sentence in the last comment, Steve. The fear and hatred did not come from Jesus.

    I read an article (wish I could find it now) about how employees for CFA have to go through hours and hours and hours of interviews to be examined and cross examined to make sure their beliefs “match” those of the company. I can only imagine the kinds of questions going on in those interviews. *shudder*

    • Thanks Lauri — in spite of all the awful and inflammatory things said from both sides, I actually do think there’s been a lot of good discourse from this. I think this issue has caused a lot of people to look at where they stand and self-evaluate.

      I’m also curious to see if more “bible-based” businesses will come forward.

  10. Nicely though out post, Steve. I am one of the few people who doesn’t like the chicken at CFA so my “boycott” of their food is no great sacrifice. Even if I did like their chicken, I wouldn’t eat there, but their profits wouldn’t be harmed I’m sure. It has more to do with how I would feel spending any money in an establishment where even a tiny portion of their profit goes to denying civil rights to anyone. I imagine it is very similar to the conservative stance on Planned Parenthood funding. I guess my big surprise about the reactions to the Cathy’s statements is that people were somehow still in the dark about the company’s stance on gay marriage. For years, reports of their donations to anti-gay organizations have been reported, but now that Cathy actually says it out loud, it’s a problem.

    Also, as an atheist, any company that uses religion strongly in their mission statement and company culture makes me uncomfortable. My favorite yogurt shop here plays contemporary Christian music, and I just have to pretend they don’t because I love their yogurt. If I found out they used the business to fund anti-gay causes, I’d stop eating there. It would hurt though!

    If Amazon or Google supported anti-gay organizations, I would boycott them, but it would be extremely difficult. Especially Google since I am so beholden to them for my email and other online services. I’d definitely miss Amazon Prime also…

    • Thanks Bookish! The Beloved works with a colleague that is gay and he expressed the same “you didn’t know?” surprise. But I think if it’s not one of your political priorities, most people — even well-informed people — aren’t going to go search it out.

      We’d been there and seen the testimonies on the wall, but I really don’t assume that all Christians are bigoted against gays — that would be a terrible stereotype for anyone to buy into, so your yogurt may be fine — but do we really have to start asking business owners where they stand on things? Are we going to start going to Red-malls and Blue-malls? I just died a little thinking about it.

      • Yeah, I think I put that poorly. There are certainly many Christians (and people of other religions) who are not anti-gay. In just these comments, we have Cori and Bekki, who are both great examples of that. I think my knee-jerk reaction to a business that is outwardly religious is partly due to the area I live in. Around here, the most common brand of Christianity is not tolerant of gay people (or atheists).

        I don’t worry about the political leanings of owners of every business I frequent. Especially when it comes to delicious froyo! But when it comes to a business large enough to contribute significant amounts of money to a cause that I find disgraceful, I do lose my taste for their product. And hearing that a favorite company of mine, like Amazon, supports gay marriage makes me happy to be a customer.

  11. I do try and boycott companies I don’t agree with – not always on political grounds but sometimes because of the way they treat their workers or suppliers. Voting with our wallets is about the only recourse we have against this big corporations.

  12. I simply can’t believe the brouhaha this issue has caused. The answer seems pretty simple to me. If you don’t like the position of a company spokesperson, owner, or CEO , you have the right to do business elsewhere. Period. If enough people feel the same way, the company bottom line suffers, and eventually, it goes under. This is why many CEO’s do not make their personal beliefs public. The GOVERNMENT, however, does NOT have the right to interfere with any business simply because of someone expressing a personal political or religious view. At all. Ever. And THAT is the crux of what made so many people, including many Liberals, angry.

    If a business is not breaking any laws, and as far as I know, free speech is still a fundamental right in America, the government has to stay out. Individual politicians can speak up as to their own personal beliefs, certainly, but the government may NOT refuse to allow a corporation to do business based on the religious or personal beliefs of the owner or CEO. I don’t agree with much of what Mr. Cathy said, frankly, but he certainly has every right to say his piece, and let the chips fall where they may with his customers.

    If you give the government permission to take away Mr. Cathy’s free speech rights (by punishing him via blocking the growth of his business because of it), you have given the government permission to take away YOUR free speech rights. Which they would happily do at any given time, if they felt you were in disagreement with their philosophies, and they could get away with it.

    Don’t like what was said? Eat elsewhere. There are plenty of other fast food chicken joints to choose from. But keep the government out of it, thank you very much. It’s really that simple.

    • Marcia — I completely agree with everything you said. People have the right — even CEOs — to express their opinions and have the backlash/consequences of those statements occur. No one should be forced to “take a stand” if they choose to remain silent and politicians CERTAINLY can’t force legal businesses to bend to any public/personal opinion.

      • Exactly. This whole thing smacks of the “Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain Ploy.” It’s a distraction keeping the important dialog in this election from occurring, which it desperately needs to do. No matter which side you are on, don’t you just want all these other stupid, pointless, and distracting issues to go away so we can concentrate on WHO wants to do WHAT to move this country forward? How else is the nation supposed to make an informed decision and get ON with it, for Pete’s sake? I’m not worried about chicken. I’m too busy wondering, “Where’s the BEEF?”

      • BTW, lest I be misunderstood. I am NOT saying “gay rights” is a stupid issue, by any means. I’m saying this big todo over an individual stating his own personal beliefs, right or wrong, is stupid. He’s allowed. Just decide whether or not you want to eat at CFA in the future, and move on. We have bigger problems ahead that we should be thinking about..

  13. This is probably a tangent, but it strikes me that a lot of the problem in this problem is that people are confusing the civil contract of marriage with the religious rite of marriage. As the USA is a nation governed by civil laws, gay marriage contracts should be a civil matter. And (here’s the fun part), just as the Supreme Court ruled that a divorce granted in one state was valid in all states and a marriage contract issued in one state was valid in all states [1], I expect that they will rule that a gay marriage contract in any state is legally binding in all states [2]. Thus, the civil case is over – all except for the shouting.

    As for the religious rite, nobody has a right to a rite. Just as the Catholic Church will not marry two people who have not attended Mass at that particular church, and a Latter Day Saints church won’t seal two people unless they are Mormons in good standing, no church will be forced to marry two people – no matter what the mix of genders. As time goes on, there will probably be sects of the various churches that do allow gay marriages and are willing to perform the rite – but nobody says that the other churches have to recognize those rites as being valid, just as they don’t have to recognize your baptism.

    [1] Provided that the participants did not deliberately change states just to enact or void the marriage contract, that is.
    [2] Under Article IV, Section 1, of the US Constitution if you want to be specific.

    • John — sorry for getting back late to this, but no, I don’t think it’s tangential at any level and I completely agree with you about the civil vs. religious marriage “duality”. I’ve begun to feel that at a certain level I wouldn’t mind the state getting out of the marriage “business” altogether, and let different churches and faiths decide how they want to administer the rite.

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