Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Marriage and Chick-Fil-A

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Ben Howard

The following thoughts are still in progress.

Last week in an interview with Baptist Press Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy confirmed that the company, based in the Southern Baptist roots of S. Truett Cathy, is “supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit.” This set off a firestorm of reports from major media outlets construing the statement as an attack on gay marriage.

Chick-Fil-A tried to respond by saying they have no policy regarding gay marriage and that "going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena," and that its tradition is, "to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."

Here's the rub. Neither side is spinning the truth. Dan Cathy was not making a statement opposing gay marriage, but also, he was. The problem, the real problem at the root of the gay marriage debate, the one that makes people on both sides feel slighted, abused, and insulted, has to do with the great unasked and unanswered question of the debate. What is marriage?

Is it a symbol? A sacrament? A contract? A societal construct? Does it mean anything at all?

I think at its core, at its richest, its all of these things. It's a creation of society to help us get along. It's a contract that means one stands beside the other through anything. It's a sacrament that helps us share, just a little bit, in the divine community of God's self. And it's a symbol, a symbol of love and devotion, and a symbol that creation is good, and that world should go on being good.

This is bigger than a rights issue. Marriage at its fullest is a grace and it's not something we can demand, its simply a gift we are given. It isn't something government's can hand down or make laws about or rule on or permit or prevent people from doing. Laws are flawed and staid and cannot encapsulate what “marriage” is even if they use the word.

On the other hand, while I feel marriage is a religious issue, I also believe the conservative understanding of marriage is weak. In a social and religious context where it has become increasingly difficult to explain the importance of symbols and ritual, the refuge of choice has been the literalization and legalization of the Bible. As a result, a once rich full view of marriage has been reduced to a cultural expectation and a legalization of sex.

The more I consider the issue, the more I belief that the conservative response to gay marriage is one of fear more than one of hate. With such a thin view of marriage it becomes increasingly difficult to articulate the value of such a commitment and in lieu of deconstructing this view in order to build a healthier richer understanding, the response has been to go on the defensive and to define marriage as its borders.

Eventually, this conversation will end with the government allowing same-sex marriage. It's a matter of time. This is the way history works. I hope that both sides can learn to talk to each other and understand each other, and hopefully this conversation will not be for nothing. I hope that out of this conversation we get a more vibrant, deeper view of marriage and the commitment it entails. Then again, that is not how history works.


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