Thursday, August 9, 2012

Chik-Fil-A and Kiss-Ins and Everything That's Wrong With America

Several days ago, when Chik-Fil-A came under fire because it’s CEO spoke out against gay marriage, there was an outpouring of support for the chain.  Some of the supporters were opposed to gay marriage.  Others, like me, were supportive of their right to free speech.  Then gay rights proponents organized kiss-ins, presumably to annoy Chik-Fil-A customers by exposing them to G-rated homosexual acts.  More recently, a supporter of gay rights harassed a Chik-Fil-A employee in a drive-thru and posted a tape of it on YouTube. 

I’m amazed at how many people believe that annoying people accomplishes anything.  I’ve see examples on both sides of the debate berating, mocking, or irritating their adversaries.  It’s a fine way to waste time.

I saw several examples of this in my college days.  I’ve been to several universities, both as a student and a visitor.  These universities were in the south, and therefore quite naturally had a Baptist student union.  The Baptist student union is effectively a frat house for students (like some Baptists) who don’t drink, or for students (like most Baptists) who pretend they don’t drink.  I came across an unusual gathering near one such union.

Late one night as I was returning to the dorms, and I noticed a group of students gathered outside across the street from the Baptist student union.  They were dressed somewhat flamboyantly (dare I say, fabulously) and were facing the union.  They were mostly talking and smoking cigarettes, but occasionally engaging in, ah, intimate contact.  It didn’t take long to figure out that this was a group of gay students, given that the various shenanigans were either between two men or two women.  I also noticed that their assorted groping and grabass activity became somewhat more pronounced when someone was walking in or out of the union.  In other words, they were pestering the Baptists (admittedly, one of the more prudish and severe denominations) with overt acts of gayness.

Although I’m generally not a fan of public displays of affection, I don’t begrudge people, gay or straight, the right to occasionally demonstrate fondness for each other.  It doesn’t take much effort to ignore them.  As long as they aren’t so mushy and sentimental as to make me violently ill, I’m fine with it.  But I’m not a fan of annoying people to make a political point, because it’s an exercise in futility.

The Baptists are not innocent in this either.  Behold, I give you the Baptist street preacher, a common fixture on southern college campuses.  These fearless servants of the Almighty valiantly dispense God’s wrath verbally at unsuspecting passersby.  They’re easy to spot; they’re the only ones within miles wearing a suit, and they don’t smell vaguely of marijuana or alcohol.  Also, the Bible in their hands that they thump repeatedly is a bit of a giveaway.

They mostly make a habit of telling college kids why they’re going to Hell.  For example, using alcohol and smoking are hell-worthy offenses.  Wearing revealing clothing is also a no-no, which is why cheerleaders with skirts that show their knees are common targets for the street preacher.  Typically, the street preachers are little more than sources of amusement.  Invariably, a large crowd of students gathers around to giggle and trade jibes with the preacher.  Occasionally, they do manage to aggravate one of the cheerleaders.  Or perhaps one of the football players the cheerleader is with, resulting in an amusing foot chase.  But the one group they annoy more than any other is other Christians.

More sensible Christians want to grab street preachers by the collar, shake them, and say “Dude, you’re not helping!”  They know that conversions using tirades about hellfire and damnation have been ineffective since the Middle Ages.  Even back then, such diatribes had to be supplemented with more tangible (if less eternal) tactics, such as torture and threats of gruesome death.  But this doesn’t deter the street preacher.  In his mind, he’s merely facing down oppression.  Other street preachers view him in higher regard when he’s ridiculed or yelled at. 

This is also why a group of gay people would troll the Baptist student union.  It does nothing to convert Baptists to their way of thinking, it just makes them more popular with people already sympathetic to them.  Baptists and other Christians call this “preaching to the choir.”  It’s another way of saying “wasting time.”

This, I believe, is what’s wrong with America.  This is why we’re so divided.  The point of debate and activism and public discourse is for one person or group to convert people to their way of thinking through persuasion.  This rarely results in full conversion, but often results in compromise that heals the divide between people who disagree.  That is rare.  Instead, today’s activists seek to aggravate people who disagree with them in order to win the respect of people who already agree with them.  And the divide between opposing parties grows larger, not smaller.

Many of the people who supported Chik-Fil-A did so because they cherish free speech and abhor the statements of politicians who threatened to ban Chik-Fil-A in their cities solely because of the opinions of their management.  But others were simply trying to annoy gay people.  And the kiss-in and the drive-thru incident were just examples of gay people and their supporters annoying them back.  The kiss-in is particularly infuriating to me, because I know that if you want to spend your idle time performing amorous acts, there are far more diverting things that can be done in private.  Smooching in public seems … unambitious.

Word has it that gay rights activists are organizing a countermove involving gay people going to Starbucks.  I realize that Starbucks is one of the all time greatest places to waste time and accomplish nothing, but I hope they’ll ignore that temptation.  I hope they’ll try to be more like the Chik-Fil-A free speechers.  If they’re doing it to stand up for civil rights, it’s a worthwhile thing.  If they’re just going to stand in a Starbucks and say nasty things about Christians, they’re squandering valuable oxygen.

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