Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chik-fil-a: “As Oft as Ye Eat This . . .”

For me, at least, the controversy swirling around Chik-fil-a is deeply personal. As a lesbian, who grew up in a strict fundamentalist household and attended church three times a week (at least), attended a Christian high school and four-year Bible College, I have a lot of “skin” in this game. I daily watch my Facebook newsfeed fill up with ‘I love Chik'-fil-a’, I see “likes” for anti-gay comments, pictures (completely unwelcome on my page) of Sarah Palin  sporting a freshly filled Chik-fil-a take out bag, and support for organizations like NOM and AFA and Focus on the Family. But for me, these aren’t simply affirmations of personal belief systems, these are deeply personal reminders of the rejection faced by gay people every where – and the rejection I feel (often against my will) by the world in which I was raised. I’ve learned over the years that friendships can and will end over issues of coming out, that family members will wish you dead, or non-existent, or at the very least conformist and unhappy as opposed to out, open and happily coupled.

There is no denying that my journey in coming out was also the catalyst in my journey away from fundamentalism. I have often remarked that if the fundamentalists could lie so much about gay and lesbian people, what else were they lying about? These questions led me, at first, away from God – away from faith at all – into a sort agnostic/atheistic morass. If there was a God, I hated Him, and resented Her manipulative games. For a long time picking up a Bible was almost impossible, and when I did - hurling it across the room was inevitable And prayer? Well, if you consider swearing at God prayer, then yes, I did pray. I also resented “Christians”, hated them in fact. I hated them for saying how much they loved me, or that they would always be there. And yet, my dearest friend would eventually cut me out of her life completely – with a jarring finality that even today, 14 years later is difficult to comprehend. How do you choose between maintaining a friendship and ripping out your own soul? And what sort of “friend” would blackmail you with continued support if you conformed or threaten you with complete banishment if you did not, indeed could not, turn your back on an essential truth – an essential reality about who you were?

But, I survived – by the grace of God – the dark days, the utter depression, the darkness, the desire to end my life. And it wasn’t long before God pursued me – and chased me into the arms of wonderful church in Moorestown, NJ. I have never in my life known such love and acceptance, such gentle kindness toward strangers. It took years of being a part of this gentle, loving, accepting congregation before I could make peace with God. For a long time I would open my hymnal with good intentions, but would be unable to sing those old familiar words, they would stick in my throat and flood my mind with bitter memories, of friendships lost, of isolation and loneliness. But the wonderful people at FBC continued to love, to support, to shed tears and to envelope my partner and I with such a grace and mercy that I could no longer resist the wooing of God. Eventually, the songs returned to my lips, I could open the Bible and find hope and solace, and had made my peace with God.

And yet . . . I can still feel the “sting” of loss and the pain of rejection. I don’t take the words of strangers personally. But each anti-gay word, each “like” of an anti-gay group, each attack on GLBT people in the name of “religion", or “christianity”, or “tradition” that is perpetrated by someone I know – and more importantly by someone who knows me – these I take personally. All the more so because I’m not in the closet anymore and my sexual orientation is pretty obvious. Sure everyone has a right to their opinions and beliefs . . . but do they have a right – according to their own faith traditions to hurt and marginalize others – to create an “other” at all? Maybe they think they do. I’m not innocent or perfect in the war of words – but I’m personally affected by this debate in more ways than any Republican -Conservative Christian will ever be affected by any political, religious debate.

For me however, I have one wish . . . that with each bite of a Chik-fil-a meal they remember one thing: me – someone who used to be their friend, who once encouraged them and laughed with them, and perhaps even helped them in some small way. To borrow a phrase from the New Testament “As oft as eat this bread and drink this cup” . . . remember me, Leslie, your roommate, dorm-mate, sister, friend, co-worker. Spend your money however you wish, but I think you owe it to yourself and to others to keep in mind the people you’re seeking to marginalize. . . . we’re a part of your past, your present, and your future. Other people will pay a heavy toll with your continued support of places like Chik-fil-a . . . and you’re exacting a pound of flesh from people you’ve never met. Our only fault is working each day, paying our taxes and our bills, and loving someone of the same sex. It’s your choice, it’s your money, it’s your faith . . .but I think you should at lease have the courtesy to remember me – remember us.

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