Brian Ammons has some very serious concerns over the outing of evangelical Jonathan Merritt, and asserts that if boycotts are tricky business, then the outing of another person should be considered even more so.
First off, is it really news to folk that Chick-Fil-A is supporting a conservative political agenda? I quit giving them my money years ago (with the exception of an occasional submission to the immense temptation of a drive thru lemonade and order of waffle fries — I confess). While these latest statements about same-sex marriage are particularly disturbing, LGBTQ activists have been raising questions about the company for more than a decade. As far as I can tell, the only thing that’s changed is that this time the offense caught the attention of a broader audience. Thus, Chick-Fil-A is the avatar du jour for businesses that support conservative politics.
Boycotts are a tricky business, and I hear the push back from some of my peers. There are those who argue that, as a strategy, the boycott’s time has past. They argue that boycotts are no longer effective, yet it’s not been so long since we’ve seen significant policy changes due to boycotts from companies such as Burger King and Mount Olive Pickles.
Others argue that boycotts are a bad idea because they can have a reverse impact, galvanizing those who support the policies and mobilizing them to, in this case, “eat mor chikin.” Yet, the other impact of boycotts is to change the cultural conversation by drawing attention to an issue.
Even if Chick-Fil-A gets a temporary boost in sales thanks to friends of Sarah Palin and Franklin Graham, the boycott is working because it is politicizing the act of buying a chicken sandwich. I for one think that’s a good thing. I come out of the early 90’s queer campus organizing tradition, where we did things like declare “Blue Jeans Day” in which wearing blue jeans signified support for LGBTQ students. Of course, since most students wore blue jeans most days, suddenly the entire campus community had to grapple with whether or not they were willing to be identified with us. Not a bad strategy.
All of this is to say that I disagree with young evangelical Jonathan Merritt (and other folks whom I think of as friends) when they push back on the boycott. I appreciate the call for civil dialogue, and I’ve positioned myself publicly to be one of those who will sit down at the table with folks I disagree with. I take civil liberties seriously, so at the end of the day if the owner of Chick-Fil-A wants to lend financial support to groups that I find deeply offensive, I’ll defend his right to do it. I’ll also chose not to do business with him.
But what happened to Jonathan (whom I’ve never met) is that his call for dialogue with Chick-Fil-A was responded to by the revelation from gay Christian blogger Azariah Southworth that he and Jonathan had a history. Jonathan responded by acknowledging that they had been in contact with each other, met up once, and engaged in some sort of something “that went beyond the bounds of friendship.” Which led to such sophisticated reporting as reflected in The Advocate’s headline: “Prominent Evangelical Anti-gay Blogger Outed as Gay.”
Aside from missing the fact that while Merritt is far from championing the cause, he has a long history of pushing back against the more hardline voices in the Christian right around relationship to LGBT issues; how did we get from him having one hot night to being gay? If he were a beautiful young woman our culture would consider a same-gender liaison somewhere between an experiment and recreating a (misogynist) scene from Coyote Ugly. Katy Perry kissed a girl and liked it; Jonathan Merritt kissed (maybe?) a boy and is a closet case. Merritt may well come to identify as gay, bi, or otherwise queer, or he may not. Either way, he simultaneously broke the bro code and pissed off the homos, so right now things must look mighty grim.
Yes, it’s true that after the “outing” Jonathan responded with some rhetoric I find problematic. And while as a survivor of sexual abuse myself, I’ll never buy into the logic that it is the root cause for my attraction to men, I’ll be the first to say that some of the sketchier parts of my sexual history are very much tied to my trying to unlearn the lessons of my youth through recreating them. But the truth is, I’ll never buy into the logic that we need to find a root cause for my attraction to men at all. And while we’re at it, I’ll resist the assumption that gender is the only factor in determining my attraction. What the heck, let’s go all the way—I’ll go ahead and claim full responsibility for making my own choices about whom I invite into my bed, regardless of their genitalia.
“Gay” is a cultural identity. It’s a political strategy. And despite the insistence otherwise on the part of so many who claim it, it’s disturbingly conservative. “Gay” insists on a narrow range of sexual narratives—it holds “orientation” in such high regard that all sexual acts and desires are evidence of core of one’s identity. Jonathan Merritt is not gay, or at least hasn’t identified as such. As far as I’m concerned he’s the only one who can make that call. Even if one argues that acts committed in private that are out of integrity with public statements are worthy of scrutiny, we’ve got no right to determine for someone else what those acts mean. If boycotts are a tricky business, outing is even more so.
I disagree with Jonathan Merritt on a lot of things, but I hope that wherever his journey takes him he finds a framework for interpreting both his desire and choices that is life affirming and works for him. And you can be sure of this: I will continue to work for a culture that respects his right to identify himself using whatever language he chooses—‘cause God knows I want that same respect.
*Kudos to Tony Jones for crafting a powerful piece on this same topic, and resisting the dominant simplistic analysis. Check it out here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2012/07/30/is-jonathan-merritt-gay/
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