Guest Column: Students lead way while conservative Christians play ‘victim’

College students across the country have organized boycotts and petition drives to terminate their schools’ relationship with the national fast-food chain Chick-fil-A because of the restaurant’s direct connection to organizations dedicated to restricting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Chick-fil-A’s charitable division, WinShape Foundation, works with and supports such groups as the National Organization for Marriage, the Ruth Institute, the Pennsylvania Family Institute, Focus on the Family and Exodus International among others, all fighting to ban marriage for same-sex couples and some advocating for the “curing” of homosexuality.

Students at Indiana University South Bend successfully lobbied their school to dissociate from Chick-fil-A as a vendor, and students at other campuses are taking their lead, including students at the University of New Orleans, Texas Tech University, Mississippi State University, University of North Texas, Gainesville State College, Florida Gulf Coast University and Duke University. By petitioning administrators, students are sending the clear message that discrimination in any form cannot be supported on their campuses.

According to one of the schools’ petitions: “Mississippi State should be a place that supports equality for everyone — where all students, staff and community members feel welcome. We should not be allowing corporations to do business on our campus if they are using their profits to strip fundamental civil rights from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. Please join me in calling on our school’s leadership to remove Chick-fil-A from campus — unless and until the restaurant chain withdraws its support for anti-gay organizations.”

Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, issued a news release in an attempt to counter the boycott by stating, “While my family and I believe in the biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.” He went on to define Chick-fil-A’s corporate purpose as “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us, and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A. … We will continue to offer resources to strengthen marriages and families. To do anything different would be inconsistent with our purpose and belief in biblical principles.”

Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr., founder and president of Staying True to America’s National Destiny, accuses these student leaders of hatred against devoted Christians. Though students involved in these actions represent all sexual and gender identities, Jackson argued in an interview with Christian New Wire that “this is further proof of the insidious and dangerous hatred by homosexual activists of any Christian who dares try to live out their biblical values. The problem in society today is not hatred of homosexuals, but hatred by homosexuals of anyone who refuses to say ‘amen’ to their sexual behavior.”

The bishop goes on to accuse members of the “homosexual community” of attempting to demolish the faith foundations on which our country is based, since “it is an affront to them, and they want a sexually amoral society remade in their image.” Jackson argues that the oppression toward Christians, which he terms “Christo-phobia” and “Biblo-phobia,” is so extreme and extensive that now “may be the time to make Christians a protected class.”

Rather than reverting to a boycott, Jackson is calling for a “buycott” of Chick-fil-A, in support of the company’s defense of marriage and protection of family and Christian values.

Over the years, similar boycotts to those currently underway against Chick-fil-A have been waged against companies. For example, some have boycotted Domino’s Pizza when it was discovered that its founder, Tom Monaghan, supported a number of anti-abortion groups such as Operation Rescue. Some people do not shop at Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores, because it actively promotes (proselytizes) a form of Christianity in its ads, especially around Easter, and often plays Christian music over the airwaves in its stores.

With the recent actions taken against Chick-fil-A, however, a critical question must be addressed. While private companies like Chick-fil-A most certainly and clearly have the right to support organizations and causes of their choice, should public tax supported institutions such as universities maintain connections with those companies that expressly violate campus nondiscrimination policies?

While conservative Christian theologians like Bishop Jackson pose as victims in this drama, most campus nondiscrimination politics now include sexual identity and gender identity and expression as enumerated categories. By opposing the basic civil rights of LGBT people, Chick-fil-A and its allied organizations clearly fall under the definition of discrimination according to campus policies.

Current events clearly show that students nationwide are taking the lead in raising critical issues, and they are holding campus administrators accountable for upholding their stated policies.