Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad if Chic-Fil-A Fires People Because of Your Boycott

Chic-fil-A’s CEO, Dan Cathy, recently declared his support for traditional marriage (read: anti-gay lobbying groups) in an interview with Baptist Press. A lot folks who’re pro-equality for LGBTQI people are calling for a boycott, whereas other friends of the community are opposed. Bert Montgomery makes the case against boycotting in this open letter to Dan Cathy.

The most salient point of the anti-boycotting argument is that a lot of nice people depend on Chic-fil-A for their livelihood, and that a boycott would hurt a lot of employees who did nothing to deserve it. Bert bolsters the point with a call to Do Unto Others, and he presents a nice vision of the sort of reconciling work that ought to be undertaken as the Body of Christ.

It’s a fine argument so far as emotional appeal and a spirit of reconciliation go, but it relies on some flawed thinking about the nature of buying power and moral responsibility. A boycott is, under these circumstances, perfectly appropriate and needn’t be considered an adversarial gesture.

So, let’s talk about commerce. There are, in the Nashville metro area, thousands of places of business with whom I do not undertake financial transactions. For a lot of different reasons. I don’t have the means or any need to buy a new car, so I don’t do business with the Hyundai dealership. There’s this joint across the street from the divinity school called Ken’s Japanese Restaurant. I’m sure the owners and employees are perfectly nice people, but I’ve never been there. Not for any particular reason. I just haven’t. Or sometimes I don’t do business somewhere for moral reasons. I don’t frequent the Deja Vu Gentlemen’s Club because I think strip clubs are weird and mostly gross. And on and on for countless other businesses. If it was the case that the Hyundai dealership, Ken’s Japanese Restaurant, or Deja Vu Gentlemen’s Club went out of business or fired some people, I wouldn’t feel bad about that.

Point being, whether or not a particular place of business remains economically viable does not fall under the purview of my own moral responsibility as a consumer.

The case against boycotting Chic-fil-A is a bedfellow of the argument that it’s awesome to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need because “it’s good for the economy.” A particularly out-of-touch example is that of the yacht-owner. “If I don’t buy this yacht,” they might think, “a bunch of yacht manufacturers might be deprived of good paying jobs. Plus, think of all the yacht-scrubbers I’ll need to employ once I own the thing!” Well, yeah, okay. It’s better for the economy to buy a yacht than to, say, stuff millions of dollars underneath your mattress or pile it up and burn it in the style of Heath Ledger as the Joker. That doesn’t mean it’s the most moral use of finite resources.

Truth is, most of us are incredibly constrained as it relates to the moral influence of our buying power. We’re powerless to change the sort of legal and economic structures that allow the Waltons to amass a vast fortune on the backs of poverty wages. But occasionally we have a chance to make a social statement with our consumption decisions. We can put our money where our mouth is when telling Dan Cathy, “You’re hurting people and it really isn’t okay.”

Maybe it’s the case that some Chic-fil-A franchises will need to cut back on hiring because of the boycott. (My guess, though, is that it probably won’t turn out that way.) And that’s fine. I’m not under any moral responsibility to help Chic-fil-A employees retain their jobs. And it’s not like I’m taking the money that I would’ve otherwise spent at Chic-fil-A and sending it through a paper shredder. I’ll be spending it somewhere else and bolstering the economy in some other, more socially responsible way.

Boycott away. Boycott to your hearts’ content, friends. You aren’t responsible for large-scale trends in the macro-economy, but you do need to go to sleep and wake up with your conscience. And there’s no need to subsidize the unconscionable through your business with Chic-fil-A.

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