POSTED ON AUGUST 8, 2012:
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Throwing fuel on the bonfire of bigotry
This is how distorted our political system has become: Hate is now considered a virtue.
How else to explain the Taliban-esque behavior of our elected officials who last week championed anti-gay bigotry by urging God-fearing Oklahomans eat at Chick-fil-A?
It's bad enough that sanctimonious religious ideologues like state Rep. Sally Kern and U.S. Rep. James Lankford routinely use their elected platforms in ways that would leave the paranoid red-baiting, Commie-under-every-rock Joe McCarthy beaming.
It's even worse that thousands of otherwise kind, gentle, caring Oklahomans could so easily swallow the snake oil notion that downing a chicken sandwich and waffle fries somehow proves they're standing up for their religious convictions.
This latest skirmish in the great American culture wars began when Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy recently expressed his and the fast-food chain's unequivocal opposition to same-sex marriage.
"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation," Cathy asserted, "when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,' and I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about."
His remarks enraged gay rights activists and their supporters, prompting the Jim Henson Company to pull its Muppet toys from Chick-fil-A children's meals and students at seven schools to launch efforts to remove Chick-fil-A franchises from their campuses.
In response, former Arkansas governor-turned-TV and radio host Mike Huckabee and others urged religious fundamentalists to show their support for Cathy and Chick-fil-A by eating at the restaurants Aug. 1.
It's hardly surprising that Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, would enter the fray. She is famous, after all, for declaring that homosexuals are a greater threat to America than terrorists, enshrining her permanently in the Crackpot Hall of Fame.
Kern is free, of course, to exercise her First Amendment right to utter whatever inane thought enters her feeble brain. But she does not have license, in my view, to spend taxpayers' money to distribute her bigoted social views.
Yet that's exactly what she did when she involved the taxpayer-financed House Media Division in distributing a press release urging Oklahomans to support Cathy and Chick-fil-A.
In the release, Kern is quoted as saying, "Chick-fil-A is a company that has incorporated traditional values into its business model, the same values that a large majority of Oklahomans adhere to. This is a company that respects its employees and customers and creates jobs for young people. The hate and intolerance they have been subjected to in the past week is astonishing, and I encourage Oklahomans to rally behind this company and show our support."
The release continued:
Kern noted that voters overwhelmingly passed a state Constitutional amendment in 2004 that prohibited same-sex marriage and declared marriage to be between one man and one woman.
"Seventy-six percent of Oklahoma voters believe that marriage is an institution for one man and one woman," said Kern, noting the percentage of voters who approved the state question. "What the owner of Chick-fil-A said is nothing controversial to Oklahomans."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has created the "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" Facebook page to encourage citizens across the nation to support the company by dining at their local franchises on August 1. So far, more than 290,000 people have indicated they plan on participating nationwide.
According to the company's website, there are 13 locations across Oklahoma.
If I were Tweeting, I'd be tempted to type: WTF? As in, what the hell does that have to do with her job as a state representative? And what does that have to do with the proper use of the taxpayer-financed House Media Division to inform her constituents about the vital issues facing state government?
Speaking of Twitter, Lankford, the former Southern Baptist camp director, got in the act with this message: My staff wants to say thanks to @chickfila for the great lunch they bought there today #eatmorchikin http://twitpic.com/aeb26t.
The link was to a photo of a desk covered with Chick-fil-A delicacies, including chicken sandwiches, chicken strips, waffle fries and lemonade.
No one who's listened to Lankford, or read his pronouncements, or reviewed his campaign materials could have doubted for a nanosecond where he stood on the same-gender marriage issue.
So, it can't be plausibly argued the Tweet was aimed at informing his district's electorate. Rather, it was the equivalent of tossing gasoline on the bonfire of bigotry -- an unmistakable message to his mostly uber-conservative constituents that he is their kind of Christian.
Unsurprisingly, religious fundamentalists and rightwing Republicans are celebrating the August 1 turnout -- and resulting media coverage -- because they believe vilifying gays and promoting the bogus notion of a war on Christianity is a winning formula politically.
Earth to the would-be theocrats: America is changing. Most young people today don't care whether you're gay or straight. They care whether you're friendly and honest -- not a jerk. And they tend to leave the judging of sin up to God.
The holier-than-thou finger-wagging may work in Oklahoma in the short-term. But it's a disastrous long-range strategy because it is turning off younger voters (and potential future church-attenders).
It's unfortunate that Cathys is garnering so much attention because the spotlight should be shining on another corporate magnate known for his faith who offers a far more sensible approach to such hot-button social issues.
Bill Marriott, a prominent Mormon and chairman of the top-shelf hotel chain bearing his family's name, manages to hold strong religious views -- he is opposed to same-sex marriage -- but refuses to impose them on his employees or others.
"We have to take care of our people, regardless of their sexual orientation or anything else," he told Bloomberg BusinessWeek. "We are an American Church. We have all the American values: the values of hard work, the values of integrity, the values of fairness and respect."
As Bloomberg BusinessWeek's Diane Brady put it, "Marriott has both a deep faith and a deep understanding of his responsibility as a leader. Many of his shareholders, customers, and employees don't belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their values matter, too."
Noted Marriott: "Our church is very much opposed to alcohol and we're probably one of the biggest sales engines of liquor in the United States. I don't drink. We serve a lot of liquor. You're in business. You've got to make money. We have to appeal to the masses out there, no matter what their beliefs are."
The calendar insists this is the 21st Century, but it all-too-often feels like the 19th -- especially when the Cathys, Kerns and Lankfords of the world go to preaching their brand of religion.
Blacks then, gays now. Demonizing segments of our society for political advantage remains as popular and, sadly, as effective as ever. Who's next?
Real leaders unite their constituents. They don't divide them. Real persons of faith love their neighbors. They don't stone them. Real patriots celebrate our pluralistic society. They don't dehumanize others who think, look or talk differently.
Enough is enough.
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