Posts tagged: moral mistakes

Chik-fil-a, Hate, and Moral Error

Chik-fil-a has made a major decision. They will no longer support the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army in order to avoid being associated with groups that are “anti-LGBT.” In this post, I want to explore the ethics of the decision to divest. One line I hear from supporters of CFA’s decision is that people should not support the Salvation Army because it has an incorrect and harmful view of the moral permissibility of LGBT relationships. Because the Salvation Army opposes those relationships, and discourages them among their members, it should be subject to social sanction and should lose the support of good people who care about stopping discrimination against LGBT persons. So people concerned with equality should find other groups to support, and if Chik-fil-a cares about equality, then it should find other groups to support as well.

Let’s abstract from the details of the case and consider a decision to support two different groups, both of which are mistaken about the moral truth with respect to some important issue. Call them Innocent Inc. and Culpability Corp.

Innocent Inc. is a charitable organization that does a lot of good for the poor. It is mistaken about important moral claim A, though innocently. If Innocent Inc. did not see itself as having good reason to hold ~A, then it would hold A. Its support for ~A is not based in animus, only mistaken argument and tradition. Also, Innocent Inc.’s mistaken denial of A is not especially central to its mission.

Culpable Corp. is a charitable organization that does a lot of good for the poor. It is also mistaken about important moral claim A, though culpably so. Culpable Corp. would reject A even if it had good reason to hold ~A. Its support for ~A is based on animus, and not merely on mistaken argument and tradition. Also, Culpable Corp.’s deliberate denial of A is not especially central to its mission.

Now suppose that you affirm A, and have learned that two of your favorite charities, Innocent Inc. and Culpable Corp., both reject important moral claim A. This comes as a surprise to you. Should you alter your donation practices?

In the case of Innocent Inc., perhaps not. Maybe Innocent Inc. has been doing a lot more good than other charities you’re aware of. Or perhaps Innocent Inc. is closely connected to your community and you feel obliged to support it. Or maybe Innocent Inc. is just a very public presence which makes donating to it easy. The fact that they have a mistaken moral view not central to their mission, then, doesn’t seem to be such a big problem. Perhaps if they denied A hatefully, or if denying A were central to their mission, then divestment would be appropriate. But getting morality right is hard. We disagree about moral issues all the time, and very strongly, and so perhaps Innocent Inc. should be cut some slack. After all, we are all probably mistaken about some important moral view.

In the case of Culpable Corp., matters are easier. In general, we shouldn’t support people who bear others bad will, if we can avoid it. Perhaps Culpable Corp. does a lot of good, but bearing others bad will, hating them, spewing invective toward them shouldn’t be rewarded. Perhaps one should shift donations entirely to Innocent Inc. Or perhaps to Truth Technologies, which holds only morally correct views.

I think how you react to the Salvation Army depends on whether you think it is more like Innocent Inc. or Culpable Corp. If the Salvation Army is like Innocent Inc., then divestment seems less reasonable, especially if the organization is significantly dependent on your support or you have a special relationship with it, or some other sort of special connection. In the case of the Salvation Army and CFA, something like this relationship holds. They share values, have an ongoing relationship, the Salvation Army does a lot of good, its views on LGBT equality are an innocent mistake, and its views on the matter aren’t really central to its mission. CFA’s divestment seems most appropriate if the Salvation Army is like Culpable Corp.

And this assumes that Chik-fil-a’s leadership now thinks the Salvation Army is mistaken about sex equality. If CFA still holds the same with as the Salvation Army, then that changes things too.