Wheeler: Strongly disagree with someone? Eat lunch together Wednesday

Courtesy of Mike Morrell

You’d think at our age we would have outgrown food fights, but here we are slinging Starbucks from the left, chucking chicken from the right and lobbing rotting labels of hate all around.

Mike Morrell of Raleigh and Andy McMahon of Atlanta have had their fill.

With the ruckus ratcheting up among mutual Facebook friends, the two found themselves trading posts in an increasingly ugly thread on the merits of boycotting or supporting Chick-fil-A after the company’s Christian president affirmed his conviction that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“A number of my friends were disheartened by the whole Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, not so much judging the motives of the people who attended but just how it appeared,” said Morrell, who describes himself as a post-denominational Christian. “It didn’t feel like it conveyed a loving message to those of us who consider ourselves aspiring followers of Jesus.”

During the Facebook conversation, McMahon posted, “Wouldn’t it be great if instead of a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, we just had a People Appreciation Day?”

“I said, ‘Yes, we should,’ ” said Morrell, 32, a marketing and social-media consultant.

And so they are. Consider yourself invited to People Appreciation Day, which the men are promoting through Facebook.

On Wednesday, they want Americans to “take someone whose life or beliefs are different from yours (an atheist, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian; someone who’s gay, straight, bi or trans; a liberal, a conservative; a homeless person, a politician) and buy them a meal. Then, eat said meal with them. Appreciate them – as people – and listen to their story.”

“The goal is to see them as a human being made in the image of God,” said Morrell, who moved from Atlanta to Raleigh six years ago to start a home-based church. “Or if you’re not a person of faith, as a human being with intrinsic worth, so we’re not so quick to demonize each other.”

‘A poisonous discourse’

It would be naive to believe the event will change any minds, but any increase in mutual respect and our capacity for empathy would be a success story.

“If I can look in their eyes and share food, I won’t be able to callously dismiss their perspectives the next time I’m surrounded by like-minded people,” said Morrell, who often references the meals Jesus shared with people whom others avoided. “I’ll be able to see their perspectives in a more human and less sound-bitten way.”

Deborah Baro of Wilson told me she likes the idea of People Appreciation Day but doesn’t really trust herself to sit down with others of different political or religious beliefs. The Episcopalian would, however, be happy to work alongside them in a humanitarian project, such as Habitat for Humanity.

“It’s very difficult for me to talk to someone with rigid beliefs, and I realize that,” said Baro, the writer of a letter to the editor printed in Tuesday’s N&O that snidely, she admitted, implied that it’d be great if Chick-fil-A supporters died. “I either shut down the conversation or feel argumentative. You can’t discuss some things in terms of changing someone’s beliefs. It has to be through your actions.”

On Wednesday, a letter from Sharon Ferguson of Apex understandably characterized Baro’s letter as hateful.

“The anonymity of Facebook or a letter in the paper can produce a poisonous discourse when you’re hiding behind that facelessness,” Ferguson told me. “It comes down to relationships with other human beings.

“We as a country have gotten away from respecting each other’s views,” she said. “As a person with conservative-leaning beliefs, I feel like when I express those beliefs, people label me as unenlightened or narrow-minded.”

Take a chance

Ferguson believes that same-sex marriage violates God’s plan, but she nonetheless voted against Amendment One, a perfect example of the nuances that mass name-calling misses.

“I don’t want the government to tell me what my religious beliefs should be,” Ferguson said. “Our government was founded on the freedom of religion and the freedom from religion.”

Ah. Common ground for Baro and Ferguson?

As for Morrell, he will mark People Appreciation Day by reaching out to a fundamentalist evangelical who defriended him on Facebook over his objection to Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

“We couldn’t be more different,” Morrell said, “but if both of us are claiming to be followers of Jesus, the least we can do is have a meal together, and I hope others take that same opportunity.”

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