Chick-fil-A and This Present World
“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed.” — II Timothy 4:10
In The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s brilliant take on the Salem witchcraft trials, John Proctor is pressured to admit he aligned himself with Satan.
He steadfastly refuses until, nearing the end of the play, he begins to weaken and cave, making a false confession. His godly friend Rebecca Nurse, also accused of witchcraft but unwilling to bend, hears this and cries out passionately, “Oh, John — God send his mercy on you!”
That’s the protest of the betrayed, the heartache of watching someone who used to stand firmly beside you start to wobble, then weave, then fall. You knew the battle would get tough, but you counted on their alliance regardless. Watching them break ranks is painful and deflating.
Which is why many of us who’ve gratefully cheered Chick-fil-A’s firm stand when attacked by hostile cultural elites now feel sucker punched, gasping and bewildered like Rebecca Nurse, sad to see an ally break ranks for all the wrong reasons.
What Happened, and Why?
On Monday the food chain announced it will discontinue making charitable donations to Christian organizations taking a clear stand for the traditional definition of marriage. (Or, as some prefer putting it, an “anti-LGBTQ” stand.) This means their former support of the Salvation Army, the Paul Anderson Youth Home, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is now a thing of the past, these groups having been deemed “anti-LGBTQ.”
Those of us who are disappointed, or even downright angry, over the decision should remember that this organization has endured years of relentless battering from gay activists, gay allies, politicians, universities and city officials. Ever since 2012, when its CEO Dan Cathy said in an interview that tampering with God’s definition of marriage invited His judgment, it’s been open season on Chick-fil-A.
Elected officials have declared it unwelcome in their cities. Universities have banned its presence on their campuses. Its employees have faced childish harassment. Municipal airports have refused, under pressure from activists, to allow it to open on their properties. That’s a lot of pressure, and the anti-Chick-fil-A drumbeat must have been tiring.
But has it hurt? Well, define “hurt.” As of July 2019, according to The Washington Post, “Chick-fil-A has moved up the ranks from the seventh-largest restaurant chain in the United States to become the third.” Your profits don’t climb like that without support from the general public. And support from the Christian public has been especially strong.
When the company got push back after Cathy’s 2012 interview, Mike Huckabee facilitated a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” calling for believers everywhere to patronize their local CFA to show support for a Christian-owned business that was not ashamed to stand for marriage. The result was record breaking sales and a longstanding, loyal following among believers. It’s a stretch to say Christians are the reason for the company’s success — but as a demographic, we’ve surely contributed to it.
‘More Focus and More Clarity’
Clearly, then, their decision to support organizations that take a traditional stand may have caused tension, but it didn’t cripple sales.
Then what did prompt the decision? It seems expansion, not survival, was a key factor.
So said President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos, who explained the company’s decision by declaring: “There’s no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are. There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message.”
Some have argued that this was not a “cave,” but that the commitment period Chick-fil-A had with the three organizations had run out, so they simply decided to begin supporting other charities instead. That may be in sync with Tassopoulos’ observation: “This provides more focus and more clarity. We think [education, hunger and homelessness] are critical issues in communities where we do business in the U.S.”
Indeed they are, and few would object to switching donations for that reason alone. But Tassopoulos also cited the “articles and newscasts” about Chick-fil-A as reasons for the company’s move, articles and newscasts that have been almost exclusively about their stand on LGBT issues.
So it strains all credulity to suggest that a desire to distance themselves from that stand wasn’t a motivator. In fact, according to yesterday’s interview with Bisnow, Chick-fil-A has said, regarding organizations it will support in the future, “none of the organizations have anti-LGBT positions.”
Who Does Chick-fil-A Claim to Be?
The company wants to be clear about who they are. Fair enough. But then, exactly who have they been claiming to be? As noted by Kaylee McGhee of the Washington Examiner, the Chick-fil-A Mission Statement reads: “This company exists to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.”
If glorifying God is your mission, and you want to be clear about who you are, then withdrawing your support from others who glorify God, simply because they uphold the standards of the God both you and they glorify, seems inconsistent and (forgive me) a little chicken.
Today, then, plenty of us are plenty disappointed. There are three reasons for our disappointment that seem especially clear in the aftermath of CFA’s announcement, reasons we can and should express directly to the company.
One: Who Are You Callin’ Anti-Gay?
Here’s a galling but perhaps overlooked fact: these organizations, who’ll now lack Chick-fil-A support, are hardly dedicated to fighting lesbians and gays. In fact, they’re focused on issues having nothing to do with homosexuality.
You’ll find no mention of gays on the websites of the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or the Paul Anderson Youth Home. No encouragement to target them. No sneering remarks about them. Heck, there aren’t even any references to evangelizing or ministering to them! You’ll only find that, as Christian organizations, they hold to a Biblical concept of sexuality and family life. For this alone they’ve lost the assistance of a former ally.
Two: You Ran Well. What Hindered You?
Paul asked the same question of the Galatians based on the contrast between their past and current stand. When people have taken a good stand in an honorable way, they become an example and an encouragement.
As did Chick-fil-A. When Dan Cathy’s remarks on marriage sparked outrage, the company neither cowered nor struck back. Instead, it continued to plug away at what it did best, putting out a quality product, hiring and serving without discrimination, and conducting itself honorably. No apologies, no counter-attacks. Just good service, great product, and a Christ-like attitude.
To the Christians who’ve supported you largely because of your stand, you’ve said, “You’re great, but you’re expendable.”
That’s how Chick-fil-A became a standard, an inspiration even, showing believers how to model excellence, grace and truth in the professional arena — and showing the world that Christians who take the Bible seriously can also be smart, successful and gracious.
When you raise the bar that high, as they surely have, then you’ve got a responsibility to maintain its height which, as of yesterday, they surely haven’t.
Three: Bad Messaging
If the company hadn’t supported the organizations it’s now abandoned, there’d be no issue. But when you openly support someone, then announce your withdrawal of support citing, among other things, a wish not to be associated with an anti-gay position, then you’ve done some pretty strong messaging.
To the companies you’ve cut off, you’ve said, “You’re great, but your position on sex and family makes you dangerous to be seen with.”
To the Christians who’ve supported you largely because of your stand, you’ve said, “You’re great, but you’re expendable. We know you’ll be mad, but you won’t disrupt our business, you won’t demand that universities and airports ban us, and you won’t stage sit-ins at our locations. So it’s safer to offend you than to offend them, because your reaction will never be like theirs, and you’re more likely to forgive us then they’ll ever be.”
To the social/political juggernaut known as the LGBTQ movement, you’ve said, “Bullying works. If you target Christian groups, harassing them at every turn, they will eventually cave to your demands. It worked on us. Now go do it to the others, and it will work on them, too.”
And You Really Think This Will Work?
Of course, if the heads of Chick-fil-A changed their position on human sexuality, we could at least respect their decision to distance themselves from those holding a Biblical view. We’d disagree, sure, yet we’d understand. But the tactic they’re now taking seems, to those of us familiar with all things LGBTQ, hard to fathom.
Anyone who’s observed the movement’s strategies knows that gay activists never accept a simple apology, much less a quiet change of policy. So what CFA has done is hardly going to stop the bleeding.
Unless and until the company formally apologizes for Cathy’s remarks, donates to openly gay causes, and speaks out against the groups it formerly associated itself with, then the professional and cultural resistance it wants to avoid will surely continue. More so, perhaps, because people dislike ambiguity. So the gay movement will demand, quite logically, more clarity. “Is Chick-fil-A now gay-affirming?” they’ll ask. “Do you officially renounce Cathy’s statements? What are you doing to make amends?”
Whoever’s handling public relations in the coming months had best be prepared for those questions and more.
‘Ashamed’ and ‘Glorify’ Don’t Go Together
But it’s not just us, or the gays, that CFA needs to answer to. Their mission statement may well become their indictment, making them answerable to the God they claim to glorify.
After all, Jesus Himself said that to be ashamed of Him and His teachings is to cause God to be ashamed of you: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26)
And what are His words? There are so many, of course, but here are a few that seem relevant: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” (Matthew 19:4-5)
Back away from that, or from those who still proclaim that, and do you not risk the shame of the One you say you want to glorify?
So Now What?
This is a sad turn of events, a public example of an old story. Demas (as cited in II Timothy 4:10) didn’t necessarily forsake Christianity, only Paul, because the imprisoned apostle was now a little dangerous to be associated with.
Likewise, in the America of 2019, you can openly identify as Christian without controversy. The trouble will only start if you openly live and express certain doctrines essential to the faith (like the doctrine of marriage and family), but a little dangerous to be associated with. But can Christianity without essential doctrine really call itself Christianity?
I’m not sure how to respond to all of this, other than to express deep sorrow and my reasons for it.
But my wife Renee just popped her head into my office with a practical suggestion: How about taking the money we might normally spend at Chick-fil-A and donating it to the groups they’ve cut off?
It’s just a thought — a good one, I’d say — so here are their links: The Salvation Army, the Paul Anderson Youth Home, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Next time you feel like buying a good chicken sandwich, you might consider sending the money to them instead.
Or not. We all have to decide how to respond, if at all. But this much I know: seven years ago Dan Cathy predicted,
I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation 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 define what marriage is about.
Considering the moral boldness of that statement, compared to the moral wobbliness of that same company’s recent decision and the confusion it will surely create, we might echo Rebecca Nurse’s lament: “Oh, John — God send his mercy to you!”
Joe Dallas is the Program Director of Genesis Biblical Counseling and a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. His daily blog is Joe Dallas Online. He is the author of Desires in Conflict, The Game Plan, and When Homosexuality Hits Home. His latest book is Five Steps to Breaking Free from Porn. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeDallasTGP and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.