The Chick Fil-A Uncrisis Nonscandal

20120801-195438.jpgWow! In the short time I’ve been doing this blog, I don’t think an issue has cried out for some clear thinking more loudly than this one. In case you’ve been living in a bubble or doing postgraduate research in Siberia (hey, it could happen), I’ll give you the basics…

Just about anyone who has tried to eat at Chick Fil-A on Sunday knows they’re closed that day — and most know why. Since it was founded in 1946 by S. Truett Cathy, their company has sought to promote and live out Biblical values, including being closed on Sundays to allow employees a day of rest and worship. Now led by Truett Cathy’s son Dan, the company maintains that credo, and for the most part this has been uncontroversial. However, recently Dan Cathy has been in the media — and squarely in the sights of some very harsh critics — for stating in an interview with Baptist Press that he supports “traditional marriage.” When asked about the company’s support to various marriage ministries and donations (through its charitable giving arm, WinShape) to Christian organizations, Cathy said,

“Well, guilty as charged…we are very much supportive of the family — the Biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.”

Uncontroversial? Hardly. The result of these donations and comments has been a backlash of personal attacks, boycotts, and worse. Why? Because, according to CNN, “the comments of company President Dan Cathy about gay marriage to Baptist Press on Monday have ignited a social media wildfire.” Not just social media, but now we have entire cities taking the unprecendented (and unConstitutional, by the way) step of trying to ban Chick Fil-A, along with universities and other supporters.

Okay, with that background and context, put on your clear-thinking brains. I see at least two major problems here.

1. First I hope you see the biggest problem quite obviously — Cathy actually never mentioned gay marriage. At all. He voiced his support for the traditional family, and that’s all. Does that mean he is against same-sex marriage? Possibly, but he never stated an opinion on the issue. To be fair, I think we can reasonably assume that Mr. Cathy believes homosexual behavior is sinful — thus his affirmation of traditional marriage. But “traditional marriage” also covers other unrelated topics, such as fornication, adultery, and unjustified divorce. “Traditional marriage,” then, generally means a long-term, monogamous, heterosexual relationship. It does not mean — or even imply — hatred or bigotry toward any person or group. Affirming traditional marriage is no more “anti-gay” than it is “anti-divorce” or “anti-adultery”.

2. While Mr. Cathy was talking about his company at the time, it was clear to me from both the article and his prior interviews with Ken Coleman that he was expressing a personal opinion, not corporate policy. News flash — I feel like I should be whispering — sinners work at Chick Fil-A. In fact, I have zero doubt that Chick Fil-A employs adulterers and fornicators. And yes, I have little doubt that Chick Fil-A employs homosexuals. Their hiring practices are not based on Dan Cathy’s personal opinions on traditional marriage, as he clarified in a recent statement. Worst case, we have a private citizen (who is also a CEO) expressing a personal opinion about a social issue. Sure, his opinion is not “en vogue” right now — but that doesn’t make him a bigot, intolerant, or a “hater”. Others who disagree may choose not to patronize his business, which is fine. I still don’t see a crisis or a scandal.

As if this weren’t enough, I have great concern about Cathy’s freedom of speech and freedom to hold and express his religious beliefs — but I’ll leave that out of this blog. I also won’t go into the details of the Biblical position on marriage or homosexuality on this blog (perhaps later), that’s not the point. Please, friends, let’s think clearly about this — read the comments, then look at the response. Is this reasonable?

I did, however, try to eat at Chick Fil-A tonight — the drive-through line was backed up just over a mile, and a line was coming out the door. I settled for Five Guys, but man…Chick Fil-A sounds good right now.