What's the deal with the whole Chick-fil-A Christian thing? And is it okay, as a supporter of equality and church-state separation, to eat their delicious chicken sandwiches?
The short answer? Quite a lot, and no.
Chick-fil-A president and CEO Dan Cathy spoke to the Baptist Press.
"We don't claim to be a Christian business," Cathy said in a recent visit to North Carolina. He attended a business leadership conference many years ago where he heard Christian businessman Fred Roach say, "There is no such thing as a Christian business."Most people don't have a problem with the political or religious ideologies embraced by their eateries, so long as it does not affect their dining experience. (And to be sure, many Christians are more than thrilled that companies like Chick-fil-A are vocal about their religious beliefs.)
"That got my attention," Cathy said. Roach went on to say, "Christ never died for a corporation. He died for you and me."
"In that spirit ... [Christianity] is about a personal relationship. Companies are not lost or saved, but certainly individuals are," Cathy added.
"But as an organization we can operate on biblical principles. So that is what we claim to be. [We are] based on biblical principles, asking God and pleading with God to give us wisdom on decisions we make about people and the programs and partnerships we have. And He has blessed us."
There are very good reasons why so many businesses go out of their way to stay out of religious and political debates -- they risk alienating a large part of their clientele. Customers at a Chick-fil-A are not likely to see bible verses on the walls, or to be asked by the fry-cook if they know Jesus, but one doesn't need to look too hard to know that Chick-fil-A is an organization deeply committed to promoting Biblical principles. This includes supporting anti-gay marriage initiatives and allegedly discriminating against its own employees who don't share their beliefs.
Cathy is very clear about Chick-fil-A's mission:
Cathy believes strongly that Christians are missionaries in the workplace. "Jesus had a lot of things to say about people who work and live in the business community," he said. His goal in the workplace is "to take biblical truth and put skin on it. ... We're talking about how our performance in the workplace should be the focus of how we build respect, rapport and relationships with others that opens the gateway to interest people in knowing God.So, okay, Cathy doesn't necessarily want his employees testifying from behind the register, so what's the big deal? There are a tons of companies with Christian CEOs and Christian values, right? Sure. And this is America, where people are free to believe what they want.
"All throughout the New Testament there is an evangelism strategy related to our performance in the workplace. ... Our work should be an act of worship. Our work should be our mission field. As long as we are stateside, let's don't think we have to go on mission trips by getting a passport. ... If you're obedient to God you are going to be evangelistic in the quality of the work you do, using that as a portal to share [Christ]," he said.
When asked if Chick-fil-A's success is attributed to biblical values, Cathy quickly said, "I think they're inseparable. God wants to give us wisdom to make good decisions and choices." Quoting James 1:5, he spoke of how often he asks God for wisdom.
The problem arises when highly successful companies like Chick-fil-A start using their muscle to support initiatives which are discriminatory.
There was a time when the Atlanta college football bowl game, which is now named after Chick-fil-A, was called the Peach Bowl. The annual bowl features teams from the ACC and the SEC. It struggled for a long time. Then 15 years ago the Chick-fil-A organization got involved. It was rebranded as the Chick-fil-A Bowl and has been incredibly successful with 15 consecutive sellouts.So if you attend a Chick-fil-A bowl, you better be ready to pray to Jesus. If you're Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or a non-believer, then, well, suck it.
"We are the only bowl that has an invocation. It's in our agreement that if Chick-fil-A is associated in this, there's going to be an invocation. Also, we don't have our bowl on Sunday, either," Cathy said.
Chick-fil-A also invests in Christian growth and ministry through its WinShape Foundation, which offers scholarships, camps, retreats, and foster homes.
In order to be eligible for a WinShape scholarship, one must sign a contract which includes Christianity-based rules, and commitment to a fundamentalist Christian lifestyle.
Gay couples are not allowed at WinShape retreats.
WinShape gave $2 million dollars to anti-gay groups in 2010, including the gay 'conversion therapy' organization Exodus International, and the Family Research Council, which has been designated a hate group by the SPLC. The company also gave $2 million to anti-gay groups in 2009.
Cathy is absolutely unrepentant regarding his company's support of anti-gay organizations:
"Well, guilty as charged," said Cathy when asked about the company's position.So, there you have it straight from the horse's mouth.
"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," Cathy emphasized.
"We intend to stay the course," he said. "We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.
Many Christians might agree with Cathy in his assertion that Chick-fil-A is not a Christian business. A Christian business might actually refrain from actively contributing to the denial of others' rights.