By Joe Harris
In politics, as in fast food, one man’s chicken is another man’s “beef.” Case in point: While the list of people who are fleeing the Chick-fil-A coop is growing—mostly in urban, gay-friendly areas, by the way— there is a growing chorus of support from traditionalists and social and religious conservatives who stand behind (and with) the Atlanta-based chicken joint, and its corporate policies that favor “the biblical definition of the family unit,” as company president Dan Cathy put it this month.
Those traditionalists, long suspicious of Hollywood-types and other liberal elites, were anything but put off by Cathy’s recent remarks that the fast-food giant stands “guilty as charged” of its backing—backed up by political donations—for candidates and causes that are more inclined to view “marriage equality” as alternating nights doing the dishes than a civil right.
On the left, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino blocked Chick-fil-A’s plans to expand into Bean Town, saying that “You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against the population. We’re an open city. We’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”
The Jim Henson Company, creators of the Muppets, recently cancelled a planned partnership with the chicken chain in protest. Dan Cathy, who is the son of company founder S. Truett Cathy, told the Baptist Press , “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives,” throwing divorcees— gay and otherwise—under the bus, for added measure. “We don’t claim to be a Christian business,” Cathy said.
“But as an organization we can operate on biblical principles.” Those principles include closing its 1,600 restaurants on Sundays, and a management philosophy with a “focus on values rooted in the Bible.” Gay rights activists accuse Chickfil- A of promoting an anti-gay agenda, chiefly through political contributions.
A report by Equality Matters found that, from 2003 to 2009, the company donated more than $3 million to Christian groups that oppose gay rights. The report noted that $2 million of that was donated in 2010 alone. The company has consistently denied that it opposes LGBT rights. Last week, officials said that Chick-fil-A will “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena” and abstain from “proactively being engaged in the dialogue” on marriage equality.
Cathy remains unapologetic about Chick-fil-A’s stand in the public policy debate, and says that he and his company “intend to stay the course.” His father, Truett, 91, is no stage-prop villain. He has been honored for his philanthropy and good works (which include serving as a foster parent for over 30 years, and establishing the WinShape Foundation to serve homeless and foster children). The elder Cathy opened his first restaurant in 1946.
He has attended the same Baptist parish for over 50 years, and was honored in May with a degree from Liberty University, the intellectual cauldron of religious, social, and legal conservatism founded by Jerry Falwell. Last week, former and GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee posted on his Facebook page that he was “incensed at the vitriolic assaults on the Chick-fil-A company.”
He said the Cathys are “a wonderful Christian family who are committed to operating the company with Biblical principles, and whose story is the true American success story,” that “is being smeared by vicious hate speech, and intolerant bigotry from the left.” Huckabee, who declared August 1 to be “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” defended traditionalists.
“Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same-sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hatemongers, and intolerant,” he wrote.