Religion & Liberty Online

The unfortunate lesson from Chick-fil-A’s surrender

Why do I care about Chick-fil-A’s decision to drop Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes as they seek to properly “align their values” and make sure people understand “who they are”?

I completely comprehend why Chick-fil-A wants to escape the censure of progressive elites. The company is a thoroughbred competitor. In terms of profit per square foot, they are the reigning champion in American fast food. When you have that strength and speed, you want to use it.

The company has consistently been known as a Christian company (very much like Hobby Lobby). I remember Truett Cathy speaking at an Atlanta event for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The relationship was completely natural. Indeed, I am sure many Chick-fil-A operators would say that they have a powerful bond with the Christians and churches in their communities.

When Dan Cathy expressed his belief regarding traditional marriage, the company became a target for progressive elites. They protest when Chick-fil-A tries to expand into major cities and sometimes have blocked the company when it tries to open airport locations. The same is true of campus locations. Christians have cherished Chick-fil-A for appearing to weather the storm and not compromise the core beliefs of the founder and his family.

So, you lead this thoroughbred company and you see that natural paths for expansion are blocked for political reasons (and maybe reasons of spiritual warfare, but you don’t want to think about it that way). You ask yourself, “How can I get out of this trap and let my thoroughbred run?” You formulate a potential answer. You try the subtle approach. You drop the longtime affiliations with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Salvation Army for new ones that are LGBT approved. You couch the change as a shift to focusing on hunger, homelessness, and education. (That might work with dropping FCA, but certainly seems nonsensical with regard to the Salvation Army.)

Notably, most notably, when almost every major media outlet characterizes your move as expressing a new policy not to give to “anti-LGBT organizations,” you make no attempt to counter the claim, even though you understand that now you are participating in the censure of traditional Christian belief and practice. Indeed, you can’t really counter the claim because if you do you will ruin the effect of the subtle shift you attempted. You have fallen into the perfect trap. The only way forward is through and the only way through is more capitulation.

By doing so, you increase the pressure on everyone who hasn’t bent the knee. And you’ve taught a lesson to us all. You can be the most successful pound-for-pound fast food company in the United States and you will still be unable to remain unapologetically Christian. New markets are too important. Growth is too important. Not alienating the New York-DC-Los Angeles-San Francisco nexus is too important.

Image: Chick-fil-A in Fairlawn, Ohio (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Hunter Baker

Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is a professor of political science and the dean of arts and sciences at Union University and an Affiliate Scholar in religion & politics at the Acton Institute. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.