NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — In a day when companies such as General Mills, Nabisco, JC Penney and Target seemingly compete to appear the most supportive of gay marriage, Chick-fil-A and its biblically-based values stand out — and the nation and media are noticing.
As a company, Chick-fil-A takes no position on gay marriage, but comments Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy made to the Biblical Recorder newspaper — in a story re-posted by Baptist Press — have launched a media storm. The story, in which Cathy takes a biblical stance on the issue, has been mentioned on networks such as CNN and referenced by the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Associated Press and Huffington Post, just to name a few. It quickly became the most-read story on Baptist Press' website for the year.
The company issued a statement Thursday (July 19) telling its customers that "going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena" and that its tradition is "to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender." It also noted that it has applied "biblically-based principles" to business management and will continue to do so. There are more than 1,600 Chick-fil-A restaurants.
Cathy's comments were tame from a biblical perspective and would have gone unnoticed had they been made by the pastor at his home congregation, New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga. Yet in the current environment in which celebrities and companies on a weekly basis make statements affirming gay marriage, Cathy's statements stood out.
Asked about the company's support of the traditional family, Cathy said in the Biblical Recorder story, "Well, guilty as charged."
"We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy said. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."
Chick-fil-A's stores are closed on Sundays and the company, he said, "operate on biblical principles." The media storm grew larger when a June 16 radio program was spotlighted in which Cathy underscored the need for children to have a mom and a dad.
"As it relates to society in general, 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,'" Cathy said on "The Ken Coleman Show." "I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about."
The Los Angeles Times story carried a headline, "Chick-fil-A's anti-gay-marriage stance triggers online uproar." The Washington Post included an online poll asking readers, "Will you continue to eat at Chick-fil-A?"
The Human Rights Campaign — the nation's largest gay activist group — posted a Chick-fil-A logo on its website with a fake tagline, "We Didn't Invent Discrimination. We Just Support It."
It remains to be seen whether the controversy will harm Chick-fil-A, but the company likely will survive and might even pick up some new customers. That's partially because its base is passionate about its food and, for the most part, apparently appreciates its traditional stance. That Washington Post poll — although not scientific — showed that 66 percent of respondents say they'll continue eating at the restaurant. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 35,000 people had commented on Chick-fil-A's Facebook page, the majority of them supportive of the company.
The company also likely will thrive because its base remains in conservative states. Texas has the most Chick-fil-A restaurants at 262. Including Texas, five states have more than 100 restaurants, and they're all in the South. North Carolina, which has 143 Chick-fil-A restaurants, passed a constitutional marriage amendment in May defining marriage as between a man and a woman. By contrast, the entire state of New York has one Chick-fil-A restaurant. Washington state doesn't have any. Neither does Oregon. Or Vermont.
After watching the uproar, Focus on the Family's Glenn T. Stanton, who often debates the issue of gay marriage and takes the traditional side, told Baptist Press, "I'm gonna have to stop by there for spicy chicken sandwiches and a milkshake more often."
"We hear almost monthly of new major companies announcing their support for the gay community, regardless of what most of their customers want," Stanton said. "And here we have the CEO of a clearly on-the-record traditional values company simply saying he supports the traditional family and how tampering with it is contrary to God's will. And the split-second reaction from these activists is to slander him and his company in the press and blogosphere. It just takes one company taking an alternative position to make the gay activists and liberal press hit the ceiling. But that's where we are today."
Stanton said the message by some opponents of Chick-fil-A apparently is, "Speak up for the natural, traditional family and we will come after you."
"If you don't believe this," Stanton said, "just watch how Chick-fil-A will be treated in the coming months. They are the new close-minded fundamentalists."
Even in responding to the controversy July 19, Chick-fil-A mentioned its traditional roots.
"From the day Truett Cathy started the company, he began applying biblically-based principles to managing his business," the company's statement said. "For example, we believe that closing on Sundays, operating debt-free and devoting a percentage of our profits back to our communities are what make us a stronger company and Chick-fil-A family. Our mission is simple: to serve great food, provide genuine hospitality and have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."
This year especially, Chick-fil-A's stance on traditional values stands out. In June, General Mills — whose products include Cheerios, Pillsbury and Green Giant vegetables — announced that it is opposing a Minnesota constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Voters will decide the issue in November. Also in June, Nabisco's Oreo brand posted on Facebook a picture of an Oreo cookie with six colorful layers representing the gay pride rainbow. The caption: "Proudly support love!"
Target has sold gay pride T-shirts this year and recently began selling greeting cards with gay marriage themes. And JC Penney has placed pictures of gay dads in its catalogue.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)