Every now and then an event comes along that offers a unique reflection of our world. A mirror, if you will, of what our culture has become.
One took place this past week through the catalyst of three words from the CEO of a restaurant chain:
“Guilty as charged.”
Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, gave an interview to Baptist Press. Correctly saying that there is no such thing as a “Christian business,” he did offer that organizations such as his can operate 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.”
Then came the match that lit the fire.
When asked about the company’s support of the traditional family, Cathy simply said, “Well, guilty as charged.”
He then went on to say, “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 … our restaurants are typically led by families. … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families.”
Gasp! How dare he say that when it comes to families, his support goes with the historic, traditional understanding of millennia that reflects his Judeo-Christian values.
At least that seemed to be the collective response from such cultural epicenters as the media.
The Baptist Press interview was picked up by the Huffington Post, Associated Press, USAToday, Los Angeles Times and more – most with the phrase “anti-gay” in the headline – fueled by the “revelation” that the privately-owned business donated to Christian groups that opposed homosexuality.
(Of course, overlooked were the millions of dollars Chick-fil-A gives each year to other charitable causes. For example, they fund foster care programs, schools of higher learning, and children’s camps. They provide scholarships for the employees to attend college, and this past Friday, they provided free meals for the police force in Aurora, Colo.)
Many on twitter and in the blogosphere immediately labeled them a hate group.
Yes, a hate group.
Then the mayor of Boston vowed to block Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant in the city because it is a business “that discriminates against a population.”
The Jim Henson Company of Kermit and Miss Piggy fame said they will stop providing toys for the fast food chain’s kids’ meals because the company won’t endorse same-sex marriage. They plan on donating money already received from Chick-fil-A to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
Ed Helms, star of the sitcom The Office, publicly promised a personal boycott.
Okay, let’s put our big-boy pants on for a minute.
Cathy never uttered the words “anti-gay” in the interview. All he did was state, when pointedly asked, his support for the traditional family as outlined in the Bible.
Further, the company made it clear following Cathy’s comments that they had no intention of entering the policy debate over same-sex marriage, and that the Chick-fil-A “culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”
And indeed, there has never even been a hint of discrimination in Chick-fil-A’s history.
So Chick-fil-A is not a hate group, does not discriminate, and is not actively working in the realm of public policy.
It just has personal core values.
But my, what a mirror this has provided, and the reflection is worth noting in detail.
Fifty years ago, any support of homosexual practice would have ended your business. Now, the threat to your business is support of the traditional family.
It is a fascinating progression that has taken place in American culture.
First, classical Christian orthodoxy was marginalized.
Second, it became ostracized.
Third, it became demonized.
Fourth, it became penalized.
And now the move would seem to be to have it criminalized.
Defining discrimination as disagreement, and then disagreement as a hate crime, is one of the more frightening developments of our time.
But developed it has.
As the Baptist Press reporter has since said of the tempest over Cathy’s remarks, “I don’t understand why that’s a bad thing all of a sudden. It was not an anti-gay statement. It was a pro-family statement.”
But that’s the point.
That’s the reflection given to us in this mirror.
Welcome to our world.
James Emery White
“'Guilty as charged,' Cathy says of Chick-fil-A's stand on biblical & family values”; read online.
“Chick-fil-A steps out of public debate on gay marriage”; read online.
“Boston mayor vows to keep Chick-fil-A out of city”; read online.
“Some Chick-fil-A news reports called ‘distorted’”; read online.
“In Defense of Eating at Chick-fil-A”; read online.
“Huckabee launches ‘Chick-fil-A Day’ for Aug. 1”; read online.
“Muppets company severs ties with Chick-fil-A over gay marriage stance”; read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.