(I should add that Ike was not nearly as thrilled about the experience as I was, but it was still a pretty good date night in my book!)
Although I love Chick-fil-a’s food, there is much more behind my affection than the menu. I love that Chick-fil-a always has incredible customer service. I love knowing that I will be greeted with a warm and welcoming smile as soon as I approach the counter. I love that the employees go out of their way to ensure that you have an enjoyable dining experience. I love that the stores are always clean and hospitable. I love that Chick-fil-a is constantly full of small children because parents know it’s a safe place to bring their kids. I love that Chick-fil-a is intentional about being a positive influence in the community, and that it organizes family friendly events each week. I love that many of the store managers are some of the very best people I know. I love that Chick-fil-a goes out of its way to support the marriages and families of its employees. And I love that its employees are fiercely loyal to the company, and its patrons, as a result.
Perhaps most of all, I love that Chick-fil-a is pro-family, and not in an empty, hypocritical way that merely judges certain individuals while ignoring the sins of others. I love that Chick-fil-a is pro-family in an edifying and fruitful way: they are taking active steps to help the men and women in their company be better husbands and wives, and they are providing the families in their communities with kid-friendly activities designed to encourage family togetherness. And they do all this, not as a marketing gimmick, but as an expression of the company’s Christian values.
Chick-fil-a is not a perfect company because it is not led or employed by perfect people, but it is certainly a good company. It has worked hard to serve whatever community surrounds it–not just the Christians, and not just the traditional families, but everyone in the community. I wish more companies were like that.
For all of these reasons and more, I was frustrated by the debate that erupted after Chick-fil-a CEO Dan Cathy voiced his now infamous support of “traditional marriage.” In response, many Americans have sworn never to eat there again. Here in the Chicago area, a couple politicians have publicly condemned the company and have vowed to block its entrance into their jurisdiction. Still worse, many are labeling the company as “anti-gay” and a “hate group.”
To me, the way this whole conversation has played out is symbolic of why dialogue feels nearly impossible in our country today. Yes, ideas have consequences, a truth that Christians should weigh heavily and soberly when speaking on the topic of homosexuality. Opposition to the gay lifestyle or gay marriage, when expressed in the wrong way, can result in persecution of the weak and marginalized, and Christians cannot ignore that reality (a subject I wrote about here).
However, ideas can also have positive consequences. In the case of Chick-fil-a, the company’s pro-family position has led them to invest in the families they employ, serve the communities in which they are located, and as Jonathan Merritt pointed out in his article for The Atlantic, fund foster care programs, children’s camps, and scholarships for employees to attend college. Based on my experience with the company, its employees, and its leadership, Chick-fil-a isn’t anti-ANYONE, but it has a long history of pouring into the institution of marriage for the betterment of society.
Unfortunately, we seem to exist in a cultural moment when, on this particular issue, words apparently speak louder than actions. It doesn’t matter what kind of person you are, how you live your life, and if you have staked your existence on loving people well. If you believe that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman, you are often labeled a hate monger. To me, that logical jump signifies a major conflation of very different issues, and doesn’t serve the conversation at all. It only breaks it down.
That is why this Chick-fil-a explosion has been so discouraging to me. It makes me wonder if Americans can ever disagree without name calling. Even within the church, can Christians hold different positions without accusing one another of vile acts or fueling hate? Do we even have a category for that kind of discourse?
Some days it sure doesn’t seem like it. But before Christians throw up their hands and despair that no matter how hard they try to be loving, and no matter how wisely they choose their words, they are still accused unfairly and labeled inaccurately, Christians must also remember that they are still without excuse. Followers of Christ are still called to respond in patience, kindness, and love.
When discourse is so uncivil, it is tempting to respond tit for tat, to cry foul, or to cite our religious freedom with all the indignation in the world. But Jesus taught a different way. In passages like Mark 13:13, Luke 6:22, and John 15:18, Jesus tells Christians to anticipate hatred from the world. But he exhorts us not to respond in kind. Instead he teaches, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
It is so easy to get mired down in the politics of these debates and to forget that simple teaching. But it is a crucial one. In a culture that slings insults back and forth with no possible end in sight, love is a different kind of way, and a very different witness. What’s more, as I think the example of Chick-fil-a reminds us, love is a fruit that validates the integrity of our ideas.
In Luke 6:44 Jesus reminds us that a tree is known by its fruits, which means that the world is right to criticize Christians when the fruits of our ideas are hatred. When our teaching results in the oppression of others, then something is deeply amiss in our teaching. Here I think Christians can learn a lesson from a company like Chick-fil-a. As much backlash as the company is receiving right now, and as much as its positive fruits are being completely ignored, the fruits are still undeniable. The fruits of their pro-family stance is the up-building of families, not the perpetuation of hatred.
That said, when Christians claim to be pro-family while the families in our churches fall apart, our fruits betray us. Something is missing, and we need to pay attention, because the culture certainly is.
Again, I am not claiming that Chick-fil-a is perfect. It is just a company full of imperfect people. But I appreciate the fruits of the company’s values. So today when I drive across town for an appointment that happens to be down the street from one of the few Chick-fil-a’s in my area, I am going to eat there. Not simply because I love their food, and most certainly not because I hate gay people ( I don’t!), but because I appreciate the ways in which Chick-fil-a has served our communities indiscriminately. I even think Chick-fil-a can teach us something.