Can this country go a week without a chicken-related controversy? Barely had we survived the Fried Chicken Sandwich War of 2019 when Chick-fil-A shook the world with the announcement it was halting charitable donations to three organizations that opposed gay marriage, including the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It made me miss the days when a chicken sandwich was just that — a crispy golden buttermilk-crusted hunk of chicken breast topped with mayonnaise and pickles, perfectly nestled between two buttered buns. Now, this Southern culinary export turned national icon comes served with a side of God or politics, although one could argue that they are really the same thing.
Despite soaring profits, the third-largest restaurant chain in America found itself raising the hackles of many loyal conservative supporters and customers for capitulating to progressive demands. In many ways, Chick-fil-A, with its folksy spelling and solid reputation for service with a Southern charm, is an anachronism of a bygone era, unapologetically run as a Christian business guided by family-oriented values. Ever since CEO Dan Cathy expressed his opposition to gay marriage in a 2012 interview, LGBT activists have led protests and boycott campaigns against the company. Several local airports have banned Chick-fil-A from opening franchises on premises, the Staten Island Yankees were forced to cancel a promotion and partnership with the restaurant chain, and as Douglas Murray recently lamented, recent protests have rocked the first UK location, culminating in the mall rescinding its lease.
It’s hard to imagine how we got to the point where the Salvation Army, the international organization behind those ubiquitous red kettles perched on virtually every street corner during the holiday season, became entirely reduced to an ‘anti-LGBT organization’? Scanning the headlines, it would seem like that’s all they do. While there’s no doubting its Bible-backed mission statement, the Salvation Army, like many other churches and faith-based civil society groups, offers more than just spiritual salvation. Their enemies include the scourge of homelessness, poverty and drug abuse. Might it be somewhat shortsighted to discard the baby with the bathwater in the effort to paint the charity as a hate group?
Then there’s the hypocrisy of corporate activism and questions about its effectiveness. How many allies are, in the same breath, denouncing Chick-fil-A’s charitable contributions to organizations that promote traditional family values while continuing to do business in and with countries that outright persecute LGBT individuals and in some cases, sentence them to death? With its $45 billion check to SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Saudi Arabia’s financial tentacles are extended deep into some of Silicon Valley’s largest tech companies such as Uber, WeWork and Slack. Surely enriching the country with the most repressive LGBT rights record warrants an equally — if not more — ferocious opposition campaign compared to the shenanigans directed at Chick-fil-A? Where are the protests and boycott of Uber, whose CEO recently had the audacity to downplay the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government in an interview, by calling it a ‘mistake’ and comparing it to an accident in which a woman was hit by a self-driving car?
If consumers want to punish Saudi Arabia for their treatment of LGBT individuals, then they should be allowed to boycott companies that receive investments from them. In fact, this is the same tactic that the US is currently employing against China, by using market mechanisms and economic pressures to force a change in values.
The problem ultimately is that one man’s conscious consumption is another man’s cancel culture; corporate activism is a two-way street. Our ecosystem permits the advocacy that saw companies threaten to pull out of North Carolina in protest of their bathroom law, as well as letting Dan Cathy run a company based on his religious values, so long as it doesn’t discriminate on protected classes and follows employment law.
‘I think that CEOs today and business leaders are as important as political leaders and that they have a role like political leaders, which is that they have to stand for something,’ Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, said in an interview in December with Bloomberg News.
Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A stood for something: a viewpoint that at least 63 percent of the US population doesn’t like, though opposition is softening on it over time. Will this satisfy their opponents and critics who are now emboldened to further erode religious liberty? Or will the woke social mores of the day come head-to-head with religious pluralism in a game of chicken? If neither swerves to avoid the other, they and perhaps our entire system will crash.
Perhaps we should consult the scripture of good ol’ Yeezus who incidentally wrote a song about Chick-fil-A on his new album Jesus is King:
‘Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A
No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave.’