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The Hypocrisy of the Chick-fil-A Stance on Marriage Equality

Even if I don’t agree with a brand’s stance, I’m prone to admire purpose-driven brands.  Organizations that simply stand for pushing more product are typically less successful than those with a clear and distinct purpose.  Many would argue Chick-fil-A is the embodiment of a purpose-driven brand.

However, their recent PR fiasco regarding marriage equality represents all that is wrong with firms trying to have their chicken and eat it too (corny joke I know…).  It’s not a secret that Chick-fil-A was built on the foundation of Biblical values, such as famously being closed on Sunday.  They’ve integrated their Christian values into their business processes and marketing alike, and they need to accept both the benefits and the consequences that come with that.

By integrating Christian values into their brand, they’ve created an evangelical following.  In a commodity market, what a brand stands for is often its core differentiator. Fast food is a commodity industry. Chick-fil-A’s stance and brand values have helped them transcend market dynamics and be very successful in a tough industry.

With that said, they should expect push-back and respectfully embrace those who choose to boycott their restaurant.  It’s hypocritical to take a strong stand on the issues, yet be surprised or offended when the people whose beliefs run counter to yours choose not to buy your products.

The PR push after Cathy’s comments have probably done more harm than good.  Their Facebook response read:

“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. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 Restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.

Chick-fil-A is a family-owned and family-led company serving the communities in which it operates. From the day Truett Cathy started the company, he began applying biblically-based principles to managing his business. 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 says nothing.  It’s a tepid walk-back saying that we believe what we believe, but if you don’t believe what we believe, please continue to eat our chicken because we respect you enough to sell you our food.  The choice to integrate religious beliefs into their brand was just that, a choice.  Chick-fil-A’s conviction in these beliefs is a choice that they must now embrace.

As for those boycotting, what rock have they been hiding under?  It’s not like Chick-fil-A has been sponsoring Pride Parades and suddenly decided to stop.  According to a recent Huffington Post article, “Chick-fil-A donates money to groups such as Marriage & Family Foundation, Exodus International, and the Family Research Council” which aren’t exactly pro LGBT organizations.

My point is that both sides are being irrational.  Chick-fil-A should drop the hypocrisy. They’ve reaped the rewards of positioning themselves as a fundamentalist Christian company.  They should also embrace and accept those who choose to eat elsewhere because of this.

And everyone protesting should continue to protest or boycott at their leisure, but they shouldn’t pretend there has been a sudden change in Chick-fil-A’s core values.  This isn’t a shock.  This isn’t a radical departure from their brand story.  This is who Chick-fil-A is and will always be.

As always, I’d love to have others’ thoughts and comments.  I’ll personally buy the commenter with the most insightful comment lunch at the fast food establishment of his or her choice.

Comments

  1. July 23, 2012 @ 10:37 am

    When Cathy initially founded his company on biblical verses and began supporting such organizations, they were following the mainstream view. Truly courageous brands such as Starbucks, Oreo, JC Penney have taken positions that they knew were going to be unpopular and stood their ground. Taking a popular position that over the years becomes unpopular is sure to throw a brand off balance, but I do agree that they would get more respect for standing their ground than to be wishy washy.

  2. July 23, 2012 @ 10:58 am
    Phillip says:

    I think it is unfair to say that the response is tepid. CFA has the right to believe what it wants, but they do not have the right to deny services to anyone because of his/her sexual orientation. I think its response was fair, legal, and in the best interest of the company.

  3. July 23, 2012 @ 12:17 pm
    Bruce says:

    For the record, they’re values are not Christian. They are religious right. Christian values include inclusion , love, and acceptance.

  4. July 23, 2012 @ 12:26 pm
    JD says:

    Personally, I wish brand names would stay out of politics. Do we need to look up every company’s stance on every issue before we make a food choice now, or go out clothes shopping? Is that what it is coming down to?

  5. July 23, 2012 @ 4:15 pm
    stephen says:

    Both sides AREN’T being irrational. Nobody sits around and looks up which programs EVERY company donates to. That’s impossible for individuals to do (a new non-profit idea!?). This information came out because of some guy with a loose tongue. New information hit the market, and some people are reacting accordingly.

  6. July 23, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

    A) Bruce is right. Christian doctrine is not the same as Christian values, and this fiasco may reflect the former, but not so much the latter.

    B) Phillip is right. The response basically says, “We are going to treat you with honor, dignity, and respect” regardless of corporate belief. Not sure what else you could expect them to say here – “we don’t want you to come in” ?

    C) From what I’ve heard, what agitated a lot of people was a statement something along the lines of “America is bringing on God’s judgment” due to homosexuality. Which, while it may fit with Christian doctrine, is equally true of violence, lies, etc. etc. and it is quite odd if anyone feels this one area really pissess of God more than the rest.

    D) The world is going to be judged anyways. This seems slightly similar to people wanting to not elect the anti-Christ or prevent some other Biblically prophesied event. According to the Bible, those things will happen, so why try to stop them?

    E) It’s worth noting that in Ezekiel, Sodom isn’t called out for homosexuality, but rather some other issues: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”

    http://bible.cc/ezekiel/16-49.htm

    This doesn’t mean that Biblically God is a huge fan of homosexuality, but rather that it doesn’t seem to be some top-of-the-list abomination worse than other sins. (See point above about violence etc.)

    Romans teaches that all fall short (read: gay and straight and everything else.)

  7. July 23, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

    @ Everyone – the core issue here is that they should have embraced others’ decisions to choose to boycott their brand. Basically, I think they should have said, “These are our values. We didn’t mean to offend anyone, but if your personal belief system makes you want to choose options other than Chick-fil-A, then we support and admire you for standing by your convictions. We would love to have you as a customer, but we won’t sacrifice our values and we wouldn’t want anyone else to sacrifice theirs.”

    @ Chris & Robert – I agree about values versus doctrine. I probably could have worded that much better.

  8. July 23, 2012 @ 6:28 pm
    Tom Edwards says:

    This has been said elsewhere in the comments section, but it needs to be emphasized: Chick-Fil-A is headed by a radical “religious right” element. That is NOT the same thing as “Christian.”

  9. July 23, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

    @Brian

    I think you have a good point. Corporate-speak often gets in the way of bold, authentic responses by dressing them in something everyone can feel safe about. This is a good example of that; amidst the context though, it’s pretty easy to turn into a political / religious convo as this somewhat has.

  10. July 24, 2012 @ 9:15 am
    Geoff says:

    Chick-fil-a is not a commodity. Unfortunately, nobody makes chicken as good as they do. I tried Hardee’s “chicken biscuit” once, and it was freaking terrible.

    So, this agnostic, socially liberal consumer finds himself unable to resist their delicious, delicious chicken… :(

  11. July 24, 2012 @ 10:18 am
    Amy says:

    I don’t believe Chick-fil-A is “radial right.” A business entity in and of itself cannot hold a moral standard no matter how much “they” say a corporation is a “person.” Plus, it’s not like a Bible verse comes inside your box of nuggets … though the verse about mustard seed could go nicely with the honey mustard packet. ;)

    The people who own Chick-fil-A can run their organization under any methods they see fit. I mean, it IS a private organization and, in America, we as individuals are constantly fighting for the rights to our opinions and wanting to be treated respectfully regardless. That has to go both ways.

    I, personally, have had only good experiences at Chick-fil-A restaurants all across the county. Where else do you find pleasant and cheerful, often times upper-middle class, teenagers working in fast food? From what I understand those kids (and adults, too, I’m sure) are paid well and rewarded for doing good work and providing good customer service — something truly lacking in most service-oriented businesses in the U.S. Wal-mart and Target treat their employees like cattle and their vendors worse, but we often look past it because of the prices — and because it is nearly impossible to know all that goes on inside of a corporation. (Our lives would be spent researching the paths of every green bean and mouse pad and carpet fiber supplier before we could get out of bed in the morning.) So, if Chick-fil-A’s financial backing of those organizations is offensive to you, then boycott, that’s fine, but also understand that you, too, are being hypocritical if you don’t dig into the practices of every single business entity you support with your money on a daily basis. See, it’s hard to be perfectly in alignment with your core beliefs every second of every day, isn’t it?

    The Chick-fil-A statement above is a little wishy-washy, but I don’t think they said anything incongruous with their evangelical beliefs. Maybe they ARE leaving the debate for political arenas. That doesn’t mean they are changing their financial support of those organizations at all. Seems like a nice way of saying, “Our corporate donations have nothing to do with the delicious chicken nuggets and milkshakes you enjoy at our restaurants, which by the way, are operated by individuals with their own beliefs, too. So, let’s ALL leave this debate elsewhere. Our people are happy to serve you and ensure you have a pleasant experience at our stores where your kids can play in the playground and you can dress up like a cow and earn free food from time to time.”

    Note: My background is in the Christian music industry, and believe me, if most of those fans knew what went on behind the scenes in that business, well, I can’t even imagine what would happen. I got out for those very unsettling reasons. But, needless to say, the arguments about art and commerce, commerce and morality, art and morality go on and on and on.

  12. July 24, 2012 @ 1:51 pm
    BrookeJohnson says:

    “And everyone protesting should continue to protest or boycott at their leisure, but they shouldn’t pretend there has been a sudden change in Chick-fil-A’s core values. This isn’t a shock. This isn’t a radical departure from their brand story. This is who Chick-fil-A is and will always be.”

    EXACTLY. Thank you for pointing this out.

  13. July 24, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

    @Amy and @Geoff

    Great points.

  14. July 24, 2012 @ 10:01 pm
    Work Worky says:

    Chick-Fil-A should be able to make any comment they want. The GLT.. certainly issue whatever statements they want. That is hypocrisy. Their statement above says tons, but certainly not to those who don’t want to hear it. They have great food and operate in a way that makes them feel good. What is wrong with that? So 10-15% of America wants to marry the same sex (for whatever reason) but 85-90% either have no opinion or want marriage to be like it always has been. What is wrong with that? Let everyone have their opinion and ya’ll have yours and just move on. (Chick-Fil-A will do fine even if no GLT folks never ‘darken’ their doors again). And if I never see two guys ‘grubbin’ over by the napkin dispenser again, it won’t hurt my feelings and I won’t have to explain what they are doing to my Grand Girls!

  15. July 25, 2012 @ 8:39 am
    TJoseph says:

    It’s a whitewashed statement, but I’ve heard worse twaddle from the oil companies, from agri-business and from banks. At least they’re upfront about their politics, unlike Domino’s and Coors.

  16. July 25, 2012 @ 10:38 am
    Ben says:

    If Chick-fil-A’s goal truly is “to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect” then they’d pull char-grilled nuggets from the menu. Those things are atrocious.

  17. July 25, 2012 @ 12:08 pm
    Amy says:

    @Ben: Gah! Yes they are! I tried them last week b/c I miss the regular nuggets now that I have to eat gluten free. *Curses!* The grilled nuggets tasted a little… idk… rubber-y maybe?

  18. July 25, 2012 @ 9:04 pm
    Brian says:

    For the record, Bruce (For the record, they’re values are not Christian. They are religious right. Christian values include inclusion , love, and acceptance.) – they said they are using biblical principles. Not Christian (that’s media-words). And read the Bible to see what Christ did…in the temple. That was NOT inclusion, love and acceptance.

    And the response was NOT tepid. It was clear and made no excuses, and no pleading for people to continue to eat there if they don’t want to. They are not ‘positioning’ themselves as a Christian company…they started as a company that did business by the book – the Bible. And this won’t change simply because they offended some people.

    If anything, this post is tepid. Your post is entitled ‘The Hypocrisy of the Chick-fil-A Stance on Marriage Equality’ – yet you say you oppose both sides. Untrue.

    Cathy was asked a question and answered it honestly and without any surprises. What’s the issue with that. Really?

  19. July 28, 2012 @ 3:47 pm
    JD says:

    I fully support Chik-Fil-A and its principles. I see nothing hypocritical or tepid in its response to the media storm that has resulted in it doing nothing more than exercising the right to free speech that we all say we value, at least until it disagrees with our own position.

    I also fully support the decision of individuals who decide to boycott Chik-Fil-A because their own values differ from those that Chik-Fil-A has espoused. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences for exercising that free speech.

    Where I do take issue, however, and where I believe you’ve completely missed the point, is when a governmental body publicly states that, because of the religious or political beliefs of the owners of a company, the government will choose to treat that company differently than others that support different beliefs (in this case, government leaders in Chicago and Boston basically telling Chik-Fil-A that the city will block its attempts to open a business there). THAT is why this issue has become so divisive–since when did it become okay for the government to persecute anyone for their beliefs?? I’m sure the GLBT community would be just as outraged if the governing body of Atlanta stated that Amazon (which reportedly just gave $2.5 Million in support of same-sex marriage initiatives) would be denied the ability to open a corporate office there because supporting same-sex marriage does not reflect Atlanta’s community values.

    This is a very slippery slope, and so flagrantly violates the U.S. Constitution (anyone remember that whole separation of church and state thing?–government is prohibited from favoring, or discriminating against, religion), that we should all be outraged, regardless of our position on the underlying issue of marriage. After all, if the government believes it is okay to act in this manner and is allowed to get away with it, it could very well be your political or religious beliefs that they disagree with next time. Now, obviously, this argument has limits, and we have all recognized that free speech has its limitations; i.e., many communities have zoning laws that don’t allow sexually oriented businesses right next to an elementary school, for example. And yelling “fire” in a crowded building isn’t protected because it endangers the safety of others. But there is NOTHING in what Chik-Fil-A has done that implicates these issues.

  20. August 01, 2012 @ 12:15 pm
    Kevin Blackmon says:

    I was looking for a website design; when I came across this sophistry I eliminated you from consideration.

  21. August 03, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

    I very much appreciate your point of view, Brian, and wanted to add my voice to those who oppose equating “Christianity” with conservative Christianity. As a longtime, and professional, student of world religions, I know that Christianity is not only the world’s largest religion, but also one of the most diverse. Christianity has many institutional forms (i.e., Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Church of the East, the Catholic Communion of Churches, Anglicans, and Churches of the Reformation), within those institutions many Christians feel differently about issues. Then there are independent Christian Communities that follow their own path (e.g. Old Catholics, Liberal Catholics, et al.), and other Churches that have their own unique relationship with Christ.

    This current American popular equation of Christian with Conservative Christian came to my attention on listening to an NPR story on “Christian Law Schools,” a few years ago. They were reporting on the rise of conservative/right wing, Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestant Christian Law Schools around the Country. Nowhere in their story did they mention the oldest Christian Law Schools in the U.S.–those of the Catholic Universities (remember Notre Dame!), and in particular the Jesuit University Law Schools–think of Georgetown, USF, Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount, Loyola New Orleans, Loyola Chicago, Boston College, Fordham, and so on! Catholics are Christians, and the Jesuits are generally a progressive force within Catholicism. NPR, you are still my favorite, but you dropped the ball on that one.

    So dear friends, let’s have all voices heard, from all varieties of the incredibly diverse movement called Christianity.

  22. December 20, 2013 @ 10:33 pm
    Peek says:

    I agree their values are not christian at all, true Christians accept all and believe in love and forgiveness and the betterment of all. It’s obvious that they are actually Catholics as they are very fire and brimstone and do not accept all and hide behind a veiled mask and use dark practices to lure others to sin. Sorry try again Chick-Fil-A to try and hide behind the Christian name, everyone knows the truth especially Christians.