Monday, January 31, 2011

Separating Church and Taste

The New York Times had a story yesterday about the clash between gay rights advocates and the staunchly Christian conservative fast-food chain Chick-fil-A.

Nicknamed “Jesus chicken” by jaded secular fans and embraced by Evangelical Christians, Chick-fil-A is among only a handful of large American companies with conservative religion built into its corporate ethos. But recently its ethos has run smack into the gay rights movement. A Pennsylvania outlet’s sponsorship of a February marriage seminar by one of that state’s most outspoken groups against homosexuality lit up gay blogs around the country. Students at some universities have also begun trying to get the chain removed from campuses.

“If you’re eating Chick-fil-A, you’re eating anti-gay,” one headline read. The issue spread into Christian media circles, too.

The outcry moved the company’s president, Dan T. Cathy, to post a video on the company’s Facebook fan page to “communicate from the heart that we serve and value all people and treat everyone with honor, dignity and respect,” said a company spokesman, Don Perry.

Providing sandwiches and brownies for a local seminar is not an endorsement or a political stance, Mr. Cathy says in the video. But he adds that marriage has long been a focus of the chain, which S. Truett Cathy, his deeply religious father, began in 1967.

The company also has strict hiring practices, looking into the marital status and church attendance of applicants for franchises, and it settled a lawsuit filed in 2002 by a Muslim restaurant owner because he refused to pray to Jesus during a training seminar.

I think I have been to a Chick-fil-A exactly once, and that was in Boulder, Colorado. I haven’t been back to Boulder since 1990, so it’s been a while since I tried their food. If the meal I had then was any indication, I probably won’t go back; it was unremarkable. And while I may not agree with their style of merging evangelical Christianity into corporate practices, it’s no different than companies that invest their time and effort to support causes I believe in.