by Bob Phillips
Recently the Chick-fil-A chain has entered the news cycle with fresh allegations of bigotry, hatred and homophobia leveled at this sinister purveyor of Christianized chicken. The successful sandwich operation, founded by Southern Baptist Christian Truett Cathy and now under the control of son Dan Cathy, is poised to become the third largest food outlet in the nationa, exceeded only by McDonalds and Wendy’s. Such success has not stopped Rider College in New Jersey from banning its presence on campus, joined recently by airport concessions in Buffalo and San Antonio.
Why the return of the ban? Dan Cathy offered his support to a traditional understanding of marriage in interviews given around 2012. His position reflected his Southern Baptist affiliation, shared by the Catholic, Orthodox, United Methodist, all African American Protestant denominations, all Pentecostal denominations, Seventh Day Adventists, Independent churches, Mormons, Islam, and 95% of global professing Christians, among others. Shocked readers of Cathy’s views immediately investigated the nefarious chicken operation and made disturbing discoveries. The operation paid more than the industry standard for wages and benefits, had no record of discrimination in hiring-firing-promotion based on sexual preference or race or any other external factor. Worse yet, the franchise routinely loses huge amounts of money weekly because of Cathy’s imposition of his religious views on innocent employees. He insists on closing the restaurants on Sundays, Thanksgiving and Christmas so employees could have not doubt of certain days off, a reliable ‘sabbath’ for workers. “I’m shocked, shocked!”
The recent kerfuffle emerged when gay political action groups determined that the chicken operation, despite pledges not to be socially active in cultural debates over sexuality, broke that promise by funneling over 1.6 million dollars to religious gay-hate groups. The ever-vigilant gay rights watchdog group, Think Progress, published its findings online on March 20, 2019. Here are its quoted findings:
“Chick-fil-A has taken great pains to downplay its anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and giving, seven years into a national boycott by LGBTQ and allied diners. But contrary to the company’s latest claims that it has no political or social agenda, newly released tax filings show that, in 2017, the Chick-fil-A Foundation gave more than $1.8 million to a trio of groups with a record of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The donations — $1,653,416 to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, $6,000 to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, and $150,000 to the Salvation Army— actually represent a slight increase from the previous year. The foundation’s funding comes almost entirely from the corporate treasury and shares leadership with the company.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a religious organization that seeks to spread an anti-LGBTQ message to college athletes and requires a strict “sexual purity” policy for its employees that bars any “homosexual acts.” Paul Anderson Youth Home, a “Christian residential home for trouble youth,” teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong, and that same-sex marriage is “rage against Jesus Christ and His values.”
The Salvation Army has a long record of opposing legal protections for LGBTQ Americans and at the time of the donations had a written policy of merely complying with local “relevant employment laws.” The organization’s website has since changed to indicate a national policy of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Thus, roughly $6,000 went to a youth home named for deceased Christian champion weight lifter Paul Anderson, where the displaced youth are told that marriage is a male-female commitment. Over $150,000 went to the well-known hate group, the Salvation Army, which also teaches in its church services (separate from its many community social services in behalf of the poor) that marriage is a male-female commitment. And a shocking 1.5 million dollars was funneled to the shadowy Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which reflects blatant discrimination in teaching that sex is to be reserved for marriage and that marriage is a male-female commitment. (When you see their standards phrased in quotation marks as “sexual purity,” think ‘sneer.’) Their work in thousands of schools to reflect hateful Christian values amid the secular demanding gods of high school sports is just a cover for deeper efforts to indoctrinate innocent teens into the ways of bigotry, such as their oppressive encouragement to abstain from sex prior to marriage. If this sounds like an odd reversal of the former (and idiotic) allegations that the movement for gay rights was just a cover for seeking to recruit innocent teens into a gay lifestyle…remember, there’s a certain kind of “‘progressive’ Christianity where moral irony goes to die.’
Those who supported the recent reaffirmation of a traditional Christian definition of marriage at the United Methodist General Conference, take heed. The invective poured on their heads during the conference, the clear identification of hate with a traditional understanding of sexuality, the labels of bigot and homophobe and fresh creative expressions such as carriers of a moral Ebola virus, has only just begun. Secular media is not known for moral nuance or active sympathy for traditional views on, well, much of anything. Non-United Methodist national religious media likewise has expressed horror over the deviance of the United Methodists from the rest of the former ‘mainline’ Protestant groups in shifting definitions of marriage and sexuality to fit the modern Procrustean bed of progressive orthodoxy. Having made the leap in changed teaching and experienced the subsequent shift from numerical decline to free fall, the diminishing mainline Protestant crowd looks for the Methodist lemming that seems to have missed the great leap. That said, United Methodist news sources have (in this writer’s opinion) sought more serious balance among competing narratives and values roiling the denomination.
The bottom line to any United Methodist who sees marriage as uniquely and distinctly the one flesh commitment of a man and a woman is this, especially if you see yourself as a moderate who favors a traditional definition but is comfortable with colleagues who wish to expand the definition: get used to disappointment. To believe Christian marriage is the union of a man and a woman and that other combinations are outside the veil is an inherently bigoted belief, different in style but not substance from beliefs of the KKK or Aryan Nation. Recall that no leader in the Mainstream or Uniting Methodists movements personally affirms Christian marriage as only to be understood as between a man and a woman. Refusing to do a same gender wedding is the moral cousin to refusing church members or a pastor who is not white. Saying “I don’t do same sex weddings but don’t mind if you do,” is cut from the same cloth as saying, “I own slaves but don’t care if you don’t.” The silence from such leadership on defending Chick-fil-A, or the Salvation Army or the Fellowship of Christian Athletes speaks at 120 moral decibels.
Meanwhile, back at Chick-fil-A…quality food, quality service, superior pay and benefits and fair treatment of all employees combine to a continuous uptick in profits. Hate groups such as the Salvation Army, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and even the home for troubled youth continue to thrive, rooted in track records of integrity, compassion and a vigorous faith. United Methodists who support and affirm the traditional understanding of marriage, hear the lessons. Jump the rails into name calling, active ‘dis-welcoming’ of anyone seeking to get closer to Jesus or fixating on any single issue other than knowing Christ and making him known and you will be in a ditch of your own making and deserving. Don’t go there. Let your excellence, integrity, mellow attitude and active service for Christ be known by all. When folks call you nasty names, just cackle. Relax…maybe have a (chicken?) sandwich and remember, Jesus is Lord.
Rev. Dr. Bob Phillips is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Illinois, with advanced degrees from Asbury, Princeton and St. Andrews (Scotland). He retired with the rank of Captain as the senior United Methodist Chaplain in the US Navy in 2005. An elder in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, Bob most recently served as Directing Pastor of Peoria First United Methodist Church prior to his retirement. He was a clergy delegate to the 2016 & 2019 General Conferences of The United Methodist Church.