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Chick-Fil-A & Thomas More

Thomas More was the king's good servant, but God's first. The other sells fried chicken, and sells out its values
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An Evangelical reader in Texas (well, he used to be an Evangelical; now all I know for sure is that he’s a theologically conservative Protestant) writes:

Everything you said about Chick Fil A is exactly correct. The example of a powerful allegedly Christian business with tremendous revenue bending the knee and taking orders from LGBT activists . . . it’s just a devastating message to everyone else out there. It emboldens the persecutors of Christianity and weakens the resolve of ordinary people. As silly as it may sound, I feel like I have been stabbed in the back. I had friends texting me yesterday over this and everyone felt betrayed and a little sick. It is not because we thought Chick Fil A was holy or anything.

They were just a company minding their own business, doing the corporate Christian thing by making good food, expecting a lot of their employees, and giving money to good Christian organizations. We shouldn’t expect much from business corporations claiming some sort of connection to Christianity, but Chick Fil A did all you could really expect. And then they started getting bullied. And despite the fact that it was just words from people who weren’t their customers, despite the fact that their “activist” critics made themselves look deranged with their absurd theatrics, and despite the fact that CFA had a loyal customer base (does any company have the sort of fanatical brand loyalty that Chick Fil A had?) who stood by them, and despite the fact that they were in no financial danger at all, they rolled over.

Given that at bottom this is about what sort of marriage Christians recognize as legitimate, I cannot help but to compare Chick Fil A to Thomas More–and the comparison isn’t very favorable. Both quietly supported efforts to keep a marriage (or type of marriage) from being recognized that they thought was invalid. Both saw their cause lose. Both quietly accepted defeat and went about their business and did not try and stir up trouble. Yet neither was left alone, but compelled to publicly affirm the marriage. More was locked up. There are some great portrayals of Thomas More (A Man For All Seasons) and even Jeremy Northam’s performance in The Tudors. Northam’s version of More’s response to the Henry’s demand that he sign it is excellent. He protests that by remaining silent, he is in effect consenting to the public. “I do no harm, I say no harm, I think no harm and if that not be enough to keep a man alive, I long not to live.” Of course Henry was not satisfied with silent consent, he insisted upon on public and explicit affirmation.

There are differences of course. Chick Fil A is an organization, not a man. (In fact they are a multibillion dollar empire.) But More was locked up in prison and he refused to give an inch even in the face of death. A bunch of underemployed losers with nothing better to do than nurse imaginary grievances wrote nasty things on social media and Chick Fil A folded like a cheap suit.

Note two things: they have not yet publicly affirmed gay marriage, yet they have surrendered their conscience already by trying to appease the bullies. What this means is that there is blood in the water and the LGBT activists are not going to quit until Chick Fil A explicitly affirms the LGBT stance. CFA should have rather responded in More’s words: We do no harm, we say no harm, we think no harm and if that not be enough to keep a company in business, we long not to be.

The reader followed with this related e-mail:

I think that as powerful a witness to Christ that Evangelicals may have appeared to be in recent decades, they are on the verge of collapse. This expression of Christianity is coming apart in two major deviant streams based on class divisions. Working class Evangelicals are increasingly embracing something along the lines of the Prosperity Gospel (Joel Osteen is a good example) while middle class Evangelicals are running headlong into Moralistic Therapeutic Deism–a prosperity Gospel of psychological satisfaction for the materially comfortable. It saddens me to see Christianity reduced to little more than projection of class anxieties, but I suppose the temptation is always to make church into our own image.

As Evangelicals increasingly go to college (following general trends) and increasingly find themselves in the professional class, their faithfulness will wither. Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City–Evangelicals are finding work as professionals in the South and are entering the professional class. They are woefully unprepared and they will certainly adopt the values of the professional class. Just watch. Watch for the coming schism in the SBC and note which churches give in to the culture: it will be the urbane sophisticated churches near the cities experiencing economic growth.

Chick Fil A’s capitulation shows that the rot is in an advanced stage. As Saruman said to Gandalf, “The hour is later than you think.” I would warn you about two developments that seem benign but are in fact cancerous: the professional education many Evangelical women are getting in college, and the Enneagram.

If you don’t know about the Enneagram, consult your local Evangelical seller of essential oils/pyramid scheme woman under 40. The enneagram is supposedly a spiritual tool to help you understand your own sin, but it is bad news. What I see is young women getting more excited about their Enneagram number than Jesus. They go around in public extolling the benefits of the Enneagram, preaching the Gospel of the Enneagram. I have yet to put my finger on it, but it feeds this idea that everything is about me and my subjective fulfillment.

As to professional education, many good-hearted Evangelical women looking to serve are pursuing professional degrees such as Education, Childhood Development, Social Work, etc and as anyone who has read their MacIntyre knows, this is not value-neutral technique but applied ideology. This “expertise” is rotting churches because it embodies the evaluative outlook of liberal autonomy, not Christianity.

Thoughts? I don’t know enough about Evangelicalism to judge the accuracy of this reader’s criticism. I invite Evangelical readers to weigh in.

About Chick-fil-A, I know you liberals are laughing at us, drawing comparisons between Thomas More and a chicken shack. But you don’t understand the role that Chick-fil-A has played in our cultural imaginations. It is not just a symbol, but a condensed symbol, which this blog’s reader Raskolnik defined like this:

Back in the 60’s, the sociologist Mary Douglas came up with the idea of a “condensed symbol.” The idea is that certain practices or ideas can become a kind of shorthand for a whole worldview. She used the example of fasting on Fridays, which the Bog Irish (generally lowerclass Irish Catholics living in England) persisted in doing, despite the fact that their better-educated, generally-upperclass clergy kept telling them to give to the poor or do something else that better fit with secular humanist mores instead. Her point was that the Bog Irish kept fasting, not due to obdurate traditionalism, or some misplaced faith in the “magical” effectiveness of the practice, but because it functioned as a “condensed symbol”: fasting on Fridays was a shorthand way of signifying connection to the past, to one’s identity as Irish, as well as to a less secularized (or completely non-secular) vision of what religious practice was all about. It acquired an outsized importance because it connected systems of meaning.

For many religious and cultural conservatives, supporting Chick-fil-A worked in this way because the fast-food restaurant embodied resistance to progressive bullies, not only by not abandoning its charities, but by continuing to succeed by cheerfully providing good food and good service. Chick-fil-A was not what its enemies claimed it was — and neither, thought many of us, are we. The Salvation Army isn’t “anti-LGBT,” no matter what the progressives say. Chick-fil-A’s presence in the public retail square, and its raging success, was a symbol of defiance — defiance of bullies, and defiance of the toxic narrative they assert about Christians.

And now, it’s all gone. Chick-fil-A’s corporate management threw it all away. They will now discover that there is nothing they can do to placate LGBT activists. They are going to be shaken down until their teeth rattle. Good. They’ve brought it on themselves.




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