Home/Rod Dreher/Why Chick-fil-A’s Surrender Matters

Why Chick-fil-A’s Surrender Matters

Notice the propagandistic media messaging: failing to affirm LGBTQ means you are 'anti-LGBTQ' (CBS News screenshot)

Sometimes a delicious chicken sandwich is just a delicious chicken sandwich. But in the case of Chick-fil-A’s capitulation to the progressive left, it matters precisely because whether it wanted to be or not, the fast-food giant became a massive culture war symbol.

I can well imagine that its corporate leadership just wanted to be done with all the hassle, and stick with selling grub, like all other fast food chains. Who can blame them? Chick-fil-A didn’t invite these years of disgusting, lying smears … but it handled them with grace, and kept on standing by its principles. People who patronized Chick-fil-A knew that the allegations were baseless, and that hating Chick-fil-A was a left-wing cult thing to do. Remember this crackpot New Yorker article from 2018, in which the writer freaked out about Chick-fil-A coming to New York City? Excerpt:

Defenders of Chick-fil-A point out that the company donates thousands of pounds of food to New York Common Pantry, and that its expansion creates jobs. The more fatalistic will add that hypocrisy is baked, or fried, into every consumer experience—that unbridled corporate power makes it impossible to bring your wallet in line with your morals. Still, there’s something especially distasteful about Chick-fil-A, which has sought to portray itself as better than other fast food: cleaner, gentler, and more ethical, with its poultry slightly healthier than the mystery meat of burgers. Its politics, its décor, and its commercial-evangelical messaging are inflected with this suburban piety.

Ewwww, suburban piety! That writer, Dan Piepenbring, lives in Brooklyn, according to the New Yorker. His piece was the epitome of a certain kind of puritanical preciousness we’ve come to expect from progressives. The fact that Chick-fil-A withstood this kind of garbage, and kept right on supporting its charities, brought the company a lot of admiration from pious suburbanites.

My wife and kids love Chick-fil-A, but I don’t go to it that often, because I’m not big on fried chicken. Still, it has been one of my favorite brands, in large part because it has succeeded smashingly — it is now the third-largest fast food retailer in the US — despite being the object of so much progressive hatred. Chick-fil-A showed that you could be faithful to traditional Christian values, and despite the scorn of the hateful Left, still succeed economically. The kind of people who write for The New Yorker might despise you, but the marketplace rewarded you for the good chicken and waffle fries you provided, and didn’t buy the smear that you are a hateful company.

For a lot of us, Chick-fil-A’s quiet, cheerful resistance was a model of how to hold on to your Christian values, in spite of progressive spite, and still succeed. Quality work and a good product will always win out, even over left-wing prejudice. It was possible to look at Chick-fil-A and draw that conclusion … until today.

It is no doubt true that Chick-fil-A’s stance, however unfairly characterized by LGBT activists and their allies, was hurting its ability to expand into the European market, and into more liberal markets in the US. But good grief, how much money does Chick-fil-A need to make, anyway? Last year, it took almost four KFC stores to make as much money as a single Chick-fil-A outlet.  If Chick-fil-A was suffering from a decline in business because of its corporate charitable giving, their move could be understandable. But this is a fabulously successful chain!

Only the company’s top decision-makers know why they did what they did, but I would bet money that this was not about markets, but about its executive leadership class getting tired of them and their spouses being stink-eyed by fellow rich and upper middle class peers at social gatherings. One of the most absurd shibboleths of American life is that business executives only care about the bottom line, and ultimately make decisions based only on profit and loss. In fact, these decisions are often driven by a sense of idealism. It might be mistaken idealism, but it’s still idealism. All of us want to be liked and admired by our peers. It’s only human. Never, ever underestimate how much it matters to elites to be thought well of by their own social class. Their social class now reveres LGBTs; this requires it to despise Christians and others whose beliefs, for whatever reason, fail the progressive purity test.

This is not news. Almost every day I hear from readers — in academia, in the corporate world, even in churches — who talk about the growing sense of menace in their workplaces from political correctness. More and more people are coming to understand that the Law of Merited Impossibility (“It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it”) really does describe an actual dynamic in American life when it comes to LGBT issues. For many conservative Christians, Chick-fil-A’s refusal to kowtow to the woke commissars was an inspiration. It was a small thing, maybe, but at least there was some major corporation that didn’t allow itself to be pushed around by these bullies.

And now that’s gone. The progressives took the biggest culture-war scalp of all today. Chick-fil-A is a privately held company, so it wasn’t facing a stockholder rebellion. It is growing extremely fast, and doing very well, even in a time when Americans have come to favor gay marriage and gay rights. If Chick-fil-A really had been guilty of the hatefulness its accusers claimed, it would have seen its business decline as LGBT rights became more popular. In fact, it has seen nothing but growth.

But by abandoning the Salvation Army and other charities, Chick-fil-A’s corporate leadership signaled that it accepts the Left’s critique. The company is trying to dodge this charge, saying that it is merely refocusing its charitable giving priorities, to focus on education, fighting hunger, and fighting homelessness. The Salvation Army doesn’t have anything to do with education, but you will find no more effective and valiant fighters of hunger and homelessness than the faithful of the Salvation Army.

But those good men and women are not good enough for Chick-fil-A now. Chick-fil-A is embarrassed by them. If Chick-fil-A’s executives think they’re going to get a fair shake from progressives now, well, they’re going to learn otherwise — and they’re going to deserve what they get. Chick-fil-A is going to have to start paying de facto reparations to LGBT organizations in order to buy goodwill. They’ll do it, too, because they have already demonstrated that they can be pushed around.

Symbolically, this is a big deal for those who hold to what Christianity, Judaism, and Islam traditionally teach about homosexuality and related phenomena. It sends the signal that resistance is futile. If even Chick-fil-A — the company that takes its Christian values so seriously that it closes on Sunday, and despite that revenue loss, was still able to become the third-biggest fast food franchise in America — if even Chick-fil-A capitulates to the illiberal demands of LGBT activists, then what chance do you have in professional life, you and your religion, despised by power elites?

Progressives and LGBT activists have every reason to gloat today. By making Chick-fil-A surrender, they have demonstrated their power — and their illiberalism. If you think compromise is possible with these progressives, you are lying to yourself. They will not be happy until you and everyone like you are driven to the margins of public life — and even then, that won’t be enough for some of them. Understand that the real currency here is not money; it’s middle-class respectability. That will be denied to Christians who remain faithful to Biblical teachings on sex and sexuality. You had better get that learned right now, Christian. You aren’t going to be able to hide. You might be able to make a good living in your field — Chick-fil-A certainly has been — but you will always be an outsider.

Can you live with that? You had better be able to. As I wrote in The Benedict Option:

In the end, it comes down to what believers are willing to suffer for the faith. Are we ready to have our social capital devalued and lose professional status, including the possibility of accumulating wealth? Are we prepared to relocate to places far from the wealth and power of the cities of the empire, in search of a more religiously free way of life? It’s going to come to that for more and more of us. The time of testing is at hand.

“A lot of Christians see no difference between being faithfully Christian and being professionally and socially ambitious,” says a religious liberty activist. “That is ending.”

… A young Christian who dreams of being a lawyer or doctor might have to abandon that hope and enter a career in which she makes far less money than a lawyer or doctor would. An aspiring Christian academic might have to be happy with the smaller salary and lower prestige of teaching at a classical Christian high school.

A Christian family might be forced to sell or close a business rather than submit to state dictates. The Stormans family of Washington state faced this decision after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a state law requiring its pharmacy to sell pills the family considers abortifacient. Depending on the ultimate outcome of her legal fight, florist Barronelle Stutzman, who declined for conscience reasons to arrange flowers for a gay wedding, faces the same choice.

When that price needs to be paid, Benedict Option Christians should be ready to support one another economically—through offering jobs, patronizing businesses, professional networking, and so forth. This will not be a cure-all; the conversion of the public square into a politicized zone will be too far-reaching for orthodox Christian networks to employ or otherwise financially support all their economic refugees. But we will be able to help some.

Given how much Americans have come to rely on middle-class comfort, freedom, and stability, Christians will be sorely tempted to say or do anything asked of us to hold on to what we have. That is the way of spiritual death. When the Roman proconsul told Polycarp he would burn him at the stake if he didn’t worship the emperor, the elderly second-century bishop retorted that the proconsul threatened temporary fire, which was nothing compared with the fire of judgment that awaited the ungodly.

If Polycarp was willing to lose his life rather than deny his faith, how can we Christians today be unwilling to lose our jobs if put to the test? If Barronelle Stutzman is prepared to lose her business as the cost of Christian discipleship, how can we do anything less?

We will be able to choose courageously and correctly in the moment of trial only if we have prepared ourselves in every possible way. …

Sometimes a chicken sandwich is just a chicken sandwich. This is not one of those times.

UPDATE: A reader comments:

I have a slightly different take on this. I attended a well-known evangelical seminary in Dallas from ’09-’14. I spent a lot of time interacting with different students and teachers. Most people there came from very conservative Christian churches and families and had not really spent much time interacting with liberal people or policies in their normal day-to-day lives.

A big problem that was constantly brought up by both students and teachers at the time was the public perception problem with the evangelical Christian church and Christian scholars in academia. The logical solution, which wasn’t explicitly stated like this but was clear, was that if we as Christians become more agreeable and more accepting, more people will come to faith in Christ. So because of this logic, it was recommended by students and teachers that certain evangelical positions shouldn’t be held so tightly–things like creationism, anti-homosexual positions, etc. Basically if it could be argued that a topic wasn’t “central to the Gospel” then it could be embraced by the Church.

I think we’ve seen Christians in the last 2 decades make a very quick shift on positions like these because their leaders have embraced this lie. The people who having been learning this in seminary are now preaching it to their congregations–congregations that implicitly trust their leaders, oftentimes to a fault.

So it’s not surprising to me that CFA leadership would make this change. I believe their leadership are like these ultra-conservative Christians I’ve known, who want to get rid of the public perception problem. Their Christian leaders have given them sanctuary for these false beliefs because they’ve embraced the lie that becoming more inclusive is going to net them more conversions in the long run. But we’re not seeing the great movement towards Christianity that these foolish teachers have been hoping for. And we’re not going to see it come at all, because you can’t arrive at the truth by embracing a lie. Until we see Christian leaders come back to teaching the truth no matter the public perception, we’ll just continue to see more stories like this.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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