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Gay is not Okay in the Chicken Cult: Chick-Fil-A’s Qualified Promise to the LGBT Community

OPINION – Last week, several news outlets reported that Chick-fil-A had promised to stop giving to anti-Gay groups after the fast food chain became the center of a turbulent social storm.  While it would seem like good news, as the Brooklyn scholar once said: “It ain’t necessarily so…”

Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno told reporters that he had received a letter from Chick-fil-A, which stated that the religiously fundamentalist  501(c)(3) non-profit that the owners’ family runs, the WinShape Foundation,  “is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process, will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas.

“Chick-Fil-A also agreed to amend an official company document to reflect that its ‘intent is not to engage in political or social debates,’ Moreno said.

“The company document, called ‘Chick-fil-A Who We Are,’ also will state that the chain will ‘treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender.’ “[1]

The chain may say that they treat every person with dignity and respect, but Chick-fil-A core operating principles, and the Cathys’ WinShape Foundation are rooted in a Christian fundamentalism that does not make that possible.[2]

Let’s dissect this poultry pandering:

[T]he WinShape Foundation,  “is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process, will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas.

When they say that the foundation “is now taking a much closer look” that is not an agreement to stop funding far Right religious groups and astroturf organizations that veneer their political agenda with a family façade.

WinShape is a Southern evangelical Baptist-molded, Christian fundamentalist organization that requires a fundamentalist Christian lifestyle of the people and organizations which they sponsor. God, guns and greed good. Heretics, homos and hardship bad.

“I tell all my people, ‘I’m not working for Chick-fil-A; I’m working for the Lord,'” Donald Elam, a Chick-fil-A franchisee in Superstition Springs, Arizona told Forbes.[3]

Last heard, Christian fundamentalists have not changed their views on gay people. It is unlikely that the 91 year old Mr. Cathy and his very religious family, who still give employees Sunday off to go to church, have changed their deeply held religious beliefs either.

S. Truett Cathy, owner of the privately held Chick-fil-A, with a net worth of $4.2 billion, is the 89th wealthiest American according to Forbes [4]. His sons, Dan and Donald, have an estimated net worth each of $1.5 billion, according to PrivCo. His daughter Truett Cathy White and her husband are also billionaires.

WinShape operates foster homes, camps, evangelical operations in Brazil, a retreat center and WinShape International, which blend chickens and Christ into an evangelical fast food operation that would seem to have all the fixin’s of a chicken cult.

Cathy’s son-in-law and daughter run another foundation, Lifeshape, funded by Cathy with money from Chick-fil-A that hosts three separate evangelical ministries: IMPACT 360, The Summit at Fort Payne, and Communities in Transformation (CIT).

Forbes featured an article, “The Cult of Chick-fil-A” in 2007.  The chain develops and promotes people that it picks up from their Foundations’ religious-based operations.  They use religious zeal to keep low turnover and the Cathy family quite wealthy.

“We tell applicants, ‘If you don’t intend to be here for life, you needn’t apply,” Cathy, who opened his first restaurant in 1946, told Forbes.[4]

The company prefers married workers, and a third of franchisees have attended Christian-based relationship-building retreats through WinShape at their Berry College retreat in Mount Berry, Georgia.

“If a man can’t manage his own life, he can’t manage a business,” Cathy said. He also told Forbes that he would terminate a franchisee or encourage the firing of a person who “has been sinful or done something harmful to their family members.”

Chick-fil-A’s corporate mission, stated on a plaque at company headquarters, and repeated by Cathy frequently, is to “glorify God.” Retreats and company meetings all feature prayers, and heaven help the franchisee that tries to open on a Sunday.

The company screens prospective franchisees and management for loyalty, wholesome values and their willingness to buy into Chick-fil-A’s evangelical Christian credo.

“The Lord has never spoken to me, but I feel Chick-fil-A has been His gift,” Cathy, a high-school educated evangelical, said.

Quite a gift at that: Cathy takes people with ambition and almost nothing and puts them in business. Franchise fees are a fraction of other fast food chains. $5,000 in 2007 would be your buy in, compared to KFC which asked $25,000 and a $1M net worth.  The Cathys put most of the money in and get most of it out. A franchisee of a Bojangles in 2007 walked away with $300,000 a year per restaurant. A Chick-fil-A operator might see about $100,000 per.

Tons of fried chicken and an ocean of lemonade generate millions for Winshape and Lifeshape.

His LifeShape Foundation’s Impact 360 program offers college scholarships and management placement at Chick-fil-A to students who live a lifestyle and religious philosophy in harmony with that of the Cathys.  According to their website:

“IMPACT 360 is an academic gap-year experience with the mission of equipping members of future generations to become Christ-centered servant leaders.

“Our 18-20 year-old students spend nine months at our Pine Mountain, Ga., campus focused on apologetics and worldview studies, leadership training at corporate Chick-fil-A, and weekly local service  projects. The program includes a month-long international mission trip to Brazil, 15 hours of college credit from Union University, and the unique opportunity to live in ultimate community with other like-minded young adults.”

Many of Chick-fil-A’s core employees are schooled in, and agree to live by, a world view that rejects not only the LGBT community, but other religions from Buddhism to Judaism to Islam, and the secular Americans who range from agnostic to atheist.

Apologetics  is the discipline of defending a position, often religious, through the systematic use of information. What they mean is Christian Apologetics, which aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and attempt to expose the flaws of other world views.

Union University is an evangelical Christian school with equally dogmatic beliefs and training.

A former Houston Chick-fil-A restaurant manager, Aziz Latif, a Muslim, sued in 2002 after Latif claimed that he was fired a day after he didn’t participate in a group prayer to Jesus Christ at a company training program in 2000.

The big question: How do people schooled in apologetics, a world view intolerant of other world views, fulfill a Chick-fil-A mission statement like: “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender”?

It would seem that the funders of the chicken cult aren’t apt to change that world view any time soon. Truett Cathy’s statement on the Communities in Transformation website, another LifeShape organization, doesn’t sell their mea-culpa to the LGBT community well:

“It is unfortunate that many children in today’s society are a byproduct of a depleting culture that surrounds them from every side,” the statement for Mr. Cathy reads. “Both in their families and in their day-to-day world, children are fighting a battle with little support from their community. It hardly seems fair for the world to expect these young people to do what they have never been trained or even encouraged to do.”

Son-in-Law John W. White III likewise preaches the gospel of decaying society:

“It is imperative that we recognize our responsibility and all work together to reverse the cultural erosion of our families and communities.”

So, unless the Cathys have decided to change the fundamentalist mission statement of their foundation, or Mr. Cathy’s paternalist mindset, that ‘I know better than you because I’m rich and evangelical,’ there is no way that the Foundation will stop fighting the LGBT community.

It will just push that fight more quietly, through the foundations, or by doing what most of the 1% do when pushing an agenda unpopular with consumers: Bury it in astroturf grass roots groups to avoid direct connection to their products and brands.

To their statement that they will “remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas” they have already demonstrated that they can’t live by that credoFocus on the Family and the Family Research Council  are both avowedly political and anti LGBT.

Their support of religious activities and organizations that believe that LGBT people are a moral abomination, and their intolerance of peoples of other faiths will not change any time soon.

Which begs the question: Why would Alderman Moreno, whose rich, diverse community, other than his evangelical Christian constituency, seems to be still part of that “depleting culture that surrounds them from every side” of which Mr. Cathy speaks, pass along this whitewash letter as if it were good news to the LGBT community?

You make a few billion and want a foundation? Nifty. You want a modern, religiously, ethnically, and sexually diverse America to eat at Chick-fil-A?

Until the Cathys quit trying to infuse their fried chicken with their narrow view of the world, and make their workplace and management more representative of the diverse America that we live in, it would seem that the only people whom the Cathys and their Chick-fil-A really want to serve are the white, the Right and the exceptionally uptight.

I still won’t go in.

My shiny two.

About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian, filmmaker and chef. Ad hoc, ad loc, quid pro quo... so little time. So much to know!

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