“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”.
– Matthew 6:5
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy… [the Lord] rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”
– Exodus 20:8,11
“ It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law”
– Galatians 5:1-3
I remember when I lived in Arkansas: I knew of Chick-Fil-A. There was one just two miles west of my house in Little Rock, and I would drive by about once a week. But I never actually bought anything there: for two main reasons. The first, although by far the more minor, is that I never eat at any place with a name I can’t pronounce. My parents are British, and I’m something of a stickler for spelling and grammar. It wasn’t for quite some time that I realized the company name was supposed to be pronounced “Chick Filet” (for my Canadian readers who might not know).
But the second reason was actually much more significant. The company managed to deeply offend my perspective as a thinking Christian. I know it wasn’t their intention; I know they think of themselves as “Christian” and try to market themselves as a “Christian” place to eat. But I looked at them the same way I looked at Carlene’s “Condos for Christian Living” Project in GCB: the only difference being that GCB was a comedy and the writers expected the audience to recognize the irony and the hypocrisy: Cathy is quite serious. (But I’ll bet he never watched the program.) There are three major reasons I consider the “Christian” nature of Chick-Fil-A to be anything but, and I’ll discuss those below.
For those who are curious: my “perspective as a thinking Christian” is built from a four year degree from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, graduating with honours in Pastoral Studies/Christian Education. I’ve worked with a variety of denominations since then, in several communities: doing everything from mopping floors to teaching, regular preaching and counselling. One thing that I’ve learned: laws and legalism are generally the biggest obstacle to spiritual maturity in our modern lives. This is a central message of the New Testament, and has been displayed over and over through the centuries. It is now being played out, one more time, with respect to this company and its supporters.
So when Dan Cathy “went public” with his anti-gay stance (NPR) last month, it was not a surprise. The outrage that has come as a result is not a surprise either: and most of my readers will probably know that I agree with that outrage. But what I’d like to do with this post is not explain why Mr. Cathy is wrong with respect to same-sex marriage, but to explain why the company’s stand offended me even before last month, and why I therefore never ate there… and never considered it, in spite of (or even because of) their press: a “Christ-centered business”.
My offence was (and is) related to one of their biggest bragging points: that they, of all the restaurants across the South, are closed on Sunday “to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so” (Chick-Fil-A Corporation). They’re proud of that: and that’s proud in a bad way, not a good way (exclusive, not inclusive). I realize that it’s not exactly the same as the situation described in Matthew 6 (above), but it’s close enough that the principle is the same. As Jesus said two thousand years ago, the Truett family may even be sincere in their beliefs, but because they broadcast this to a culture where they want to be seen as “spiritual” (and to glean the related material benefits), they effectively negate any positive spiritual effect. As Jesus said, “they have their reward in full.”
According to Truett Cathy, the idea actually goes beyond that. The company uses “a strict reading of the Fourth Commandment to ‘honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.'”(Yale University). But for one thing, the Sabbath as described in the Fouth Commandment is actually the seventh day of the week, not the first. So Truett (like most of the Christian world) is actually “honouring the Sabbath” on the wrong day of the week. Now I do understand that this is tradition, and in general it doesn’t matter to me: Christians today also know quite well that when we’re “keeping the Sabbath”… well, we’re not really. We’re honouring God. But if the goal in being closed on Sunday is a “strict reading” of the Fourth Commandment: quite simply, it’s not. And extending this to today: what I find interesting is that the Cathy family have no difficulty with making one change to the patterns described by Scripture (the day on which the Sabbath should be kept) but changing other patterns (which really are not actually specified: the gender of one’s spouse) is “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.” (Yahoo News) That is hypocrisy.
And lastly, of course, is my central problem with a lot of the Christianity in the South: that it misunderstands some of the central doctrines in the New Testament, and is therefore “Christian” only in name. Consider Galatians 5:1-3, also above. What Paul was saying there was that if “you” (we: any Christian) are trying to obey any specific law of the Old Testament (circumcision was just the example), then Christ’s effort on the cross will do you no good. Trying to obey any of those laws, as such, is evidence of trying to “earn” salvation “by works”. (Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”) Trying to obey those laws is the “yoke of slavery” that we have been released from in verse 1. It is no longer necessary: and, in fact, actively destructive. It is an “all or nothing” thing; if you try to obey one (like circumcision – Genesis 17:10… or keeping the Sabbath – Exodus 20:8) then you have to keep them all. At least that explains why Chick-Fil-A is so strongly against same-sex marriage and why they quote the Leviticus passages that forbid it. Having kept one of the laws of the Old Testament they have to keep them all. But that’s not really Christian.
Forbes magazine, in 2007, called Chick-Fil-A, “a cult”. “They screen prospective operators for their loyalty, wholesome values and willingness to buy into Chick-fil-A’s in-your-face Christian credo… [they] want married workers, believing they are more industrious and productive. One in three company operators have attended Christian-based relationship-building retreats… Family members of prospective operators–children, even–are frequently interviewed so Cathy and his family can learn more about job candidates and their relationships at home. ‘If a man can’t manage his own life, he can’t manage a business,’ says Cathy, who says he would probably fire an employee or terminate an operator who ‘has been sinful or done something harmful to their family members.’” The company “has been sued at least 12 times since 1988 on charges of employment discrimination… Aziz Latif… sued the company in 2002 after Latif, a Muslim, says he was fired a day after he didn’t participate in a group prayer to Jesus Christ at a company training program in 2000.” They may call it “Christian”, but they miss most of the principles that define the faith. (Huffington Post) They have a religion, and I’m not sure what to call it. The gospel according to Cathy?
I, on the other hand, prefer to rely on my salvation by grace (through faith). I rejoice in the freedom I’ve been given: the freedom to be moral and righteous, while not having to be legalistic or rigid. That freedom allows me to be the man God intended me to be: and not something my place of business wants me to become.