The Great Chick-fil-A Controversy
August 1st has been declared “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” where supporters of traditional marriage have vowed to support the fast-food chain with their dollars. Why? The CEO, Dan Cathy, has publicly come out as a strong advocate of the biblical understanding of marriage. At the same time, the Mayor of Boston and the Mayor of Chicago declare that no new Chick-fil-A’s will be built in their cities, and gay rights groups have vowed to boycott their restaurants across the nation. Is this any way to carry on a public debate?
July 31, 2012
by Dr. Benjamin Wiker

What did Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, say that caused the passionate chain reaction? In an interview with the Baptist Press's Biblical Recorder, Cathy clearly affirmed his biblical faith, his determination to have his faith inform how he runs his business, and his support for the "biblical definition of the family unit."

Cathy's comments set off an immediate national reaction by those who support gay marriage. "Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired back. "They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents." His message to Cathy: You won't be building any more Chick-fil-A restaurants in my town. Ditto said Boston Mayor Tom Menino.

Then in a radio interview, Dan Cathy replied, "I think we're inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, you know, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes marriage.'"

In response, the Muppets company denounced Cathy, and publicly pulled its connections to Chick-fil-A. The creators of the politically correct Berenstain Bears issued a statement that implied it was unhappily caught in a promotion deal with Chick-fil-A, but hinted that those concerned should write to their publisher.

And now August 1st has been declared "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" where supporters of Cathy show their support by stopping in for a meal. To no one's surprise, gay rights activists have plans both for boycotts and protests.

Is this any way to carry on a public debate?

Yes and no. Or better, no and yes.

First the no's.

"No" number one. The two mayors, Rahm Emanuel and Tom Menino, are way out of line. They presume to speak on behalf of their entire cities, and as it turns out, they do not. Chicagoans, for example, are divided right down the middle, for and against gay marriage. The much more liberal Massachusetts has a majority affirming gay marriage, but the obvious question arises: should a political leader simply override a significant minority, and pretend that it's of no political or moral consequence?

The problem is that we are, for better or worse, currently divided in our society about the status of same-sex behavior, and hence about same-sex marriage. It is a very deep moral divide, one that threatens our ability to function as a society. Therefore, it's not the place of elected political leaders to cut short the debate by declaring that principled disagreement is impossible. Nor is it, we may add, the function of the judiciary to impose the judges' favored solutions using governmental power.

We are a house divided, morally and hence politically, therefore the debate must go on, unhindered by government officials who would like to cut it short.

"No" number two. Unprincipled pluralism is not the solution. The debate about whether society should affirm same-sex behavior (and hence same-sex marriage) as good, must not be avoided by declaring that morality demands that we affirm a plurality of sexual views, as if the fact of a multitude of rival and irreconcilable views was itself a kind of moral achievement.

That's unprincipled pluralism—the view that there is no real right and wrong, good or evil. There are no moral principles, so there's no need to have a debate. 

Not good. We need principled pluralism. The truth we must face is that we are deeply divided in regard to sexuality. The plurality represents real disagreement, and hence real arguments about what is right or wrong, good or evil.

Principled pluralism takes seriously that we are arguing about the most important things, things that must be settled for us to continue as a society. Until that happens through debate and persuasion, we must tolerate the diversity of views, and be civil about it.

"No" number three. As I've said before, toleration is not a virtue. The Latin tolerare means "to bear or endure something." Toleration isn't the "whatever floats your boat" of unprincipled pluralism. That's nihilistic toleration. Real toleration is a kind of bearing or enduring of moral disagreement in a divided society until moral agreement can be achieved. That's realistic toleration, the willingness to engage in debate about the most important moral questions, under the assumption that that these questions have real answers.

"No" number four. Majoritism is not an argument. The debate about same-sex behavior and same-sex marriage cannot be settled by opinion polls. An opinion poll taken in 1750 in the Carolinas would show overwhelming support for slavery. An opinion poll taken today among members of NAMBLA would show overwhelming support for pedophilia.

A majority of Americans may at this time reject same-sex marriage, but just the sheer fact of being the majority opinion doesn't tell you same-sex marriage is wrong. "Most Americans believe…" is not an argument, but a description. The real question is why same-sex behavior is wrong.

Or why it isn't. That's what real debates are about.

If we allow majoritism to be an argument, what will happen is just what is in fact happening: proponents from both sides will skip the debate, and get right down to the nasty job of manipulating public opinion through rhetoric, scare tactics, fear mongering, emotion peddling, etc.

Are there any Yes's?

"Yes" number one. Corporations are not governmental agencies. They are economic entities. They do not have to stay neutral in the great moral debates in which we must now engage.

Chick-fil-A can make it known that it is a Christian company that affirms the biblical understanding of marriage, but it must be prepared for economic reactions. Supporters of same-sex marriage may take their business elsewhere, just as supporters of traditional marriage may flock to Chick-fil-A to show their support.

The Muppet company and Berenstain Bears can show support for same-sex marriage, as long as they are willing to take a hit economically from those who disagree.

But no one from the government—such as mayors Rahm Emanuel or Tom Menino, or some federal judge—should be taking it upon himself to use public power to punish an economic entity. Emanuel and Menino may announce that they personally will not eat at Chick-fil-A. But they can't use public power as an instrument of their own personal boycott.

We should be aware, however, that economic reward and punishment are not themselves a debate. They only make clear to corporations who've staked sides how serious and how numerous those who agree or disagree with them are. That's a good beginning point for taking each side seriously, but it only prepares us for the real debates we've got to have.

Are there no more yes's?

I wish there were. Sadly, we are caught in a kind of downward spiral in regard to public debate, in which especially the media itself has embraced a sound-bite, shouting match view of presenting contentious issues. Thus, the very people who have the moral responsibility for framing and presenting public debates, are doing everything they can to make sure that real debate doesn't happen.

Eschewing Sound Bites

Part of our problem in having serious moral debate in a pluralistic society is that we allow debates to be framed by sound bites, thereby removing the all-important larger context in which real moral decisions are actually made. Whatever else we eat today, let us avoid the poison of sound bites.

The beginning of serious moral debate begins with listening carefully to other’s position, to what the other side really said, not what happens to fit into a 10-second snippet framed by the current media’s increasingly small attention span.

In great part, Dan Cathy is being roasted on the basis of a sound bit. We at tothesource believe that all of what Cathy said should be given a hearing.

So, here is the original article that started the Chick-fil-A firestorm, ‘Guilty as charged,’ Cathy says of Chick-fil-A's stand on biblical & family values.
And here is a significant except—a meal rather than a sound bite.

Dan Cathy oversees one of the country's most successful businesses. As president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, Cathy leads a business with 1,608 restaurants that had sales of more than $4 billion dollars last year. They sell chicken and train employees to focus on values rooted in the Bible….

Dan Cathy's success has not erased the biblical values he learned as a child in a Baptist church. He is a warm, common man who is deeply committed to being a faithful Christian witness. And he is fully involved in New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga….

"We don't claim to be a Christian business," Cathy told the Biblical Recorder in a recent visit to North Carolina. He attended a business leadership conference many years ago where he heard Christian businessman Fred Roach say, "There is no such thing as a Christian business."

"That got my attention," Cathy said. Roach went on to say, "Christ never died for a corporation. He died for you and me."

"In that spirit ... [Christianity] is about a personal relationship. Companies are not lost or saved, but certainly individuals are," Cathy added.

"But as an organization we can operate on biblical principles. So that is what we claim to be. [We are] based on biblical principles, asking God and pleading with God to give us wisdom on decisions we make about people and the programs and partnerships we have. And He has blessed us."…

Cathy believes strongly that Christians are missionaries in the workplace. "Jesus had a lot of things to say about people who work and live in the business community," he said. His goal in the workplace is "to take biblical truth and put skin on it. ...”

When questioned about Chick-Fil-A's "Closed on Sunday" policy Cathy responded, "It was not an issue in 1946 when we opened up our first restaurant. But as living standards changed and lifestyles changed, people came to be more active on Sundays...We've always put in our lease that we will be closed on Sundays," Cathy said. "We've had a track record that we were generating more business in six days than the other tenants were generating in seven [days]."…

Some have opposed the company's support of the traditional family. "Well, guilty as charged," said Cathy when asked about the company's position.

"We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

"We operate as a family business ... our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that," Cathy emphasized.

"We intend to stay the course," he said. "We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

This Week in San Diego Jim Garlow of Skyline Church hosted "Conversation on the Definition of Marriage" to promote understanding and to model civil public discourse on important moral issues

"Do you ever tire of the name calling that occurs when we try to make a biblical case for marriage? You know the names. We are labeled 'homophobes,' 'intolerant' and much, much worse.

Over the years – while I have fought for the preservation of the natural, traditional, biblical definition of marriage – I have also spent time investing in relationships with those who appear to be most hostile to my scriptural convictions.

In that spirit, I am hosting a 'conversation' between two individuals who stand for biblical marriage…and two others who want to change the definition of marriage."

"...I am concerned about the seeming inability for respectful conversation to occur regarding this highly volatile topic. I pray that this conversation will assist in taking the conversation to a Christ honoring level."

LaMesa-MountHelix Patch

Jennifer Roback Morse brings reasoned civility to the marriage debate

Privatizing marriage is impossible. “Get the government out of the marriage business,” or its close cousin, “Leave it to the churches,” is a superficially appealing slogan. When I hear this, I often get the feeling that it is a way of avoiding the unpleasant dispute currently raging over the proper definition of marriage. I sense that its proponents are hoping we can remove this whole contentious topic from the public square and put it into the private sector. Each person or group can have its own version of marriage. The state, with its powerful coercive instruments, need never get involved in resolving this seemingly impossible stalemate.

While I understand this impulse, I believe it is fundamentally misguided. Taking a stand on the purpose and meaning of marriage is unavoidable. Here is why.

Marriage is society’s primary institutional arrangement that defines parenthood. Marriage attaches mothers and fathers to their children and to one another. A woman’s husband is presumed to be the father of any children she bears during the life of their union. These two people are the legally recognized parents of this child, and no one else is. The grandparents are not; the former boyfriend is not; the nanny who spends all day with the kids is not. These two hold their parental rights against all other competing claimants. This is an intrinsically social, public function of marriage that cannot be privatized.

Christians who experience same-sex attraction but choose celibacy are often left out of the cultural conversation

Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill’s debut book, is a pioneering work that will pave the way for new territory in evangelical conversations regarding homosexuality. In this rich and moving theological meditation on what it means to live as a celibate, committed Christian with a homosexual orientation, Hill authentically shares his struggles, both with his homosexuality and with his faith and the evangelical church. The book, however, is not as melancholy as its dark cover or subject may suggest; despite Hill’s understanding that he may never be fully “healed” from the brokenness of his homosexual orientation, his perspective is full of hope.

Hill refers to himself as a “homosexual Christian.” It is important to keep in mind Hill’s definition of the terms: as explained in the introduction, Hill uses the term “homosexual Christian”, not referring to current movements that validate the practice of homosexuality within the Christian church, but rather to Christians oriented toward same-sex desire. In doing so, he allows the Christian whose homosexual desires remain unchanged to identify with the Christian faith, while still calling such a person to celibacy under the authority of Scripture. He notes, however, that he has “taken care always to make “homosexual”... the adjective, and never the noun.” Hill states: “I hope to send a subtle linguistic signal that being gay isn’t the most important thing about my or any other gay person’s identity. I am a Christian before I am anything else” (emphasis Hill’s). In this way, Hill distinguishes himself from others who would use the term “homosexual Christian.”

Relevant Magazine

Some Rules for Civil Discourse in a Pluralistic Society

1. Don’t Allow Tolerance To Be Confused with Justice

Tolerance is not a virtue. It is not good in itself. It is not good to be tolerant of pedophiles. If pedophilia is evil, then we should not tolerate it. Demanding tolerance as a matter of justice confuses the issue and cuts short any real, public moral debate by labeling those who have a serious moral disagreement as unjust because they are intolerant. We disagree about homosexuality. Brad Pitt’s mother has something to say. Those who disagree with her have something to say as well. Disagreement makes tolerance necessary until we come to moral agreement.

2. Civil Discussion Must Be Protected by the Force of Law

Both sides must be allowed their say but neither side can be allowed to say “Shut up or we’ll kill you.” A death threat by anyone from one side against someone from the other must be treated with the full seriousness in this case as it would anywhere else—as a criminal offence. Anyone from either side who makes such a threat, even a veiled Twitter threat, should immediately be investigated and, if guilty, charged accordingly.

3. Persuasion and Charity are the Only “Weapons” Allowed in the Room

No one can be physically forced to accept a position as moral who believes that it is immoral, or accept a position as immoral when he or she believes that it is moral. Minds and hearts are changed by the reasonableness of the arguments, and the charity of those doing the arguing. Insults are not arguments. Threats are not arguments (see # 2 above). Arguments are arguments. Personal viciousness and vulgarity undermine one’s arguments, and make civil discourse impossible.

4. Good and Evil, Justice and Injustice, Truth and Falsity are Real

Nihilistic Tolerance has no place in public debate because moral debate would thereby be pointless. If you can’t be wrong, then you can’t be right. Everyone must agree that the stakes are real, and positions must be defended as good, or rejected because they are evil. Therefore, if we are going to have a debate about homosexuality, about which we now morally disagree, it must begin with common moral agreement about some sexual issue about which we still do morally agree (e.g., that pedophilia is evil). That keeps both sides from invoking tolerance as a pseudo-moral shield to avoid the hard work of real moral debate about right and wrong. Both sides accept the fundamental beginning point that that good and evil, truth and falsity are real. If we are convinced as a civil society of the truth that something is morally right, then we protect it as a matter of justice, not as a matter of tolerance.

5. Media Figures Should Lead by Public Example

Media figures on both the “left” and “right” have a moral obligation to be public exemplars for moral discourse in a pluralistic society. Instead, both television and radio have devolved into a circus of vulgarity, shouting, interruption, bilious rhetoric, and insult—all in an effort to expand audiences by titillation rather than substance so as to maximize revenue. For those who have the most public exposure, the most should be expected. Real civility in our pluralistic society will return to the public square when those who are most public are also the most civil.

Benjamin Wiker

Ben Wiker Trans Benjamin Wiker
Author and speaker Benjamin Wiker holds a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics from Vanderbilt University, and has taught at Marquette University, St. Mary's University (MN), Thomas Aquinas College (CA), and Franciscan University (OH).

Dr. Wiker has written ten books, including Ten Books that Screwed Up the World, and Ten Books Every Conservative Must Read. His newest book, coming out in September 2012, is Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture 1300-1700. Please visit his website,

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