You are probably familiar with a game called chicken, in which two people drive straight at each other. If one of them swerves before the other, that person is called a chicken. If neither swerves, both cars will simply crash into each other. My take on the game of chicken? It’s dumb. And that’s my point about the latest Chick-fil-A controversy. Let me explain:
The Chick-fil-A Foundation recently announced that it would narrow its philanthropic efforts in 2020 (the foundation donated to about 300 charities in 2019) and that it would focus on three priorities: education, homelessness and hunger.
It is important to note that Chick-fil-A cut donations to many organizations, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Paul Anderson Youth Home. But, these three organizations are notable because they serve all people in Chick-fil-A’s identified priority areas but hold to Biblical beliefs concerning marriage and sexuality. Because of this, LGBTQ activists have claimed a victory. And, many supporting Christians are lamenting the fact that Chick-fil-A just apparently kowtowed to the pressure tactics of the cultural left. Here are three takeaways from this:
1. Donations Send a Message.
Chick-fil-A is a privately-owned company, and the leadership of the restaurant chain is certainly free to choose the charities it wants to partner with. But, let’s be clear. Donations send a message. A person or company that donates to a charity signals alignment with the mission, general beliefs and efforts of that charity. And, the decision to donate elsewhere signals a misalignment or a belief that another charity is a better fit.
Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos explained this change in his interview with Bisnow (I encourage you to read his own words. In summary, he said the restaurant is attempting to clarify its “message” and its public image. Here’s how I think through this. What is Chick-fil-A’s primary public relations issue? Simple: it’s historic support of traditional marriage. And, what did this new philanthropic policy effectively do? It removed support from well-known and highly effective organizations that hold to a Biblical view of marriage. Whether Chick-fil-A intended this message or not, the message was sent: Chick-fil-A can do business and charity without supporting traditional marriage. Chick-fil-A has clarified that it will continue giving to faith-based organizations, but this does not mean it will resume giving to organizations like the Salvation Army that hold a Biblical view of marriage. Perhaps this position will be clarified further, but that is Chick-fil-A’s position as of the publication of this post.
Please note that I cannot know the thoughts and intentions of Mr. Tassopoulos or the other leaders of Chick-fil-A, but this message is certainly the message heard by organizations that oppose traditional marriage (such as GLAAD). Also, please note that Chick-fil-A is not obligated to be the pillar and ground of the truth in society (that’s the church’s job), and I am not a fan of boycotts. I will continue enjoying some delicious CFA chicken strips (Chick-fil-A sauce is the best dipping sauce in the world; that is the only opinion in this piece you are not allowed to disagree with!).
2. Cancel Culture Will Find You.
This is an important lesson. Many church leaders and other committed Christians draw back from “culture war” organizations like the Family Research Council (which Chick-fil-A stopped giving to some time ago). But, Chick-fil-A just stopped giving to the Salvation Army. Why? Has the Salvation Army advocated for religious liberty in the public square or protested pro-LGBTQ legislation like the Equality Act? Nope. The Salvation Army serves more than 23 million individuals a year, including those in the LGBTQ community. It appears that Chick-fil-A stopped giving to the Salvation Army because it requires its ministers (local ministry leaders are ordained ministers) to hold to a Biblical sexual ethic. And, unfortunately, this move by Chick-fil-A gives cultural credence to the false claim that the Salvation Army and other similar organizations are anti-LGBTQ.
3. A Dumb Game of Chicken.
No matter where you land on the issues of marriage and sexuality, let me point out that this is a really dumb and dangerous way to order a society. The Salvation Army is not the Klu Klux Klan. It just isn’t. Therefore, stopping donations to such a ministry (and celebrating the announcement) because the ministry holds to Scripture, which informs and inspires its good works, is a poor strategy in a society reeling from loneliness, hopelessness, anxiety and the breakdown of the nuclear family. I have the privilege of serving the Salvation Army in my city, and the ministry lives up to its motto of “Doing the Most Good” by serving the homeless and impacting the drug crisis. So, can we stop with the dumb cultural game of chicken—where the ideological left drive straight at the ideological right hoping people of faith will blink before a destructive crash? Aren’t we divided enough already? We face extraordinary challenges in our society. So, yea, let’s just keep up the war on chicken restaurants, foster care agencies, and homeless ministries. That makes a lot of sense.
In sum, as any observer of the game of chicken will tell you, there must be a better way forward. Hurtling headlong at an ideological opponent with the goal of proving that your ideology is more culturally accepted than your neighbor’s is a shallow and juvenile exercise. Instead of driving at each other, let’ try driving together. We should work to build a society where people of different viewpoints and faiths work together for the common good. But, this takes maturity and confidence. It’s difficult and uncomfortable. So, the real question of the hour is this: are we too chicken to try it?