Today is Chick-Fil-A appreciation day. Organized by Mike Huckabee (former Governor of Arkansas), the event is intended to show public support and appreciation for the restaurant chain’s founder, who has been vilified because of his support for the institution of marriage. On Facebook, nearly 4 million people have been invited to participate in this day, a small indication that the event has resonated with the Christian community [Edit: we have readers in over 200 countries, only one of which has Chick-Fil-A; if you want to figure out what this debate is all about, check out Al Mohler here].
The hullabaloo concerning chicken sandwiches is simply one manifestation of the larger culture war being waged over the redefinition of marriage. If marriage is a word, how is that word defined? By common usage, history, or popular vote? Using any of those three definitions, it would exclusively include heterosexual relationships, but many courts have ruled that none of those methods are valid. So what is an alternative way to define marriage? In a statement that says as much about capitalism as it does about culture, it seems to have come down to likes on a fast food chains’ Facebook page.
Should Christians care about Chick-Fil-A day? Why is this such a big deal? Here are four thoughts on how the world’s tastiest chicken matters:
1) This controversy has grown because, as Voddie Baucham wrote last week, gay is not the new Black. In the language of the debate about Proposition 8 in California, our President’s speech announcing his “evolving” view on marriage, and in many articles in the news, the angst over marriage is compared to the angst concerning integrated schools fifty years ago. Those who think that marriage is only for heterosexual couples are portrayed as if they were using the same arguments used against the desegregation of schools. This is a civil rights issue, we are told, and thus should not be subject to the democratic process. If you define marriage with a biblical standard, you are a bigot and your views are anathema to the current culture.
Yet the Chick-Fil-A brouhaha shows it is not homosexuals who are being discriminated against, but Christians. After voting on the definition of marriage (in California, for just one example), courts found that because the motivating factor behind the passing of Proposition 8 was religious, it was thus invalid. Christians (and Mormons, Catholics, et. al.) don’t get their votes counted. If you have a Christian view of marriage, and you own a business, then your business faces additional roadblocks when it wants to expand. Mayors in Boston and Chicago—hardly irrelevant cities, and hardly the discriminatory South—recently said that businesses owned by those with Christian values are not welcome in their jurisdictions. How should we respond to this? Well choosing a day to eat at Chick-Fil-A is one answer, but I can’t help but feel it is woefully inadequate.
2) Christians should expect to be persecuted. Jesus said that, and it also happens to be true. In our country, martyrdom is not the reality. Instead, we should expect to have our values mocked by the culture, and we should expect to have our commitment to those values tested. The bottom line is that the mayors of Chicago and Boston are correct: Christian values should not fit in. We should feel out-of-place in this world. If the thrust of that persecution is an extended zoning process to open up a restaurant run on moral principles, we should consider ourselves lucky.
Of course, the certainty of opposition and persecution does not mean that those who overtly oppose God’s holiness are justified. In this way, Chick-Fil-A day gets us back to Gospel 101: the world is filled with those who oppose the chicken sandwich because they oppose God. They will be judged by God. God has made a way of escape from that judgment. Our job is to identify those are who are living apart from God and in rejection to the gospel, and bring them the good news.
3) Being caught in a debate about waffle fries can be distracting to the task at hand. Obviously there is nothing wrong with supporting Christian-owned businesses, especially those that are being ostracized by the government for the faith of their owners. In that sense, Chick-Fil-A day is a great idea. Go for it. You need fuel for your body to get the strength to glorify God with your day, so why not Chick-Fil-A?
But the tendency with these kind of Christian culture wars is for Christians to completely lose the ability to differentiate between what is important and what is inconsequential. Time and energy can be spent advancing secondary and tertiary causes, and the net result is often unconnected to the advance of the kingdom. If a greater number of people eat at Chick-Fil-A today than kiss there on Friday, the gospel does not win. If more people protest on Friday than spend there today, the gospel does not lose. There are two ways the gospel suffers on Chick-Fil-A day: if people think that supporting Christian values is the same as evangelism, or if people think that protecting marriage is the same as advancing the gospel.
4) If restaurant franchises have become a proxy front in the broader culture war, Christians should not fall into the same trap. We should have thoughtful explanations for what marriage is and why it matters. We should be able to make careful and explicit connections from God’s created order to the gospel, and we should be ready to engage with non-believers thoughtfully and biblically concerning divine truths. This requires discipline and biblical literacy, and quite frankly eating chicken is simply easier.
Where does that leave us? Hey, we have to eat somewhere today, so it may as well be at a Chick-Fil-A. But let’s not fool ourselves. Each of us will probably have multiple conversations today that have the possibility to matter in someone’s life in a way that your lunchtime food choice simply doesn’t. So, invite your friends, eat chicken, and support Christian values. But don’t be fooled into thinking that what you say is less important than the restaurant in which you say it.