Culture Friday: Misplaced faith in Christian chicken

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday November 22, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. A warm welcome to those watching the broadcast live here in Music City.

I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday. We’re at the headquarters of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville. That gives us the opportunity to visit with not one but two ERLC commentators. And today, whatever happened to Chick-Fil-A?

MUSIC: Closed On Sunday—Kanye West

REICHARD: Yeah, I think my number one with the lemonade is the veggie wrap. Just so everybody knows. Kanye West, of course, from his gospel album. Well, Chick-Fil-A’s announcement this week that it would no longer partner with several Christian charities—including the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes—came as a shock. In an interview with the business publication Bisnow, Chick-Fil-A president Tim Tassopoulos said, “There’s no question we know that as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are.” Now, that struck many people as Chick-Fil-A’s walking away from the stance we’ve heard even as recently as in this 2018 interview on Atlanta television station WSB. Here’s CEO Dan Cathy.

CATHY: We’re a business that has got a long track record of being respectful of other people. I, personally, express my view of support of the biblical definition of marriage. It was not an anti-this or anti-that statement at all. 

But the statement about going “into new markets” and being “clear about who we are” came off to some Chick-fil-A fans as a betrayal. 

Those new markets Tassopoulos refers to include several U.S. airports that rejected the company from concessions deals. It also includes a U.K. lease cancelled after only eight days. All because of protests from the LGBT community.

Now, Chick-fil-A isn’t saying LGBT pressure had anything to do with the company’s decision.

BASHAM: Yeah, but that’s meeting with lots of skepticism.

In one of the most searing pieces so far, Rod Dreher of The American Conservative wrote, “Those good men and women [of the Salvation Army and the FCA] are not good enough for Chick-fil-A now. Chick-fil-A is embarrassed by them. If Chick-fil-A’s executives think they’re going to get a fair shake from progressives now, well, they’re going to learn otherwise—and they’re going to deserve what they get.”

So now we welcome Daniel Darling and Trillia Newbell from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Dan, Trillia, thanks for joining us.

DAN DARLING, GUEST: Glad to be here.

TRILLIA NEWBELL, GUEST: Thanks for having us.

EICHER: So Dan, let’s start with you. To sort of generalize about the responses I’m seeing—many, like Dreher, feel that this is a betrayal of a loyal customer base.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, one-time presidential candidate, and the guy who organized a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, when the restaurant chain came under fire back in 2012. This is from a Family Research Council interview with Huckabee.

HUCKABEE: It’s such a disappointment, such a bewildering situation as to why Chick-fil-A, after being so successful, would decide that they’re going to surrender to the bullies. And I think that the implications of this are far broader than Chick-fil-A and that’s what I’m really concerned about.

On the other side, I’m hearing that Christians shouldn’t be so quick to make assumptions about what motivated the decision. That Chick-fil-A fulfilled their commitment to those charities and they’re just choosing to partner with other charities now. 

I’ll be honest, given their president’s comments and the fact that the groups they’ll now be partnering with make a point of highlighting how “affirming” they are to the LGBT community, I probably tend to agree with the former.

What do you think? Are we right to feel grieved about this?

DARLING: Well, there is reason for skepticism, right? Because the response of Chick-Fil-A and the announcement has been kind of conflicting. And on the one hand, they’re pulling away from FCA and Salvation Army. On the other hand, they’re saying that they’re not going to discriminate against anyone in terms of their giving. They’re just trying to do a new funding formula to form effectiveness and they wouldn’t discriminate against any faith-based institution—even those that have a biblical view of marriage. But it’s a conflicting response. I saw that Franklin Graham posted a few hours ago that he talked to Dan Cathy and he was reassured that this was not going into the calculus.

But I think what really is alarming here—regardless of Chick-Fil-A’s motivation—so, we don’t know. Perhaps they are just changing their funding formula. They’re not going to discriminate against people who have a biblical sexual ethic. But if you take a step back and you look, what’s alarming here is that we’re talking about the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and we’re talking about Salvation Army. These are not people even known for being overtly political or even culture warriors. I mean, the Salvation Army is doing incredible work among the homeless. And the fact that even these groups are targeted by the left simply because they believe what Christians have believed for 2,000 years. They believe what President Obama believed, what, 15 years ago. And all of a sudden, this is a cause to ostracize them. That is really alarming. I think it goes beyond Chick-Fil-A. So I think we do need to give Chick-Fil-A the benefit of the doubt that they are saying they’re not going to discriminate. But it is disappointing. They are a corporation, so they can do with their money what they like. But they have been known for being courageous and for being successful in the midst of this. And so it is alarming for fans of Chick-Fil-A.

EICHER: I was just doing the math in my head. President Obama took that position seven years ago. I mean, this is really very recently minted orthodoxy.

DARLING: Yeah, and the fact that, again, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is doing great work among students across the country. Salvation Army with the red kettles every year at Christmas. The fact that they’re too controversial. And the thing we have to understand is that this is not even enough for people on the extreme left. Until Christian institutions, not just abandon their beliefs but embrace everything of the sexual revolution, they won’t be accepted. So, I think as Christians we have to just steel ourselves and know that if you follow the scriptures, if you follow Jesus, if you follow a biblical sexual ethic, the way that God has ordered marriage and sexuality, that you’re going to be out of step with the culture by the way Jesus warned us. Jesus said that we, as Christians, if we’re living out the gospel, at some point we’re going to conflict with the culture. It’s been like that in every generation since Jesus uttered those words. But I think it’s a little harder for us as Americans because I think we’ve been used to sort of a protection and a little bit of favor for being Christians.

REICHARD: At the end of the day, even though everyone’s talking about it, our feelings about Chick-Fil-A probably won’t have much impact on our lives. But now I want to turn to a topic that does demand a response from all of us—and that’s sexual misconduct in the church.

BASHAM: Yeah, and that’s a much more difficult subject. I found that out first hand, recently. I gave a commentary Tuesday arguing it does a disservice to women to paint them solely as victims in all cases and that pastors and teachers are issuing uniform responses to situations that aren’t necessarily uniform. As an example, I pointed to John Crist. The popular Christian comedian used his fame to pressure women into giving him sexual favors.

However, the Crist case is different from many other revelations of abuse we’ve heard lately. He wasn’t the women’s pastor or employer. He held no authority them. And they were all adults. Short version of my take: part of pastoral care is calling women to accountability for sin just as much as men. And none of the responses I saw to the Crist case demonstrated that. In fact, Charisma magazine’s decision to withhold their names even though four of them were willing to go on the record struck me as infantilizing.

Some listeners thanked me for expressing feelings they’ve had themselves. Others were upset and felt I was casting stones at victims. Trillia, how do we hold both loving victims and personal accountability for sin in tension when talking about this?

NEWBELL: Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, I think first I would say that there’s a difference between sin and a crime. There’s a difference between a sin and sexual abuse, sin and rape. And so I think when we are talking about sexual sin, then, yes, that needs to be held accountable. And God says if we confess our sin, he’s faithful and just to purify us. So, if a woman is engaged in any kind of sexual sin, she needs to be held accountable. It needs to be confessed. And it needs to be held to the exact same standards. Yet, in many of these cases, we are talking about someone abusing their power, abusing their role, abusing their celebrity even. And, in particular, in the Crist situation, there was more. Obviously there’s so much that I don’t know because I’m not up on everything that was even reported. But I will say that there was harassment involved from what he confessed. And so I think when we look at these unfortunate, sobering situations, we have to be able to distinguish, again, what is actual sin and what is a crime. What is sin and what oversteps the boundaries of what becomes abuse. In this case, I do think—and it seems like—he confessed that there was some abuse.

BASHAM: Well, I think what was more my point was what I was hearing from pastors. And we might differ a little bit on that. The details I saw, he seemed like a definite creep. He seemed like somebody who exhibited predatory behavior. But I didn’t see something that, to me—for adult women—when I read things like emotional manipulation, I went, I don’t see that in the Bible that if you were emotionally manipulated, then you’re not responsible. For me as an adult woman, I went, my husband would be pretty upset if I was putting myself in some of these situations regardless of how emotionally manipulated I felt.

NEWBELL: Yeah, so, I think if we are called to love our neighbor, we won’t manipulate them, right? And I do think that people can, I mean, we have no idea what the state of their minds, their weak—who knows. I know that in a case of power, we can be given to fear and allow fear to lead us. And so I do think that these are cases that you’d have to—I’d have to sit down with these women and ask them more questions and hopefully they are receiving that pastoral care. Someone who will love them and serve them and walk them through this. And I pray that Crist is. I pray that he is truly repentant and that he will be restored fully into the faith.

EICHER: Dan Darling and Trillia Newbell from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Thank you all so much.

NEWBELL: Thank you.

DARLING: Thank you.

(AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File) This July 19, 2012, file photo shows a Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant in Atlanta. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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