Chick-fil-A has become one of the top fast food restaurants in America today. It is based out of Atlanta, Georgia and is spreading across America. Two of my grandchildren have worked at the local Chick-fil-A in Chanhassen, MN. Chick-fil-A does not discriminate against homosexuals or anyone else. But in recent times, it has been attacked by the gay lobby groups because it has, at times, helped organizations that supported ‘traditional Biblical marriage.’ At the end of this article is a wonderful testimony that involves the C.E.O. of Chick-fil-A, but before we get to that, I want to share some more thoughts on tolerance.
TOLERANCE AT THE SUPREME COURT
In December 2017, a case was argued regarding religious freedom, before the Supreme Court. The case involved Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. Jack Phillips declined to design a wedding cake for two gay men, based on his religious convictions. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, with whom a complaint was made, came against him. The case eventually ended up in the Supreme Court. As was often the case with the court at that time, everyone waited to see what Justice Kennedy would say. Kennedy had long time been supportive of gay issues, but he was also very protective of religious freedom.
In the midst of the oral arguments, Justice Kennedy stated, ‘tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it is mutual. It seems to me that the state (Colorado) in its position has been neither tolerant nor respectfully of Mr. Phillips religious beliefs.’ The court eventually voted 7 to 2 in favor of Mr. Phillips.
But it was that phrase that caught my eye and attention, ‘Tolerance is most meaningful when it is mutual.’ In other words, tolerance is not a one-way street. If it is to be meaningful in society, what does that mean in practical terms?
It means that we are to respect other people’s point of view even if we don’t agree with them. So Bible-believing Christians who believe and stand for traditional marriage and traditional sexual ethics none the less have to be respectful in the way they stand up for what they believe and how they relate to others who think differently than they do.
How does this work out? i.e. “tolerance being mutual.” Well, let me tell you the story of Dan Cathy, C.E.O of Chick-fil-A. The story is from an article by a gay activist Shane L Windmeyer, the head of Campus Pride, a leading national organization for gay rights. He wrote, Like most LGBT people, I was provoked by Dan’s public opposition to marriage equality and his company’s problematic giving history. I had the background and history on him, so I thought, and had my own preconceived notions about who he was. I knew this character. No way did he know me. That was my view. But it was flawed.
For nearly a decade now, my organization, Campus Pride, has been on the ground with student leaders protesting Chick-fil-A at campuses across the country. I had researched Chick-fil-A’s nearly $5 million in funding, given since 2003, to anti-LGBT groups. And the whole nation was aware that Dan was “guilty as charged” in his support of a “biblical definition” of marriage. What more was there to know? On Aug. 10, 2012, in the heat of the controversy, I got a surprise call from Dan Cathy. He had gotten my cell phone number from a mutual business contact serving campus groups. I took the call with great caution. He was going to tear me apart, right? Give me a piece of his mind? Turn his lawyers on me?
The first call lasted over an hour, and the private conversation led to more calls the next week and the week after. Dan Cathy knew how to text, and he would reach out to me as new questions came to his mind. This was not going to be a typical turn of events.
His questions and a series of deeper conversations ultimately led to a number of in-person meetings with Dan and representatives from Chick-fil-A. He had never before had such dialogue with any member of the LGBT community. It was awkward at times but always genuine and kind.
It is not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another. We see this failure to listen and learn in our government, in our communities, and in our own families. Dan Cathy and I would, together, try to do better than each of us had experienced before.
Never once did Dan or anyone from Chick-fil-A ask for Campus Pride to stop protesting Chick-fil-A. On the contrary, Dan listened intently to our concerns.
Chick-fil-A also provided access to internal documents related to the funding of anti-LGBT groups and asked questions about our concerns related to this funding. An internal document, titled “Who We Are,” expressed Chick-fil-A’s values, which included their commitment “to treat every person with honor, dignity, and respect,” including LGBT people.
Through all this, Dan and I shared respectful, enduring communication and built trust. His demeanor has always been one of kindness and openness. Even when I continued to directly question his public actions and the funding decisions, Dan embraced the opportunity to have dialogue and hear my perspective. He and I were committed to a better understanding of one another.
During our meetings, I came to see that the Chick-fil-A brand was being used by both sides of the political debate around gay marriage. The repercussion of this was a deep division and polarization that was fueling feelings of hate on all sides.
Throughout the conversations Dan expressed a sincere interest in my life, wanting to get to know me on a personal level. He wanted to know about where I grew up, my faith, my family, even my husband, Tommy. In return, I learned about his wife and kids and gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being “a follower of Christ” more than a “Christian.”
And in that we had great commonality: We were each entirely ourselves. We both wanted to be respected and for others to understand our views. Neither of us could – or would – change.
As Dan and I grew through mutual dialogue and respect, he invited me to be his personal guest on New Year’s Eve at the Chick-fil-A Bowl. This was an event that Campus Pride and others had planned to protest. Had I been played? Seduced into his billionaire’s life? No. It was Dan who took a great risk in inviting me: He stood to face the ire of his conservative base (and a potential boycott) by being seen or photographed with an LGBT activist. He could have been portrayed as “caving to the gay agenda” by welcoming me.
Instead, he stood next to me most of the night, putting respect ahead of fear. There we were on the sidelines, Dan, his wife, his family and friends and I, all enjoying the game. And that is why building a relationship with someone I thought I would never understand mattered. Our worlds, different as they can be, could coexist peacefully – we could stand together in our difference and in our respect. How much better would our world be if more could do the same? Now it is all about the future, one defined, let’s hope, by continued mutual respect. I will not change my views, and Dan will likely not change his. In the end, it is not about eating (or eating a certain chicken sandwich). It is about sitting down at a table together and sharing our views as human beings, engaged in real, respectful, civil dialogue.
SOME CLOSING THOUGHTS
Tolerance is never simple and it is never easy, but the key to a healthy tolerance in society is mutual respect. That does not mean we have to agree on matters. It does not mean we are not to stand up or even fight for what we believe to be right. But it does mean we have to do it in a respectful and loving way. The story of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A shows that it can be done in the spirit of Luke 6:30.