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Can YOU Take the Heat, Chick-fil-A?

February 7, 2011

Chick-fil-A introduced the Spicy Chicken Biscuit on January 10, encouraging diners to try it with the slogan “Can You Take the Heat?” But a day later, Chick-fil-A’s President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy felt compelled to release a video statement responding to allegations that Chick-fil-A was anti-gay and anti-gay marriage.

The damage was done when Chick-fil-A was publicly associated with the Pennsylvania Family Institute’s marriage seminar. The pro-LGBT rights organization Georgia Equality created a petition to ask Chick-fil-A to stop associating with anti-gay groups. Indiana University at South Bend briefly barred Chick-fil-A from operating on their campus. A Facebook group “Remove Chick-fil-A from NYU (and thus NYC!)” sprang up.

Everyone was asking two questions: “Will you still eat at Chick-fil-A?” and “Can YOU take the heat, Chick-fil-A?”

Only you can answer the first question. As for the second, let’s look at Dan Cathy’s response, which was circulated through Chick-fil-A’s Facebook page. Dan Cathy introduces himself and then says:

When my father, Truett Cathy, opened his first Dwarf House restaurant in Hapeville, Georgia, in 1946, the restaurant had ten stools and just four tables… From that very first day, my dad made the decision that he would treat every customer that walked through the door with genuine hospitality. That policy has served our organization well for more than sixty years.

As beloved as the Horatio Alger story is in the United States, reading a rags-to-riches story backwards packs a lot of persuasive power. Here, it invokes a range of moral goodies, all wrapped up with the bow of tradition. Dan Cathy creates a halo effect that reaches from father to son—humble, hard-working, friendly. Certainly nothing that points to the anti-gay elephant in the room.

The son continues:

Last week, one of our local franchise Chick-fil-A operators in Pennsylvania made the decision to provide food to two upcoming February events billed to strengthen marriages.

Depending on your beliefs, “strengthen marriages” is quite the euphemism for solidifying heterosexual Christian marriages. But then Dan Cathy does some free associating right back to the safety net of his family:

Marriage has long been a focus of Chick-fil-A, starting with my own mom and dad who are celebrating their sixty-third year of marriage.

It’s a little sloppier than the free associating in the Bing commercials, but it creates more warm family fuzzies with a celebration for heterosexual Christian marriage on the side. Finally, Dan Cathy gets to the point:

Let me be clear: Chick-fil-A serves all people and values all people. Providing food to these events or any event is not an endorsement of the mission, political stance, or motives of this or any other organization.

So there! Because Chick-fil-A is good! And loves people without qualification! And Mom and Pop Chick-fil-A have a terrific, long-lasting marriage!

But have you heard of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” philosophy? Or read the “Corporate Information FAQ,” where the answer to “What is the Corporate Purpose of Chick-fil-A, Inc.?” is “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.” A chain that isn’t open on Sundays doesn’t necessarily mean a fundamentalist Christian agenda, but Chick-fil-A’s association with the Pennsylvania Family Institute’s marriage seminar should probably be less of a surprise and more of the final straw for pro-LGBT rights groups.

It’s not that Chick-fil-A can take the heat. It’s that, according to Dan Cathy, there never was any heat to begin with—except in their Spicy Chicken lineup, which they’re happy to sell to anyone.

If you want to know more:

  • For a highly readable but theoretically grounded introduction to narrative and identity change, I recommend Hilde Lindemann Nelson’s Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair (Cornell University Press, 2001). My analysis of Dan Cathy’s video is based on her discussion of “strong moral self-definition” as a way to narrate and repair one’s identity.
  • You can read the rest of Chick-fil-A’s “Corporate Information FAQ.”
  • You can check out the Chick-fil-A founders’ WinShape Foundation. The WinShape Marriage page is especially relevant to this discussion.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 7, 2011 7:48 pm

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