After years of standing by its founding principles in the face of unjust, ugly, and unrelenting criticism from the Jacobin Left, Chick-fil-A abandoned those principles. After years of steadfast support from the cultural Right, Chick-fil-A has betrayed that support. Chick-fil-A on Monday raised the white flag in a battle it was winning by announcing it would no longer support the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA); two faith-based organizations whose religious tenets, aligning with those of Chick-fil-A, guided them in support of traditional marriage, but whose actual philanthropic activities never discriminated against anyone.
Of course, Chick-fil-A used some anodyne language about ”a more focused giving approach to provide additional clarity and impact with the causes it supports,” and noted that they had fulfilled their giving obligations in 2018 and would instead pivot to focus on “education, homelessness and hunger.” (Donations to the Salvation Army and FCA weren’t general fund donations, but were instead earmarked specifically for programs to assist in the education and feeding of children in need.)
Honestly, I am not sure why Chick-fil-A made the decision it did. Business was booming. While it’s PR issues due to leftist opposition were significant, it did not seem to affect their bottom line.
Quite the contrary. Chick-fil-A’s brand was one of the fastest-growing in the market space. By June of this year, Chick-fil-A grew from the seventh largest restaurant chain in the United States to the third-largest, behind McDonald’s and Starbucks. Its sales in 2018 topped $10.46 billion, a 16.7 percent increase over the year prior. It remains the most profitable fast-food chain in America on a per-location basis, outperforming second-ranked McDonalds by an average of $1 million per location. In fact, Chick-ilf-A’s per-store income in 2017 was greater than that of McDonald’s, Starbucks and Subway combined.
I can only think that a desire to expand into Europe and the international market as well as in areas around college campuses coupled with a changing corporate culture focused more on PR concerns than foundational principles.
It’s also possible that once Chick-fil-A grew large enough, its culture organically became an administrative, HR and PR focused one instead of an ethical Christian based one. Things like this tend to happen as organizations grow—timid and mercenary bureaucracies and bureaucrats replace bold visions and visionaries. Maybe though, the answer is much more petty. Maybe the executives were tired of being yelled at by the mob, or given hostile stares by their peers. I really don’t know.
From Earnest to Saccharine
Whatever the cause, the decision signals a sea change in the culture of the company away from the Christian values that previously had informed the entire franchise. Away they now move from the ethical vision that translated into a consumer experience which was superlative, positive, and earnest, filled with joyful and genuine enthusiasm for the good; with employees’ smiles never failing to reach their eyes with kindness, a joy that imbued the full experience of enjoying their food with a positivity unique to Chick-Fil-A.
Expect all of that to change. Expect the earnestness to be replaced with saccharine halfheartedness as corporate culture informs the culture canaille. But beyond that, expect Chick-Fil-A, in due time, to become a full-throated supporter of the causes that once screamed loudest to shut it down.
In the wake of the announcement, conservatives lamented what they saw as a betrayal:
The sad message of @ChickfilA is quite clear- they surrendered to anti- Christian hate groups. Tragic. Chick-fil-A To Stop Donating To Christian Charities Branded ‘Anti-LGBT’ https://t.co/o93PfaaS04
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) November 18, 2019
While the Left, never satisfied with mere capitulation, argued that simply removing donations wasn’t enough. Chick-Fil-A, in the Left’s view, still stained by sin, needed to further show public penance by “becoming more transparent” about its relationships with other organizations deemed adversarial, organizations such as Focus on the Family:
“If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families” @AndersonDrew https://t.co/0OXfScv1z6
— GLAAD (@glaad) November 18, 2019
GLAAD’s director of campaigns and rapid response, Drew Anderson, further elaborated to CNN:
In addition to refraining from financially supporting anti-LGBTQ organizations, Chick-fil-A still lacks policies to ensure safe workplaces for LGBTQ employees and should unequivocally speak out against the anti-LGBTQ reputation that their brand represents.
Chick-fil-A sought to appease the sharks, but all they really did was pour blood in the water. There have already been cries on major news outlets suggesting that unless Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy disavows his previous statements and beliefs about gay marriage, the company’s sins will remain unabsolved.
Cathy, it should be remembered, sparked the initial controversy while he was the COO of the company in 2012 by stating:
We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.
“We operate as a family business . . . our restaurants are typically led by families—some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.
Self-Abnegnation, Oblivion, Or Both
When Chick-fil-A tried to suggest, that despite changing its giving for the current year, it wasn’t ruling anyone out in the future for philanthropic donations, the Left became apoplectic. They saw this as proof that Chick-fil-A’s about-face wasn’t genuine and went on to imply that unless Chick-fil-A actively commits to never again giving to the Salvation Army and FCA their announcement is a false one and they have not actually changed course.
Chick-fil-A is discovering, a bit too late, that just as its critics do not subscribe to Christian definitions of marriage, neither do they hold to Christian notions of forgiveness and penance. Instead, it is the spirit of revolution, unbridled by reason and compassion that moves Chick-fil-A’s critics as they embrace the zealotry that fuels their destructive passion; crimes against the revolution are only expiated through a very public self-abnegation or oblivion (oftentimes both).
History proves time and again that leftist revolutions are less about destroying traditional institutions and power structures than they are about capturing and co-opting them. While some structures and symbols are utterly destroyed, like the Bastille and the monarchy, the real power they represented is left standing and captured, appropriated in service of revolutionary goals.
The Russian Revolution saw to it that the czar and his family were killed while the Kremlin was left standing to become the seat of power for the Communists. The Cuban revolution repurposed Batista’s former presidential palace as a Museo Revolucion. During the French Revolution, the Cathedral of Notre Dame became the declared property of the state and, in addition to being literally defaced (as the heads of its statues were removed), was repurposed to serve as a “Temple of Reason,” for the new state religion, the “Cult of Reason.” In 1793, the cathedral was made to serve as the location for the “Festival of Reason,” an anti-religious bacchanal where:
[A] seductively dressed actress portraying the Goddess of Reason was worshiped atop a mountain. Enlightenment philosophers’ busts and statues of the Liberty replaced religious statues, and seductively dressed women danced and sang songs extolling the revolution.
This appropriation is not limited to physical structures. It extends to any powerful symbol. The King and Queen couldn’t be allowed to live, but the Royal Executioner, Charles-Henri Sanson and his family, symbols of the power of the royals became the High Revolutionary Executioners of the royals. They would pull the lever and display the head of Louis XVI and 10 months later extend the same courtesy to Marie Antoinette. Capturing, inverting, manipulating and co-opting the power of past symbols and structures is more central to the revolutionary endeavor than mere destruction.
Why ‘Condensed Symbols’ Matter
So too, must Chick-fil-A be captured, manipulated, and co-opted. Mere change of philanthropic strategy on the company’s part will not be enough for the Left.
Rod Dreher, in a piece for the American Conservative, noted that Chick-fil-A has become a “Condensed Symbol” for the Right, of a way of life. That its principled stance in support of its values and its success in a fight it didn’t ask for became symbolic of the ability to fight a mob calling for spiritual concessions. Chick-fil-A and its success became emblematic to cultural conservatives of the possibility they might thrive while remaining true to the faith. It became, as Slate’s Ruth Graham put it, “a kind of avatar for conservative American Christianity as a whole.”
Because of this, Chick-fil-A, conversely, has become a condensed symbol for the Left of everything hated. Such a symbol either must be destroyed like the Bastille, or repurposed like Notre Dame and Sanson; the Left’s thirst for redress and desire to co-opt the strongest symbols of its opposition can only be slaked thus.
No. Unless Chick-fil-A becomes an active and strident supporter for those things it once opposed, it will continue to be pilloried. Until Chick-fil-A repudiates all its ties to its faith, it will be denounced. Until Chick-fil-A runs an advertisement, extolling gay marriage while failing to pitch its actual product, it will remain in the crosshairs, and even then it probably won’t be enough.
Appeasement Is Impossible
Chick-fil-A is to serve as an ongoing reminder to any entity of faith that wishes to venture into the world at large. It will continue to be attacked. But the difference is that now Chick-fil-A has alienated most of its values supporters, those who stood as a counterbalance against said attacks, and it will stand alone.
Further, with its faith thrown aside in favor of other concerns, whether monetary, organizational, or personal it will have no absolute values to put the brakes on its inevitable snowballing concessions as it moves to become a full-throated supporter of those things against which it once stood.
Chick-fil-A is learning very quickly, that abandoning core values, in an attempt to avoid being criticized for those values isn’t merely a betrayal of oneself, but a betrayal of all those who valued you; a slap in the face to those who stood by you because of your strength and added to your strength.
Now that Chick-fil-A has alienated the staunchest cultural supporters but has not even remotely appeased the belligerent passions and cultural bloodlust of its detractors, it is left alone, defenseless against the attacks it hoped to ameliorate through capitulation, attacks which will not abate until Chick-fil-A either joins the revolution or is destroyed by it.