This whole Chick-fil-A thing isn’t going away.
This week James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and the current president of The Dr. James Dobson Family Institute, wrote an op-ed for CBN News about the fast-food chain’s decision to change its giving strategy.
In case you missed it, Chick-fil-A recently announced that its contracts with several Christian charities were expiring and they would be using the opportunity to sign new contracts with charities that serve local communities where their restaurants are located. Faith-based charities will still be included in their giving.
However, the announcement drew a surprisingly large blowback from some conservative critics who claimed that the chain was surrendering to critics and LGBTQ+ activists, some of whom had taken issue with some of their previous partners’ internal policies regarding LGBTQ+ issues.
Chick-fil-A has explained their decision at length and Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy personally spoke with Franklin Graham about the move. Graham wrote, “I picked up the phone and called Dan Cathy. Dan was very clear that they have not bowed down to anyone’s demands, including the LGBTQ community.”
Now, James Dobson is weighing in and says he wants (more) answers. In his piece, Dobson wrote, “We are comforted by Dan Cathy’s assurance that Chick-fil-A hasn’t changed and isn’t going to change. But what then was intended by the corporate announcement last week?”
He also wrote, “If Chick-fil-A does intend to discontinue making grants to ministry entities such as the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christians Athletes, it could impact the patronage of millions of customers who have long supported Chick-fil-A’s commitment to biblical principles. But is that truly what the fast-food chain meant to convey?”
He concluded by stating, “The Dr. James Dobson Family Institute (JDFI) and conservative Christians across the nation are awaiting further clarification.”
Though his op-ed is short, there is still a lot to unpack.
First off, why does a fast-food chain owe conservative groups answers for how they choose to give away millions of dollars to Christian charities? Why does Dobson care about what a fried chicken business believes about a theological issue? They aren’t a church. They aren’t trying to convince customers to believe anything. They are trying to sell chicken.
Also, where is the line? What precedent is Dobson trying to create by demanding that private businesses not only provide quality services and ethical conditions for its workers but also monetarily support organizations that view social issues exactly the way some conservatives want them to? What exactly does he want Chick-fil-A to say or do here?
He also wonders how “it could impact the patronage of millions of customers who have long supported Chick-fil-A’s commitment to biblical principles.” He seems to presume that customers go to Chick-fil-A because of its views on social issues—not because they serve really good fried chicken. Perhaps some consumers do go to Chick-fil-A because of the company’s charitable giving but, if that is indeed the case, those customers need not worry because Chick-fil-A is still giving millions to charities. So, again, where is this coming from?
But, perhaps the most telling line is the final one: “The Dr. James Dobson Family Institute (JDFI) and conservative Christians across the nation are awaiting further clarification.” This line follows a pattern that often emerges when these types of controversies arise. Many leaders seem to want personal explanations that they can relay to their followers. They want to be the gatekeepers. Not because it matters what a fried chicken chain thinks about gay marriage, but because they personally want their opinions to matter. They want powerful institutions to need their approval— even if they aren’t involved.
In the meantime, Chick-fil-A will continue to sell a lot of chicken sandwiches, no matter how many critics are “awaiting further clarification.”
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.