The tasty Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich has a fond place in my heart. It was my favorite part of childhood trips to our small shopping mall in New Bern, North Carolina, back when Chick-fil-A could only be found in southern-state food courts next to corn dog stands and Hardees fast food. When I returned to the south as an adult I made regular pilgrimages to the shopping mall for a little comforting taste of my childhood.
Given my history it's a little hard to see Chick-fil-A take such a beating in the media frenzy that has followed the comments by Chick-fil-A's president Dan Cathy. He explained to the Baptist Press that his company seeks to “operate on biblical principles” and that they “are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.” These comments have unleashed a firestorm of criticism and outrage among advocates for same-sex marriage, and passionate support from defenders of traditional marriage. The frenzy reached a crescendo of noise today with competing public displays of protest and appreciation.
As for me I'll be sitting this one out. You won't find me out protesting or appreciating.
I'm not saying that there aren't good reasons to intentionally support or not support a business like Chick-fil-A. In fact, I think purchasing decisions are one of the most basic forms of civic expression. They are substantial opportunities to seek justice and even inhabit the Christian faith. (I wrote a book in which I make that argument. Go here for more on that.) I just don't think the expressed opinions of the president of Chick-fil-A are the most helpful way to determine if they are worthy of my patronage, and more to the point, I don't think these kinds of statements are the best way to gauge Chick-fil-A's Christian commitment as a business.
I'm more interested in their practices than their pronouncements. More important than their president's conviction about marriage is the way they treat customers and employees, and it's worth noting there have not been any accusations of Chick-fil-A discriminating against anyone because of their sexual orientation. But for me, the best gauge of Christian faithfulness for a company that makes their living selling chickens is how they treat their chickens, especially one that builds their entire marketing strategy around showing those poor cows some compassion. (See Cow Appreciation Day for more on that.)
Their official statement of purpose is, “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us." That's a great standard for a company that seeks to be "Christian" and based on that definition, the company's stewardship of millions of chickens should be one of the most important measures of their success in achieving that.
Chick-fil-A is a privately held company so little is actually known about their supply-chain of chickens. Their website offers a generic explanation that their suppliers meet the minimal standards outlined by the National Chicken Council but it does have one huge whopper of a misleading claim. They state that, "Avian antibiotics are only used in very limited circumstances to ensure bird health," but antibiotics are widely used on factory farms to speed their growth, not just to ensure health. They link to a USDA site that clearly states, "Antibiotics may be used to prevent disease and increase feed efficiency." Factory farms are all about efficiency, too often at the expense of animal welfare and environmental stewardship.
Because I find little that glorifies God in current factory farming practices I try to avoid eating chicken and beef that doesn't come from small-scale local farms. I buy almost all my meat from our local farmers' market. I understand this to be part of my desire to "glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to" me.
Honestly, if Chick-fil-A opened a store in Spokane it would put these convictions to the test. There is something about those two pickles and that seasoning on the chicken that it is irresistable. Should that day come, and I'm faced with the decision of whether or not to eat there, I'll be thinking more about the chickens and not so much about the statements of the president. Hopefully between now and then Chick-fil-A will embrace stewardship of their chickens as central to their calling as a "Chrisitian" business. For now, I don't see that they've done that, but it would be a wonderful witness to their desire to be stewards of God's creation if they did.