The Lord works in mysterious ways. What began as an ugly incident triggered by a homosexual group has blossomed into a beneficial alliance between a St. Louis high school and a national business known for its adherence to biblical values and eternal truth.
Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, was scheduled to speak March 18 at a function sponsored by FOCUS St. Louis and the Clayton Chamber of Commerce. Chick-fil-A’s ties to biblical values are no secret. The restaurants are closed on Sundays, and Chick-fil-A’s own website says its corporate purpose is, in part, “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.” Chick-fil-A’s founder, Truett Cathy, is a lifelong Southern Baptist and longtime member of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Jonesboro. The restaurant is popular among Christian families.
But a Missouri gay and lesbian organization protested. Cathy, they claimed, was “controversial.” His company has sponsored marriage seminars and donated money to ministries such as Focus on the Family. Furthermore, Chick-fil-A has allegedly supported so-called “hate groups” branded “anti-gay” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a radically leftist group hostile to many Christians.
With little research into these allegations, the Chamber succumbed to the dissidents’ smear and canceled Cathy’s invitation less than a week before the scheduled event.
“We are a pro-diversity culture here and certainly don’t want to offend anyone,” said Ellen Gale, the Chamber’s executive director. “We didn’t know anything about this when he (Cathy) was booked.”
I contacted Gale and Chamber President Jeff Schmitt of Danna McKitrick, P.C., to ask them about their action, but neither returned phone calls. Diversity, it seems, is worth protecting as long as it doesn’t include Christian values.
Try to imagine, if you can, the Dallas Chamber of Commerce refusing to let legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry speak because of his relationship with Christ. Cathy is controversial the same way Billy Graham is controversial. They both talk the talk and walk the walk.
Cathy was disappointed with the Chamber’s decision but won’t permit denunciation of the group.
“We need to be forgiving,” he said when notified of the cancellation. “While my family and I believe in the biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees,” Cathy emphasized in a public statement issued earlier this year when criticized by another homosexual organization.
When God shuts a window He opens a door. For this astute businessman there is always a plan B.
Within hours of the Chamber snub the Chick-fil-A people contacted Zach Clark, director of advancement at Westminster Christian Academy (WCA). Clark huddled with Michelle Burke, communications and public relations strategist at WCA. Burke is a member of First Free Church of St. Louis County. A dozen phone calls later – on March 13 – it was agreed that Cathy he would speak at the church in West County on March 16.
Westminster and First Free used their email lists and sent out invitations. Response exceeded capacity in less than a day. Some 320 persons showed up to pack the room. Students, businessmen, home-schoolers, Bible class members, teachers and recent college grads gathered for an inspirational hour. Cathy provided the food, a tasty chicken sandwich with slaw, chips, brownies, tea and lemonade.
“This luncheon just blessed my socks off!” exclaimed one guest following the event.
It was that kind of day. Cathy blended homespun humor, common sense, recipes for success, show-and-tell and evangelism.
“As Dan (Cathy) shared the biblical definition of marriage and family and the way wisdom and values are transferred to the next generation,” Clark said, “I was reminded that the stakes for our culture are so very high.”
Cathy called Chick-fil-A the nation’s largest etiquette training program. They use work to teach employees to understand the values of respect, honoring others, serving and putting others first.
Chick-fil-A shapes the habits of these young people, Clark affirmed. “Parents often feel so behind the curve today and they need a partner like a Christian school or Chick-fil-A to help and sometimes even intervene.”
Burke pointed out that the Chick-fil-A philosophy “transfers to all we do and stand for” at Westminster Christian Academy. So the school has agreed to partner with the firm. WCA and the chicken vendors will explore seminars, meetings, workshops and other possibilities. The parties are talking about a leadership summit. It’s a marriage that grew out of controversy. And what God has put together let no man put asunder.
Cathy also spoke at a morning meeting at Lindenwood University in St. Charles March 18. Some 175 students and community members heard him discuss “applying your faith in the marketplace.”
“It was a great experience,” said Scott Queen, Lindenwood director of communications. “The feedback was wonderful.”
In 1946 Truett Cathy, now 90, started his company, then called Dwarf House in Hopeville, Ga. The first Chick-fil-A opened in Atlanta in 1967. Today there are 1,546 outlets in 39 states and the chain will expand to many northern areas in this decade.
Can selling chicken make an eternal difference? You bet. When we all come home to roost, it’s likely a number of us will get there on a wing and a prayer.
Constitutional Coalition, St. Louis