Chick-fil-A’s Tolerance Gamble

December 1, 2019 Updated: December 1, 2019


The restaurant that made the chicken sandwich famous, Chick-fil-A, recently announced a minor change to its charitable-giving structure. Many people, though, suspect that minor change is, in fact, an ideological “sea change” that has more to do with branding and politics than philanthropy and poultry.

Among those charitable organizations to which the chicken sandwich king will no longer contribute include the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. This is no coincidence. Leftists have been punishing Chick-fil-A for years for supporting these Christian organizations they have labeled “divisive anti-LGBTQ activists.”

Chick-fil-A leadership likely made this move because they changed their opinions, not about the nature of sexuality and marriage, but about their branding strategy for attracting new markets. It’s hard to blame the restaurant chain for wanting people who are unfamiliar with them to associate their brand more with chicken than with their founder’s political opinions.

Chick-fil-A appears to be making a gamble. They think that if they make a show of greater tolerance, their critics will reciprocate and show them some tolerance, too.

No, Chick-fil-A hasn’t sold its soul to the devil. But if it thinks it can convince the left to sign a non-aggression pact and then leave them alone in the future, Chick-fil-A is in for a rude awakening.

The costs of “woke capitalism” must be paid in ever-increasing installments of obeisances to new pieties to prove fidelity. Chick-fil-A will never be able to demonstrate bona fides sufficient to convince its critics to leave it alone to make chicken sandwiches in peace. It must become an ally, or else it will remain an enemy.

Branding as Political Warfare

Drew Ferguson of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) hinted at the depth to which Chick-fil-A must kowtow to the left to be considered tolerable.

“If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists,” he said, “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.”

Chick-fil-A must, that is, accept the branding that the left has given to it, as well as to all other organizations the left considers deplorable. By cutting ties with the Salvation Army, Chick-fil-A has tacitly signaled that it, too, believes that charity to be beyond the pale of toleration.

GLAAD’s strategy to convince people that organizations such as Focus on the Family exist “purely to harm LGBTQ people and families” is the same that leftists have used against Chick-fil-A to convince potential new markets to boycott the restaurant. They have branded Chick-fil-A as bigoted, and the forced closing of Chick-fil-A’s first restaurant in the United Kingdom after only nine days proves that the branding campaign is working.

Chick-fil-A never intended to be defined by its founder’s private political opinions, and in practice, it has been called “probably one of the most socially advanced companies in terms of treatment of employees and its role in the community.” It makes sense, then, that Chick-fil-A would try to advertise its tolerance to alter its image abroad.

Nevertheless, it will learn that displays of tolerance won’t be good enough. Chick-fil-A must also adopt the right opinions to be labeled acceptable in liberal polite society.

As one CNN opinion writer recently wrote about Chick-fil-A: “bigotry is not just a matter of word or deed, but also of heart and mind.” Accordingly, he views Chick-fil-A’s recent change as mere “silence hoping to pass as reverence” and, tellingly, “tolerance doing its best impression of fellowship.”

In other words, by refusing to endorse liberal opinions and bow to the new pieties, Chick-fil-A will remain deplorable, no matter how tolerant it actually is.

Abraham Lincoln on Tolerance, Appeasement

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in New York City that is instructive for its perspective on tolerance and appeasement.

The central question then was whether Southern slavery was an evil to be tolerated and contained until circumstances allowed for it to be abolished constitutionally or a good institution to be celebrated and extended to the rest of the country.

In that speech, Lincoln insisted that while the Republican Party wouldn’t allow slavery to extend into new states, it would tolerate slavery where it already existed for the time being for the sake of the Union. Slaveholding states, though, didn’t believe that Republican displays of tolerance were genuine.

Lincoln asked of the slaveholders, “What will satisfy them?” Similarly, Chick-fil-A’s marketing team probably asked of its leftist critics, “What will satisfy them?”

Lincoln answered his rhetorical question: “Simply this, we must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success.”

So, Lincoln mused, what must be done to appease the slaveholders? “This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly—done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated—we must place ourselves avowedly with them.”

As the CNN op-ed writer said of Chick-fil-A, “silence hoping to pass as reverence” isn’t good enough. Chick-fil-A must join the left in calling all progressive moral opinions right.

Chick-fil-A ought to be known and judged by its actions: preparing quality food and delivering it with friendly service, all while treating its employees exceptionally well, without regard to anyone’s sexual orientation. Instead, the left has defamed its brand with the damning and false label that, supposedly as with Focus on the Family, Chick-fil-A exists purely to harm LGBTQ people.

This is absurd. It’s also absurd, though, for Chick-fil-A to expect to appease a mob of people and organizations who hate them and think their restaurant chain evil. Chick-fil-A should seek relief in a defamation lawsuit from the federal justice system, not from social justice warriors.

Clifford Humphrey is originally from Warm Springs, Ga. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate in politics at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Follow him on Twitter @cphumphrey.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Clifford Humphrey
Clifford Humphrey
Clifford Humphrey is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America and the Director of Admissions for Thales College. He holds a PhD in politics from Hillsdale College, and he resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.