Well, my friends, I just discovered that one of my favorite fast food dumps has a mission that has nothing to do with food. Chick-fil-A, the home of yummy pickle-adorned chicken sandwiches, is owned and operated by an aggressively Christian family who’s corporate mission at Chick-fil-A is to “glorify God.” I’m all for glorifying God, and I’m all for chicken, but there’s some shady business dealings going on at the CfilA.
Franchise operators at CfilA are subject to intense scrutiny over their faith, marital status and other characteristics irrelevant to an individual’s ability to do work. It’s legal for them to do it because franchise operators are independent contractors and are not protected by the equal opportunity laws that protect normal employees. The founder and chairman of CfilA, S. Truett Cathy, has been quoted as saying he would fire an employee or operator if he “has been sinful.”
Chick-fil-A has been sued 12 times for employment discrimination, but the company shows no signs of slowing. The annual turnover for hourly employees is only 60%, compared with 107% industry average. Last year’s business-wide sales were over 2.3 billion dollars at over 1,300 locations in the US (including one delicious location in the Coralville mall). This is a big big company, with a very restrictive way of doing business.
So how does it work? Cathy claims that one of the keys to success is working using a Christian approach. He says, “You don’t have to be a Christian to work at Chick-fil-A, but we ask you to base your business on biblical principles because they work.” I’m not sure where the Bible dictates proper methods for chicken sales (and “be nice to people” doesn’t count – Jesus doesn’t own that intellectual property), but it does seem clear that one of the Christian approaches used is that of rigid exclusivity. I grew up in a veritable buffet of assorted evangelical Christian churches, where being a Christian meant you get to go to heaven when everyone else (Jews, Buddhists, Hinduists, Muslims, Pagans, Athiests, and other generalized sinners [which includes me according to the evangelical set]) goes to hell. Jesus is the only way to heaven – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” – everyone else can suck it (with respect to Kathy Griffin of course). Similarly at Chick-fil-A, there is a strong sense of being a member of a club for those who belong. Interviewing for an operator position at CfilA can be a year-long process taking over 15 interviews, and you can still be rejected for not having the right (legally vague) “fit.”
Exclusivity works great for those who fit and share the collective’s mindset. For those who don’t fit, there is a constant sense of being watched. A Chick-fil-A operator who didn’t participate in a prayer at a corporate training event was fired the next day. He sued and the case was settled out of court. I feel that same sense of being watched when I’m in church. I feel like no one believes that my faith is authentic because it’s not as exclusive as theirs, I feel like they are watching and waiting for me to make some kind of gay mistake so they can be validated in their wholesale disregard of anyone who is different.
My response to these vibes at church has been to just not go. I have a living faith in something much bigger than me. I think I’m smart enough to not try to put a name on it and claim to know everything. I know that the cultural language of Christianity is what I was raised on, and it’s what speaks most plainly to my life experience and my heart. And that faith does just fine without the judgment, politics and self-righteousness of the church-going elite. In fact, I think my faith is better and stronger this way. So should I not go to Chick-fil-A for the same reasons? Well, if I felt persecuted by the 16-year old who gave me a sandwich, then maybe not. But it doesn’t seem that Chick-fil-A has any problems taking money from those who are not members of the 700 Club. As long as they don’t ask me to join their prayer groups, and as long as the Coral Ridge Mall food court continues to offer slim pickings, I’ll probably eat the occasional Chick-fil-A. Does that make me a hypocrite? No, I’m just doing my best not to be exclusive. 🙂