Why Appreciating or Boycotting Chick-Fil-A is an Adventure in Missing the Point

I’ve been quietly observing the flap over Chick-Fil-A’s CEO, Dan Cathy, and his remarks about marriage and homosexuality. Predictably, people are expressing their approval and disapproval of the company by either choosing to boycott the company or to follow Mike Huckabee’s lead and grab a meal on August 1 to appreciate a business that supports their view of family.

Many words have already been written about America’s food fight. I’d be hard-pressed to top Rachel Held Evan’s insightful post or James William’s rationale on why, in spite of his conservatism, he’ll be passing on the opportunity to ring in August with a chicken sandwich. I also have a reasonable assurance that my readers’ aren’t curious as to where I dine on Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.

Instead I’ll limit my comments to two observations:

  1. Using meals to draw define in-/out-groups is nothing new.
  2. Jesus used meals to communicate grace.

People have used mealtimes to define their tribes from antiquity. In the Ancient Near East, warlord and kings would throw feasts for their subjects. Partaking of the king’s meal then was akin to pledging allegiance to the flag today. This is why the dispersed Jews, Daniel and friends,  were willing to work in the King Nebuchadnezzar’s government but would not eat his royal food. Doing so would have signaled their complete assimilation into the Babylonian culture and unfaithfulness to their preexisting covenant with the God of Israel.

In Jesus’ day, the religious lawyers used to meals to pronounce moral judgment on their neighbors. They ate with those they deemed to be keepers of Moses’ law and shunned those they considered to be sinners. Tax collectors, shepherds, adulterers, drunks were all considered to be unworthy dining company. To eat with the unrighteous was to endorse their behavior.

So forgive me if the boycotts and the “Appreciation Day” both evoke déjà vu. We’re using Chick-Fil-A to draw clear lines over who our tribes are. We’re discovering which people share our views of family and politics. We’re discovering who the Sinners are, who we’d rather not break bread with. Truthfully, the wrangling whether to eat or not eat at Chick-Fil-A is not interesting or skillful. We’re all falling into dusty, tribal meal rituals traceable all the way back to the Book of Genesis.

Jesus, on the other hand, found a far more interesting way to make a point with meals. He used meals to communicate his radical love for the moral misfits. The Gospels are filled with accounts of Jesus eating with Sinners: People who made careers by stealing from others, people who worked in shady occupations and people who even ignored God’s rules about the use of their sexual organs. He ate with them all. By doing so he communicated that a Heavenly King wanted to extend his protection and Lordship to these people, knowing full well who they were.

Eating with the moral misfits also communicated that Jesus enjoyed them. He loved their smiles, their ideas, jokes, and dreams. He was for them.

Naturally, the professionally religious didn’t understand Jesus was subverting their rules concerning hospitality and their moral boxes. They just mistook him for a drunk and a glutton. But those who ate and drank with Jesus discovered a precious secret: God was for them.

So here’s my modest proposal for this Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. Have a meal with someone very different than you. Choose someone with political views that make you see red. Choose someone whose religious beliefs anger you. Choose someone who dropped their moral compass on the rocks one too many times. It’s okay. Jesus’ life teaches us that sharing a meal with someone isn’t the same thing as endorsing them.

Don’t try to fix or change that person. Laugh with your friend. Ask questions. Just enjoy that person.

Enjoy your meal at Chick-Fil-A or at that Middle Eastern restaurant you’ve been meaning to try out. Eat at a tavern or on a park bench. It doesn’t matter. Find whatever common ground you can find and enjoy it.

Simply use your meal as an avenue to communicate the reality Jesus doesn’t grade people’s beliefs, sexuality, theology, or politics before choosing to enjoy them.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    Well said, Larry. The last line is a great idea. May I add one more: A FB friend posted this:

    “How about, instead of
    going to Chic-Fil-A on 8/1, we go to the kiss in on 8/3 and purchase
    chicken sandwiches or everyone who comes… Instead of being in your face, against your lifestyle, we just be in your face, with an act of love?”

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      My son works at Chick-fil-A. Tomorrow and the third. The boy is going to get a ring-side seat to culture wars, I fear.

      • http://www.facebook.com/dixie.palmer Dixie Palmer

        I think he will get a ring-side seat at true biblical love because that is what your son’s employer is ALL about!

    • http://twitter.com/BertMontgomery Bert Montgomery

      James – this is a wonderful wonderful wonderful idea.

    • http://twitter.com/ciuma Qi Uma

      So you’re going to try to dismiss gay people’s act of love (kissing) on August 3 by putting chicken sandwiches in between our lips and calling it “love”? That won’t fly, James. I will never accept people telling me that MY love is inferior to a chicken sandwich. I will kiss my fellow LOVING human beings on the lips; please keep your condescending chicken sandwich for your own. Unlike so many Christians, people who have accepted same-sex love have a true understanding of love.

      If you were really loving, you’d be spending your money feeding the disproportionate number of homeless youth created by homophobia, not supporting a company that uses its money to fund hate groups that support youth homelessness.

      Yes, eating together is good, but the fact that you would like to invite gay people to eat with YOU at Chick-fil-A reveals your true intentions. If we would really eat together, it wouldn’t be at Chick-fil-A, on YOUR turf. Frankly, I’m gonna say the same back at you and say, come to my restaurant and eat with me in a place that accepts me for who I am, or don’t eat with me. I avoid conservatives because people who think that a chicken sandwich can make up for all their discrimination against me piss me off, and before you tell me that being angry is hateful, you go and try being a minority facing endless discrimination by the majority and tell me how that makes *you* feel. Don’t you dare try to compare my anger against your false love to the hatred of two men who were angry at someone for being transgender/lesbian and therefore raped and murdered the person.

      Then again, I shouldn’t expect someone who doesn’t understand simple love to understand what true hatred is either.

      • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

         Wow. What a remarkably hateful comment. You have completely misunderstood what I posted and filled it with false accusations. I feel sad for you. You seem like a bitter person.

        • Larry_Shallenberger

          James, James, James… 

      • Larry_Shallenberger


        I can’t speak for James, but I’m guessing that being condescending wasn’t his motive. Dialogue will take a lot of steps and missteps I’m afraid. Reading your comments I can appreciate your reasons for anger though. I have no hopes that each reader will end up agreeing with each other. Greater understanding and empathy, though– I think it’s possible.

        Along those lines, if you were open to submitting a quest post that respectfully unpacked some of the ideas you’ve expressed, I’d consider posting it. Again, not for agreement, but for understanding. Let me know.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7IO2TGSSZWSGQB5MXEVCMAYNHA Blake

    Well done Larry!  Great perspective / insights!

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      Thanks, Blake!

  • http://twitter.com/jlamborn3 Jay Lamborn

    Larry … nice Jesus juke.

    I honestly feel like you’re on the right track here, though.

    There’s nothing wrong with people going to CFA on 8/1, as long as they’re doing so to show their support with their wallets. If they start waving signs, shouting slogans and otherwise acting foolish, they need to stop. That goes for those supporting the Biblical version of marriage as well as those who do not.

    Equally, Christians need to avoid those behaviors if this “kiss in” thing happens on 8/3. For the record, same-sex couples don’t need to make out in restaurants, either. It’s tacky.

    Also, you have some solid points in here, but you might want to give this a re-read and do some editing. I’ll share a trick I learned in j-school. Start at the end and read it backwards. It forces you to read your work slowly so you see the things that need to be addressed.

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      Cleaned it up. This is what I get for writing while I grill dinner. 

      • http://twitter.com/jlamborn3 Jay Lamborn

        Happens to all of us.

  • http://twitter.com/BertMontgomery Bert Montgomery

    Larry, this is a terrific post.  Thanks!

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

    Love this idea! Conversation – this is good. We really don’t have to agree, but we can disagree without drawing lines in the sand.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ Tiff

    This was fantastic! Thank you!
    “if I eat chicken sandwiches but have not love…”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=864410572 Matthew David

    Maybe someone of my nature would be willing to sit down to dinner with someone of yours if you didn’t refer to me as a person who has dropped my moral compass on the rocks one too many times. 

    None of this has anything to do with meals. It has to do with the money being spent there being forwarded to hate groups who endlessly lie and manipulate to oppress an entire people group and work tirelessly against their equality; whose fruit is broken families and destroyed lives. Screw the chicken, why would I EVER give my money to someone who turns around and gives it to someone to do the devil’s work. 

    • Larry_Shallenberger


      I don’t know a darned thing about you or your moral compass. Perhaps that sentence could have been more clear. I *meant* to say, “Whoever
      you perceive to have dropped their moral compass…”

      All I wanted to say was find someone different than you and have a conversation.

      I truly apologize for the offense.


      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=864410572 Matthew David

        Perhaps the post could lean towards advising people not to judge another person’s morality at all and just get to know another human being. You can’t seek to understand or love someone if you’re coming to the table (literally) having already judged them one way or another.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dixie.palmer Dixie Palmer

      What you described is Dan Cathy! Dan is respectful to everyone. He serves everyone because he himself is a TRUE servant. He lives by the “second mile” whether it is in his daily life or his business practices. All of those that have been spewing anger and hatred about him should make it a point to find one of his speaking engagements and openmindedly attend it. I challenged you to do this. Your mind and your life may be changed by hearing what he has to say.

  • acr123

    I don’t really agree with your article.  Then again I’m no Biblical scholar either.   But I don’t think Jesus ate with sinners in order to let them know their sinning was perfectly fine and they would go to Heaven anyway.   

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      I don’t agree with that either. That’s not what I wrote. I wrote that Jesus loves and enjoys people. For the life of me I can’t fathom how you made that leap. But thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify.

      • acr123

        The point I was trying to make was that I think you are only telling half the version of Jesus sitting down with thiefs, prostitutes, whatever.  I think the message Jesus was telling them is that everybody sins and nomatter who a person is (or how much they have sinned) that it is never too late to admit the sins, take up the cross and follow God’s word.  That means a person is supposed to stop sinning.  Your version implies that sinning is perfectly fine and Jesus enjoys the company of it.  Which is only half the story.  Stopping the sinning and beginning to live in a way that is right with God is the other half and the half you are missing.  Maybe that’s why you were unable to fathom the leap.

        • Larry_Shallenberger

          Acr123, I wasn’t implying that at all. I wrote a 600 word post about  how Jesus used meals and how it was different than his culture. When I read the Gospels I constantly marvel at how people let go of there sin after these parties. The Gospels don’t supply what Jesus said or did. 

          I wasn’t implying Jesus was okay with sin. Your suspicions and self-perception as a defender of the faith added those assumptions to the article. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003351561786 Tony Montoya

    great post Larry. Thanks for getting back to the point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gail.s.hughes Gail Scearce Hughes

    Just felt like adding my two pennies worth, because i don’t believe you understand what happened yesterday!  First off, let me correct you about what Cathy said in the original interview.   He never said anything about gays or gay marriage.  He talked about his own beliefs about marriage from a Biblical standard.  A CNN reporter later reported Cathy said he was against gay marriage, which started the firestorm on the left.  The CNN reporter later confessed that Cathy had not said that, but the reporter knew that was what Cathy thought.  
    Wed. was this country fed up with the media and the left trying to demonize Christians.  It was also people standing with a company that has the freedom to live by Godly values and the freedom to talk about their faith without being condemned for it. The statement that hundreds of thousands were making was, “this is America and we have a right to talk about our beliefs and live by them.” I believe people are waking up to their loss of freedom and are fighting back, finally!  It’s time journalist start reporing the truth….and stop trying to control the masses with their agenda!  In case you don’t get it, yesterday is about freedom, not chicken!  

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  • http://www.facebook.com/john.chrystal.7 John Chrystal

    I think old Dan has a right to say what ever twisted thing he wants but that’s not why I don’t eat a his “restaurants”, I don’t eat at his restaurants because of the unhealthily food they serve.

    • Larry_Shallenberger

      It’s hard to “behave” there, for sure. Their salads are calorically reasonable, though.