Who will or won't “eat mor chikin” from the Chick-fil-A fast food chain Wednesday remains to be seen as Oklahomans join people across the country taking sides over a religious statement made by the eatery's president.
Dan Cathy, the chain's president and COO, started a national debate when he was quoted in a July 2 Biblical Recorder story as saying he supports the biblical definition of the family unit.
Soon after his quote was reiterated in a Baptist Press article, gay rights advocates took exception to his statement.
But the restaurant chain has not been without its supporters, who plan to flock to the eateries Wednesday — “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” as dubbed by former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
Oklahomans on both sides are making their viewpoints known.
“I'm hearing more talk on this issue than the Olympics,” the Rev. Wendell Lang, pastor of a Yukon Baptist church, said Tuesday. “It's really hit a hot button for a lot of people.”
State Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, is encouraging residents to support Chick-fil-A and Cathy by buying food at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday.
A representative of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, an umbrella organization for the state's 1,800 Southern Baptist churches, said the convention plans to buy Chick-fil-A for its employees Wednesday and is encouraging employees to support the chain.
“It is a well-known fact that Baptists love to eat chicken, so we will gladly take part in this opportunity,” the Rev. Anthony L. Jordan, the convention's executive director-treasurer, said Tuesday. “On a more serious note, we have a great respect for the Chick-fil-A corporation and its leaders and are pleased with their public stance regarding the biblical teachings on marriage.”
However, the Rev. Scott Hamilton, executive director of the Cimarron Alliance, an advocacy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said he is encouraging people not to frequent Chick-fil-A.
“There is no valid reason for any gay person or anyone who has a gay family member or who supports gay rights, to spend money with any company, individual or organization that supports groups that seek to do harm,” he said.
Lang, senior pastor of Surrey Hills Baptist Church in Yukon, said he wrote about his plans to support Chick-fil-A on Wednesday in an email to his congregation and received so much feedback in agreement that he realized the issue had struck a nerve with many people.
“I've probably had more response to that article than any I've done,” Lang said.
“People are beginning to see that there's a double standard with this whole idea of being tolerant.”
Lang said groups pushing a “pro-homosexuality agenda” don't want to allow people who have different beliefs to voice their opinions. He said he was impressed with Cathy because the corporate COO took a politically incorrect stance and sparked the current debate.
“I hope and predict that tomorrow and certainly in the days to come, Chick-fil-A will have a banner day,” he said Tuesday. “It's very rare when believers have a chance to stand up for what they believe in without being considered militant or hateful. This gives us a chance to stand with the Cathys.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton said he is aware that some people are saying that Cathy's First Amendment right to free speech is being squashed. He said he respects everyone's right to say what they want to say, but he said there is more to the Chick-fil-A brouhaha than that.
“The problem is that it's not just what he has said, but what he has done,” Hamilton said Tuesday. “He's taken millions of the company's earnings and profits and given them to anti-gay organizations.”
Hamilton said he takes exception in particular to Cathy's support of the Christian group Focus on the Family and Exodus.
“Perhaps it's well-intentioned, but the bottom line is these actions are harmful,” he said.
Hamilton also said it should be noted there are many definitions of marriage in the Bible including multiple wives and concubines. Hamilton said the controversy has brought awareness to issues surrounding Cathy's statement, and that is good.
“It's unfortunate that this has become a divisive issue, but hopefully it will raise awareness. There are many businesses in Oklahoma that advocate for equality for all people.”
The Chick-fil-A controversy has erupted into a culture war with voices from the Muppets (the Jim Henson Co.) and mayors of several large cities to Huckabee and renowned evangelist Billy Graham weighing in.
After Cathy's statement, Jim Henson Co. CEO Lisa Henson decided to end her company's relationship with the restaurant chain and donate money it received from Chick-fil-A for Muppet-themed toys to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The mayors of Boston and Chicago have made statements discouraging Chick-fil-A from opening new stores in those areas.
Huckabee, a Baptist preacher, announced on Facebook that he supports the Chick-fil-A founder's right to state his opinion. His “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” on Facebook has more than 500,000 accounts reporting they are going to support Chick-fil-A on Wednesday. Evangelist Graham and his son, fellow evangelist Franklin Graham, released statements of support for Cathy in a July 29 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association article.
“Each generation faces different issues and challenges but our standard must always be measured by God's word. I appreciate the Cathy family's public support for God's definition of marriage,” Billy Graham said.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, meanwhile, has counter-protests linked on its website. The events include a “National Same-Sex Kiss Day” on Friday, which encourages people to kiss a member of the same sex at a local Chick-fil-A. More than 8,000 people have signed up on Facebook.
Chick-fil-A released this statement July 19: “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race creed, sexual orientation or gender. Going forward our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
Cathy has been a frequent visitor to Oklahoma, including in September 2011, when a new Chick-fil-A opened in the N Pennsylvania Avenue/Memorial Road corridor.