Several years ago, I found myself caught in the middle of a dispute between two older men to whom I had to answer in our organization. There was a controversy in the office. Neither of them was sure about how to relate to the other. I was friends with both. One day, my cell phone rang. To my surprise, one of the two senior figures was calling me. When I answered, he wanted to know one thing about the other man. He asked me, “What kind of man is he? Does he have a core?” I wasn’t sure what he meant, so I asked for clarification. “You know what I mean,” he said. “Does he have integrity? Does he believe in any principles? Or does he just change his mind to fit the circumstances?”
As I think about the recent controversy over gay marriage and the remarks made by Dan Cathy of the Chick-fil-A corporation, I have had cause to remember that conversation from years ago. There is a case to be made that Dan Cathy deserves the admiration of almost everyone for what he did, even from those who don’t agree with him about marriage because Dan Cathy has a core.
The Cathy family members have not been ardent culture warriors. For the most part, they have tried to exhibit their Christianity by observing the Sabbath and by treating customers and employees with respect. Their charitable endeavors go far beyond aid to organizations promoting traditional marriage. The Winshape foundation does important work in long term foster care, summer camps, and college scholarships. Within the Christian community, it has been understood that the Cathy family is orthodox and traditional in its sympathies. To his credit, Dan Cathy answered a question about his view on marriage honestly and clearly. He did not cringe or waffle. Business is about addition, not subtraction. The Cathy’s have proven they are good at adding profits together, but when Dan Cathy had to choose his priority, he didn’t choose the money. He chose to be true to his understanding of marriage and of God.
Compare Dan Cathy’s behavior regarding gay marriage to that of various politicians, including our president. Their positions are evolving. The troubling thing about political evolution is that it tends to follow the polls rather than leading them. Who knows how many private focus groups are being conducted in order to find out what combinations of words, phrases and legal arrangements work together to give voters a comfortable feeling about gay marriage? The president, himself, recently made the change. Had he really come to feel differently about gay marriage or did he and his team calculate that the new base of the Democratic party (and its donors) needed to see him support gay marriage now rather than later in order to really turn out in 2012?
Mike Huckabee’s Chick-fil-A day came and went. Dan Cathy has chosen not to attempt to capitalize on the enthusiasm with which many have defended him and his company. He has shown that he is a man with integrity. He answered a question honestly because he is honest. And he has no desire to make hay when he can just go back to making chicken.
(Originally printed in the Jackson Sun.)