Could the home of the Chicken Sandwich provide a watershed moment in American leadership?
I watched in amazement today as Chick-Fil-A restaurants across the country experienced an influx of business like they have never seen before. More than one store reported that they did more business prior to lunch today than they had ever done in an entire day before. What Chick Fil A has experienced is not so much about food as it is about Americans and their frustration regarding what the media might present as “truth” versus the “Truth” of our constitution or the even higher “Truth” of my primary foundational book, the Bible. Let’s look at this situation a little bit more and see how leadership plays into this event.
The political winds recently blew through this Atlanta-based restaurant chain when President Dan Cathy expressed his personal opinion of what constituted a family based on his personal convictions and beliefs. This statement was then used as a sledgehammer by many to vilify not only Mr. Cathy, but to also tar and feather the business founded by his father, Truett Cathy, a number of years ago. This is when things got interesting.
The first leadership episode in this drama involved the stalwart firmness of Dan Cathy to stick to his guns and his beliefs. His opinion is not a new one and should have not been news to anyone who understand this family and their values. Many leaders are tested by the winds of change and dissent in their lives and Dan Cathy chose to stick by his convictions rather than be a “flag” of popular opinion by a vocal minority who disagree with his beliefs.
The next step that led to today’s “Chick-Fil-A” day was the personal mission of Mike Huckabee to designate August 1 as a day to support this business and their choice to stick to their personal convictions in the face of loud and unruly dissent by those who espoused a different viewpoint. Mr. Huckabee's point, held by many others who both support and oppose gay marriage, is that the foundational issue in this whole matter is our constitutional right of free speech. This is an interesting juxtaposition because it is typically those on the left-side of the aisle who use this argument to broaden their viewpoints in the face of more conservative beliefs. Even more interesting was the support garnered by the right from many on the left, supporters of gay marriage, who rallied behind the foundational issue of free speech at the heart of this matter.
That leads us to the overwhelming support shown by many in all parts of the country who are fortunate to have a Chick-Fil-A franchise within driving distance. For those who only know this business through this episode they may miss the greater contribution that this business has made for many young men and women for a number of years through their scholarship program. Chick Fil A has given over $30 million in scholarships to employees who work for their stores. I suspect that this will never be mentioned by the media that has been quick to condemn them, but slow to respond, if they ever do, regarding the more foundational issue in this matter.
Free Speech is not a relative issue. It exists for all Americans.
Dan Cathy and Mike Huckabee have exhibited outstanding leadership skills in this matter. They are to be applauded.
Chicago and Boston may never experience the true value that this firm brings to their communities across the country. The loss will be theirs.