S. Truett Cathy died at home Monday surrounded by loved ones. He was 93. Many of us have eaten his sandwiches. Cathy was the founder of the family-run Chick-fil-A restaurants.
I didn’t know much about Cathy, so the following is taken from articles in “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution” newspaper (Leon Stafford) and TheAtlantic.com magazine (Emma Green).
Visit Chick-fil-A’s headquarters on wooded grounds outside Atlanta and the first thing you’ll see is a three to four foot statue of Jesus washing a disciple’s feet–a symbol of servant leadership. Bible quotes and crosses adorn the atrium-entrance to the building.
They’re consistent with the company’s mission statement–“to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us” and “to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A”. Cathy made his Christianity public, from putting Bible verses on Styrofoam cups to closing the entire chain of restaurants on Sundays. In its official policy the company states, “Cathy believes that being closed on Sundays says two important things to people: One, that there must be something special about the way Chick-fil-A people view their spiritual life and, two, that there must be something special about how Chick-fil-A feels about its people.” Has the closed-Sundays’ policy cost money? The company claims it “[attracts] individuals who want to be associated with an organization with a values-based vision.” Hard to argue with the business decision, since Cathy has made billions.
Two years ago the company was caught up in the controversy over its donations to gay-marriage-opposed organizations. Cathy’s son, Dan, said, “We are very much supportive of the family–the biblical definition of the family unit.” Widespread protests, boycotts and some vender-contract cancellations led the company to stop donating to groups involved with the issue. They chose to “leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”
Whatever we might think about that “flip-flop”, Cathy has practiced what he believed. “I see no conflict whatsoever between Christianity and good business practices,” he said. “People say you can’t mix business with religion. I say there’s no other way.” He also claimed, “People appreciate you being consistent with your faith. It’s a silent witness to the Lord when people go into shopping malls [on Sundays], and everyone is bustling, and you see that Chick-fil-A is closed.” In the last several years Cathy turned his faith-practice in another direction—supporting foster homes and a home for abused and neglected children and launching the WinShape scholarship program at Berry College.
Is it possible for Christians to run their businesses in openly-Christian ways in an increasingly anti-Christian society? That, of course, requires practicing your faith, not just printing Bible verses. It also may open you up to opposition. But Cathy’s success says yes! “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
When Jesus told his disciples, ” . . . you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), he had in mind their preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Cathy showed us that being Jesus’ witnesses can extend to how you sell chicken sandwiches.