Fried-chicken wars: How much should Christianity mix with commerce?

How much should Christianity mix with commerce?


Businesses like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A overtly follow Christian principles and thus promote Christianity. Is it profitable for them to have this ‘brand,’ or do you think the CEOs have some deeper evangelical goal?


These two remarkable corporations are the largest in the U.S. that operate on an explicitly “Christian” basis, and both have been in the news lately.

The Hobby Lobby craft store chain won U.S. Supreme Court approval June 30 of the religious right to avoid the new federal mandate to fund certain birth control methods the owners consider tantamount to abortion.

Sept. 8 brought the death of S. Truett Cathy, billionaire founder of the Chick-fil-A fast-food empire. His New York Times obituary said that to some he was “a symbol of intolerance” and “hate.” Such journalistic labeling stemmed from Cathy’s son and successor Dan criticizing same-sex marriage on biblical grounds in 2012. Afterward, the firm cut donations to groups that back traditional marriage. No-one claimed Chick-fil-A discriminates against gays in hiring or customer service.

With both companies, Christian commitment is accompanied by prosperity, and the question suggests their religious image may be calculated for “profitable” advantage.

But The Guy concludes that the companies’ unique cultures result only from evangelical Protestant convictions. Both firms surrender huge revenues by closing all stores on Sundays, and give away sizable profits to charity. As privately-held family operations they’re free to do such things with no need to appease public stockholders.  No question the self-conscious Christian stance gives these firms a special responsibility to uphold ethical business practices and by most accounts they do so.

S. Truett Cathy, a devout Georgia Baptist who taught 8th grade Sunday School for 52 years, was named for George W. Truett, a venerable pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Cathy opened a small restaurant following U.S. Army service in World War Two. He launched his first chicken outlet in 1967 and the company has posted sales gains each year since. It counted 500 restaurants by 1983 and 1,000 by 2001. In 2012 Chick-fil-A bypassed KFC to become America’s top chicken chain in sales.

Cathy always practiced Sunday closing, a somewhat common practice when he instituted it in 1946 but rare today. The company explains that all its employees “should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so. … It’s part of our recipe for success.”

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