How Chick-fil-A Became Ground Zero for Culture War

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Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day
Customers line up at a Chick-fil-A in Fresno, Calif., on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day (Facebook)

Chick-fil-A didn't invent the marriage controversy.

But they did invent the chicken sandwich.

And on Aug. 1—the day former Gov. Mike Huckabee called for Americans to stand up to support Chick-fil-A's Dan Cathy and the biblical definition of marriage—even that harmless original-chicken-sandwich-turned spicy. To some, every bite was a symbolic stake in the ground of what you believe.

Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day turned into a defining moment for those sick and tired of watching an eroding American culture. For better or worse (and with Chick-fil-A sauce, it's always better), eating a chicken sandwich, or drinking a peach shake on this day was not just a tangible way to put your money where your mouth is.

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It was an opportunity to put your mouth where your morals are.

And after Chick-fil-A sales beat previous records by as much as 50 percent, the message rang clear.

"(Marriage) is between a man and a woman," said David Wiltsie, 53, of Van Wyck, S.C., visiting a south Charlotte Chick-fil-A just after the lunch rush. "It's a representation of what you believe."

Across the country, photos have surfaced of lines out the door, wrapping around the building. In Boone, N.C., there were reports of cars backed up a half-mile waiting to show their support. Many stores ran out of chicken before closing time.

"Marriage is sacred," said Delcie, a thoughtful 17-year-old from Charlotte, N.C. who came out with her mom, Julie, and 12-year-old sister Kenan. "I don't think marriage should be redefined. It's between a man and a woman.

"I don't think (gay people) should be discriminated against. But it's not marriage. Call it something else."

Huckabee was calling it something else. In fact, a stunning 21 million people visited his Chick-fil-A Facebook page, with more than 650,000 RSVP'ing to the event. Huckabee himself had a chicken biscuit at the Destin, Fla., Chick-fil-A.

"It was beyond anyone's imagination," Huckabee told BGEA's Decision magazine of the turnout. "It's a very lonely place to be when you're getting hammered. I didn't want Dan Cathy to look around and think he was the only one standing there, that nobody would stand up with him."

Taking a Biblical Stand
How Chick-fil-A restaurants got here is perhaps a direct reflection of the society we live in, where quotes can be inflated out of context and social media can mount an army of nearly instantaneous support.

Dan Cathy, the company's president, chief operating officer and son of founder Truett Cathy, simply answered a question about his beliefs on marriage.

"We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit," Cathy told the Baptist Press on July 16. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families."

Cue gay marriage firestorm—the new hot-button issue for the presidential 2012 election.

The mainstream media grabbed ahold of this statement and turned it into an anti-gay, line-in-the-sand corporate stance. Cathy didn't say anything negative against gay people, nor was this representative of any Chick-fil-A corporate policy.

But the chicken had left the coop and mayors from some of our largest cities apparently had their feathers sufficiently ruffled.

Rahm Emanuel in Chicago: "Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago's values."

Ed Lee in San Francisco: "Closest Chick-fil-A is 40 miles away and I strongly recommend they not try to come any closer. Very disappointed."

Thomas Menino in Boston: "I urge you to back out of your plans to locate in Boston."

Huckabee saw it as more than just an attack on traditional marriage. "I certainly think that there is open season on Christian beliefs that does not exist for people of other beliefs," he said.

Franklin Graham, BGEA's CEO and president, along with his father, Billy Graham, felt the attack as well and both released statements supporting Cathy's biblical stance.

"I applaud the courage of Cathy and Chick-fil-A to take a bold stand for the biblical definition of marriage," Franklin Graham said.

"I've known their family for many years and have watched them grow Chick-fil-A into one of the best businesses in America while never compromising their values," Billy Graham said.

"He's a God-fearing man, if ever there was one," Wiltsie said of Billy Graham, who had a Chick-fil-A lunch delivered to his home in Montreat. "If Billy Graham can support it, then I can too."

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