Has Chick-fil-A gone woke? You may have just seen a controversy on social media about your favorite fast-food restaurant. Is that incident just a one-time mistake, a misunderstanding? Or is it part of a larger pattern? To help you answer this question, I’ve created a definitive and expanding history of the company’s various controversies.
Chick-fil-A, the fried chicken joint that has become one of the nation’s largest fast food chains, has long been a touchstone in America’s culture wars because of its reputation as a Christian-owned company that aimed to reflect the values of its faith in every facet of its business — most famously in its commitment to remain closed on Sundays.
In the early 2010s, left-wing activists began targeting Chick-fil-A (CFA) as an icon of “bigotry” for holding to Christian teaching on human sexuality. Then-CEO Dan Cathy declared that the push for legal same-sex marriage was “inviting God’s judgment on our nation,” sparking fierce backlash from the LGBTQQIAAP2S+ and their allies.
The outrage seemed to peak when Virginia man Floyd Lee Corkins II used a “hate map” from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to target the Washington, D.C., offices of the Family Research Council (FRC), where he intended to shoot and kill as many employees as he could and smear Chick-fil-A food on their faces.
Throughout the battle, CFA didn’t push back or scorn its critics, mostly keeping busy serving the conservative customers who chose to stand up for it. So imagine those fans’ surprise when the brand began to appease its haters.
2019: The Big Surrender
In November 2019, CFA’s list of charitable donations revealed that the company had stopped giving money to the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home — Christian organizations that, again, offended queer sensibilities because they held to longstanding orthodox beliefs.
But why? What would cause the complaints of GLAAD and other far-left activists to outweigh basic Christian solidarity at an icon for Christian institutions? Well, the company’s president and COO, Tim Tassopoulos, explained exactly why: “as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are.” CFA wanted badly to open locations outside of the U.S., and queer activists had kneecapped this effort in Britain just a month before Tassopoulos’s statement. The brand was also facing headwinds in Democrat-run areas in the U.S., as well as continued social stigma and protests from left-wing activists.
Breitbart’s John Nolte accused CFA of “selling out” and “choosing money over Christianity”:
Chick-fil-A is not selling out because the operation is floundering, is on the verge of bankruptcy and maybe worried about keeping its doors opened and its employees employed.
Quite the opposite.
Business is booming at Chick-fil-A. The company is in the best shape ever.
But all that success and wealth is not enough, you see.
The company wants more money, more success, more millions, more billions, and the easiest way to get their hands on more and more and more is to sell out their faith, is to offer the anti-Christian left the bloody heads of the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes… two uncommonly decent organizations that quietly go about the business of doing good work, that have never tossed so much as a firebomb or firecracker into the culture wars.
Beset by widespread conservative backlash, CFA went into damage control mode, assuring evangelical megastar Franklin Graham that it hadn’t “bowed down to anyone’s demands” and “will continue to support whoever they want to support.” Those words would soon contribute to an even more damning scandal.
2019: Aid and Comfort to the Enemy
The next shoe to drop was the revelation that Chick-fil-A began donating to extremist left-wing organizations, such as the aforementioned terror-inspiring SPLC. Aside from the Corkins debacle, the SPLC had long been scandal-plagued and discredited, coming to a peak in the very year that CFA began bankrolling it. Its founder, Morris Dees, was fired, reportedly for years of misconduct, and the Washington Post declared in an op-ed that the organization “has lost all credibility” and donors should pull their support.
Tony Perkins, president of the terror target FRC, strongly denounced the donation, as reported by Breitbart News at the time:
“Not only has Chick-fil-A abandoned donations to Christian groups including the Salvation Army, it has donated to one of the most extreme anti-Christian groups in America,” Perkins said in a statement. “Anyone who opposes the SPLC, including many Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and traditional conservatives, is slandered and slapped with the ‘extremist’ label or even worse, their ‘hate group’ designation.”
“It’s time for Christians to find a fast food alternative to Chick-fil-A,” he concluded.
The company gave a rather contradictory statement in response to the ensuing backlash — downplaying the SPLC donation and minimizing responsibility for it yet spinning it as well-intentioned, in the spirit of “thinking about others.”
Another recipient of the Chick-fil-A Foundation’s money, earning it the designation of “causes it supports,” was Covenant House, an organization that celebrates LGBTQQIAAP2S+ Pride and has hosted Drag Queen Story Hour events. Covenant House was just one of several pro-LGBTQQIAAP2S+ organizations CFA funded that year and, even worse, pro-abortion nonprofits such as the YWCA and The Pace Center for Girls.
2020: The “Antiracist” Zeitgeist
The most personal controversy yet came when Chick-fil-A’s then-CEO Dan Cathy participated in a George Floyd “Summer of Love” racial struggle session. In June 2020, Cathy sat with Democrat-boosting rapper Lecrae and pastor Louie Giglio for a panel discussion on the historic riots where none of the three participants offered any resistance whatsoever to the Ibram Kendi-Robin DiAngelo-Black Lives Matter narrative gripping the nation.
As Breitbart News reported at the time, Cathy made excuses for widespread property damage and demanded “contrition” from all white Americans before shining Lecrae’s shoes in an imitation of the Christian ritual of foot washing:
The CEO said, after speaking to some black members of his staff, he came to realize the existence of “conscious and unconscious biases” that led to some black employees to experience a lack of respect.
Speaking of Atlanta and the protesters who burned down Wendy’s after Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by police following an altercation, Cathy said whites need “a period of contrition” and “a sense of real identity, not just criticizing people that are burning down that restaurant last night.”
“[W]e as Caucasians, until we’re willing to just pick up the baton and fight for our black, African-American brothers and sisters, which they are as one human race, we’re shameful,” he said. “We’re just adding to it.”
The rapper later said he did not appreciate the shoe-shining gesture. Rather, he quipped, “We want Chick-fil-A stock!” in an interview with AllHipHop.
Remember when Dan Cathy shined Lecrae’s shoes? Lecrae admits he wanted stock in Chick-fil-A pic.twitter.com/c1Af64CHnx
— Terri Green (@TerriGreenUSA) November 26, 2021
One month after that panel discussion, Chick-fil-A designated Erick McReynolds — an employee since 2007 who had climbed the ranks to become CFA’s Midwest Region Executive Director — as its Executive Director of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” according to his LinkedIn profile.
According to CFA’s Corporate Responsibility Report that year, McReynolds was tasked with eliminating “systemic or subtle” racism:
For more than 50 years, a cornerstone principle at Chick-fil-A, dating back to our founder, has been the importance of treating everyone with honor, dignity and respect… In mid-2020, this commitment took on special significance for us as we proactively pursued new ways to work against racism, systemic or subtle, throughout the communities we serve. We hosted dozens of listening sessions and encouraged open dialogue, approaching conversations with care and empathy as we worked together to better understand and address racial injustice. Members of our African American Operators Network also hosted a series of cultural conversation webinars featuring well-known community speakers, starting with Jemar Tisby, author of “The Color of Compromise” and “How to Fight Racism.”
Beneath the calm language, a huge red flag appears here. Jemar Tisby is a historian and author who came to fame in the Reformed Christian world but has become a left-wing political activist, briefly working for Ibram X. Kendi’s “Center for Antiracist Research” and promoting pro-abortion, pro-LGBTQQIAAP2S+ Democrat Raphael Warnock in the 2022 midterm elections. He credited “historic uprisings” — a term that appears to be a euphemism for violent riots — for former police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction in 2021.
Tisby openly admits he is an activist historian and interprets American history through the presupposition that “racism never goes away; it just adapts.” As such, a vote in the 1980s for Ronald Reagan (or any Republican in subsequent years) is the latest incarnation of Jim Crow and mob lynchings, in Tisby’s view.
Do white evangelicals know or care that their presidential hero Ronald Reagan went to Neshoba County in Mississippi, where civil rights workers Goodman, Schwerner, and Cheney were killed, and said “I believe in states’ rights”—a dog whistle for allowing racial terrorism? pic.twitter.com/bEkTcRLFge
— JemarTisby.Substack.com. (@JemarTisby) May 6, 2022
The Corporate Responsibility Report continues:
Collectively, these efforts helped shape the strategic planning for our approach to continuing to address racial injustice as part of our diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts at Chick-fil-A. We assembled an Advisory Council of diverse representatives from across the company to offer their unique knowledge and perspectives on DE&I, supported by a new cross-functional Strategy Team devoted to strengthening our commitment to DE&I across the company.
“Our vision for DE&I at Chick-fil-A is to be a place where we can all thrive and belong,” said Erick McReynolds, vice president, DE&I. “I truly believe our corporate purpose of being faithful stewards of all that is entrusted to us and having a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A calls us to do this work. At our essence, we’re dedicated to helping each individual, our teams and the entire organization see all people through a lens of honor, dignity and respect.”
DE&I is directly linked to our corporate purpose and we’re building the infrastructure to incorporate this integral work into every part of our organization systemwide. [emphasis added]
2021-Now: DEI Department Formalized
The next year, McReynolds seems to have acquired the infrastructure he needed. Chick-fil-A joined the DEI Board — a “private, confidential network” of executives at large companies working on DEI initiatives. The announcement of CFA’s entry is undated, but the page was archived as early as May 2021. In November of that year, he would receive the title “Vice President of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion.”
The company’s 2021 Corporate Responsibility Report again sheds more light on McReynolds’ activities, introduced by his vow to make everyone’s “whole selves” welcome at work.
In 2021, Chick-fil-A launched several new initiatives to further our DE&I efforts:
• The Around our Table conversation series enabled Operators, Team Members and Support Center Staff to share their personal stories of Chick-fil-A connections and relationships to understand and honor what makes us different, as well as what unites us.
• New Cultural Intelligence resources helped Operators, Team Members and Staff best serve all Guests and each other with warmth and hospitality. Sessions focused on a variety of sensitive Guest-related topics, including mental health awareness and homelessness.
• Nearly 700 Staff regularly came together across 65 Learning Circles to explore DE&I topics and learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives.
• A new, internal, TED Talks-inspired video series – Food for Thought – featured a variety of speakers who addressed everything from culture to important elements of DE&I.
Without further details on the contents of these private trainings, it’s hard to evaluate whether they actually are the pleasant “what unites us” characterization from this document or if they are racially scapegoating struggle sessions as seen in the precedent of Cathy’s panel discussion and speaker Jemar Tisby.
While much of the Corporate Responsibility document details praiseworthy efforts such as food donations and education for employees, CFA does commit to ESG (Environmental & Social Governance) by name, declaring its compliance with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The company’s updated 2022 report — now titled the “Global Impact Report” — announced another private DEI-focused video series and a “diversity recruitment strategy”:
In 2022, Chick-fil-A further advanced its DE&I commitments with:
A DE&I Steering Committee with representatives from across the Chick-fil-A business who provide insight and guidance for our initiatives.
A DE&I Operator Advisory Panel that brings the knowledge and perspectives of 21 Operators to support and advise our DE&I work.
New learning and development opportunities focused on conversations, personal discovery and choice. These include resources that help Staff grow their DE&I capabilities and Learning Circles that provide opportunities for small groups to connect and broaden their perspectives through open dialogue.Continuing internal programs like the Around our Table video series, in which Operators, Team Members and Staff share who they are and what connects them to Chick-fil-A and each other.
Partner organizations aligned with our diversity recruitment strategy connect Chick-fil-A, Inc. with top diverse talent. For example, Chick-fil-A was a Visionary Sponsor of the 2022 Women’s Foodservice Forum that engages food industry leaders who share our vision of breaking down barriers and creating new paths for women to succeed. Erick McReynolds, our Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, serves on the Board of Directors for this highly regarded organization.
The ESG/UN Sustainable Development Goals commitments are repeated in this year’s report.
CFA’s corporate DEI website gives a few more details on the “diversity recruitment” program:
We know that recruiting and hiring talent which represents the broadest definition of diversity enables Chick-fil-A to best serve our independent Owner/Operators and our guests… Chick-fil-A, Inc.’s Diversity Recruitment Program team strives to attract talent that reflects the communities we serve, by partnering with organizations that provide access to a range of diverse talent including the National Black MBA Association, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, and the Women’s Foodservice Forum.
The Chick-fil-A story is at an inflection point right now. Dan Cathy handed over the reins to his son Andrew in 2021, and the company is looking to Europe and Asia for its continued growth. It wants us to believe it can remain a distinctly Christian company while pursuing ESG and DEI compliance; I find that hard to believe.
CFA appears to be under the delusion that it can give a little ground to these tyrants and stop somewhere down the line, but these ideologies are totalitarian. There are no half-measures in antiracism, and antiracism requires repentance from “homophobia” and “transphobia” — the central accusation against the company for the past decade. And the madness goes further: “In order to truly be antiracist, you also have to truly be anti-capitalist.”
At some point, it’s going to have to take a hard stand against the madness of the spirit of our age — and its recent trajectory has been all concessions, no resistance. Unfortunately, it looks like the future of Chick-fil-A will be more and more woke unless something drastically changes. As more developments occur, they will be added to this article’s timeline.