‘Eat mor chikin’ or not?

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See if you can guess the source of this news article:

ATLANTA — The Chick-fil-A sandwich — a hand-breaded chicken breast and a couple of pickles squished into a steamy, white buttered bun — is a staple of some Southern diets and a must-have for people who collect regional food experiences the way some people collect baseball cards.

New Yorkers have sprinted through the airport here to grab one between flights. College students returning home stop for one even before they say hello to their parents.

But never on Sunday, when the chain is closed.

Nicknamed “Jesus chicken” by jaded secular fans and embraced by Evangelical Christians, Chick-fil-A is among only a handful of large American companies with conservative religion built into its corporate ethos. But recently its ethos has run smack into the gay rights movement.

OK, here are your choices: Did this article run in The Onion — America’s Finest News Source — or The New York Times?

The correct answer would be the Times. Read the full story.

Now, I must acknowledge my bias right here at the top: I am a big fan of Chick-fil-A — the fried chicken, that is. My family eats chicken biscuits there most every Saturday morning. Once every week or two, I go through the drive-through at lunchtime and usually order a 12-pack nugget meal. My local Chick-Fil-A has so much traffic at noontime that a handful of employees direct traffic outside the store and the call in advance orders to keep the lines of cars moving.

However, I must confess something else, too: I’ve never heard anyone refer to Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches as “Jesus chicken.” I am well aware that Chick-fil-A closes on Sundays and respect that decision, even though I frequent many other restaurants that choose to serve the after-church crowd. On a recent morning visit to Chick-fil-A, I noticed a manager reading his Bible during his break. This did not offend me. Then again, I am a Bible-believing Christian.

Back to the Times’ article: The news peg is that a Chick-fil-A in Pennsylvania — one of the chain’s 1,500-plus locations in 39 states — agreed to provide free sandwiches to a group that promotes traditional families and opposes same-sex marriages. This lit up gay blogs and prompted some university students across the nation to try to get the chain removed from their campuses, the newspaper reports.

The coverage prompted Chick-fil-A’s president and COO to issue a lengthy statement, including this:

In recent weeks, we have been accused of being anti-gay. We have no agenda against anyone. At the heart and soul of our company, we are a family business that serves and values all people regardless of their beliefs or opinions. We seek to treat everyone with honor, dignity and respect, and believe in the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself.

We also believe in the need for civility in dialogue with others who may have different beliefs. While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees.

The Times’ 1,300-word report itself seems to give a fair hearing to Chick-fil-A and provides a variety of customer (and non-customer) voices: a lesbian who wonders if loving Chick-fil-A makes you “a bad gay,” a devout Christian dental hygienist who is outspoken in her support of Chick-fil-A, a non-religious Chick-fil-A customer who thinks the outcry seems like overkill and a “Big Gay Ice Cream Truck” operator who wants people to make informed decisions about their food.

But in reading the story, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this piece belonged in The Onion, not the Times.

I mean, Chick-fil-A’s Christian ethos isn’t exactly breaking news. Watchdogs inclined to accuse the mainstream media of liberal bias wasted little time in doing so in this case (see here and here). The Weekly Standard weighed in with a piece titled “The Left’s Latest Target: Chick-fil-A?” In Chick-fil-A’s hometown, the Times story prompted this follow-up by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At The Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, raised questions about the effort to kick Chick-fil-A off campuses. His questions might apply, as well, to the issue of whether this brouhaha rises to the level of national news:

So far as I can tell, no one has accused Chick-fil-A of discriminating against gays and lesbians in its employment practices or its customer service. The incident that sparked the boycott campaign was a Pennsylvania Chick-fil-A restaurant’s provision of sandwiches and brownies to a marriage seminar put on by the Pennsylvania Family Institute — a group that opposes gay marriage and has been characterized by activists as anti-gay. The seminar in Harrisburg is “The Art of Marriage: Getting to the Heart of God’s Design.” Presumably Chick-fil-A contributes to other groups that hold similar views. Does that really provide a sound reason to those who favor gay marriage to drive Chick-fil-A off campus?

I think not. The campaign is unwise because it seeks to punish and stigmatize those with whom the protesters disagree. The ideal of the campus as a place where people debate their differences by means of rational arguments and well-vetted evidence has been on a downward trajectory for decades. Kicking Chick-fil-A off campus is a reductio ad absurdum of the now-common tactic of roaring at your supposed opponents. The company, after all, isn’t busy on campus promoting an anti-gay marriage agenda. It’s just selling chicken sandwiches.

That’s just one perspective, of course. This is how the expert quoted by the Times described the situation (cue the dramatic music, please):

With its near-national reach and its transparent conservative Christian underpinnings, Chick-fil-A is a trailblazer of sorts, said Lake Lambert, the author of “Spirituality, Inc.” and dean of the college of liberal arts at Mercer University, where he teaches Christianity.

“They’re going in a direction we haven’t seen in faith-based businesses before, and that is to a much broader marketing of themselves and their products,” he said. “This is possibly the next phase of evangelical Christianity’s muscle flexing.”

(The Times uppercased “Evangelical” in the first reference and lowercased it in the second. Not sure which is proper Times style, although I think lowercasing it is the right approach.)

Now, GetReligion readers, it’s your turn to play Times editor: Is this national news worthy of 1,300 words in the A section on Sunday? Or do you leave the coverage of this story to The Onion? Remember, we are concerned about journalistic issues and will spike comments from advocates.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    What I want to know is how healthy their food is. What about the foodie agenda?

    But more seriously, I think not all A section stories need to be 100% the top news. I’d like to give editors the option of having something interesting in its own right. I’m not sure that this story rises to that level, but it should be an option.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    What I want to know is how healthy their food is. What about the foodie agenda?

    I cannot verify this from personal experience, but my understanding is that the menu includes grilled-chicken options and a variety of salads.

  • Lily

    Q. Is this national news worthy of 1,300 words in the A section on Sunday?

    Nope, but Kermit Gosnell was.

    Q. Or do you leave the coverage of this story to The Onion?

    Yep – definitely worthy of an Onion lampoon.

  • Martha

    “(D)ean of the college of liberal arts at Mercer University, where he teaches Christianity.”

    That’s a rather broad description: teaches Christianity how? History of? Theology? Biblical studies and the Higher Criticism? Or just has regular altar calls?

    Still, I have been instructed: if company A provides chicken sandwiches and brownies to a group lobbying for same-sex marriage and company B provides chicken sandwiches and brownies to a group debating traditional marriage, company A isn’t doing anything noteworthy but company B is a nest of bigots and zealots flexing muscles and blazing trails and who knows what kinds of secret political agendas they’ve got going on?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby


    I think it also would have been helpful to include Mercer’s location (Georgia) and affiliation (faith-based institution claiming Judeo-Christian values).

  • Mike Hickerson

    Were any other experts on Christianity and business consulted than Lambert? Being a fan of old radio programs, I’ve heard far more explicit uses of Christianity in marketing – for example, a 1950′s Easter commercial by (I think) Kraft that urged listeners to remember the resurrection of Jesus on the coming Sunday. Or what about Coca-Cola’s wholesale embrace of Christmas? Or towns whose entire commercial enterprise shut down on Sunday, whether by law or custom? If anything, Chik-Fil-A feels more like a throwback than a wholely unprecedented development.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby


    When I was a kid, I remember that most stores closed on Sunday in the small town in North Carolina where I lived. I think there was one grocery store open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. I think blue laws were at play, but I was a kid, so I’m not certain of that.

    I did an AP story in 2003 when the nation’s largest Christian retail chain decided to open on Sundays.

  • Ryan K.

    This is just an implicit way for some media outlets to promote an ideology, in the way the highlight and focus on non-stories.

    Are we really going to go down the road of homosexuals, Christians, or Muslims having to protest, cry and boycott every time a business or corporation does something that is even remotely against their values? I mean really, is this the type of country we want to live in?

    I just don’t see how a private company like Chik-Fil-A giving sandwiches to a marriage conference is an attack against homosexuals.

    I better watch out though, because as someone who leads a church that runs a food ministry we have Panera and Starbucks both donate pastry’s to us, and we preach and teach a traditional view of marriage…uh oh.

  • Passing By

    The lower case “evangelical” is definitely proper in the second reference, and would probably have been proper in the first. As a Catholic, I consider myself an “evangelical Christian”, but not an Evangelical.

    I’ve never heard “Jesus chicken” either and wonder. Now, I really like Chik-Fil-A, but hardly consider it divine. I googled the phrase, and found some interesting things (this,


  • Passing By

    Sorry, hit the wrong button:

    Anyway, I googled “Jesus chicken”, found some fun stuff, but no jaded secularists using the term, apart from the Times article. So I suspect they made it up.

    I’m glad they included the comment about the good service. I like the food, and love the service. And besides, they donate sandwiches to our program for newly released felons, so that’s pretty cool, unless, of course, they are promoting criminality.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Thanks, Passing By. That link is actually one of the watchdog items I referenced in the post. I, too, Googled “Jesus chicken” because I was skeptical of that reference in the story. I didn’t come up with much either outside of the Times story.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I was working in a large supermarket to get through college when Mass. did away with its “Blue Laws.” The news media not only wanted the stores open–their news stories were totally biased in favor of that policy.
    Every full-time worker and most part-time workers where I worked were against being coerced into working on Sunday–even for the promised extra pay (which most stores found ways to avoid paying).
    I never saw an article that was from the retail workers point of view and after it went into effect I never saw any stories on the tricks played by management to coerce people to work on Sundays (like seeing your assigned part-time hours on other days suddenly dropping to virtually nothing if you dared turn down Sunday hours). Other tricks were to categorize your pay as salary rather than hourly so management could assign you whenever they wanted for no extra pay.
    Another trick was for job interviewers to “black mark” employment applications of anyone that indicated they didn’t want to work on Sunday.
    Of course, you had to be one of the newly minted store slaves to see what was going on since, as far as I could see, we were invisible to the media.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Deacon John,

    I had forgotten about this until reading your comment, but I worked a couple of summers as a checker at Walmart during college (late 1980s) and remember making time-and-a-half on Sundays. I think I made $5 an hour on weekdays and $7.50 on Sundays. I wonder if Walmart or anyone else still pays extra for Sunday workers. I doubt it.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Note: I read Bobby Ross’s AP 2003 story. It was well written and well researched–with one exception. I saw no direct interviews with or comments from the people MOST affected by Sunday openings: The store workers and their families.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    OK, maybe wandering a bit off topic, but this is from Reuters in December:

    NEW YORK, Dec 8 (Reuters) – Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) will not pay an extra dollar an hour for work on Sundays by hourly U.S. employees hired after Jan. 1. …

    The change in Sunday pay will apply to new hourly employees at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores, but not to current employees or distribution center workers. Rhode Island and Massachusetts are also exempt since their state laws require retail employers to pay time and a half on Sundays.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    I saw no direct interviews with or comments from the people MOST affected by Sunday openings: The store workers and their families.

    The editors must have chopped those quotes for space. :-)

  • Ben

    I agree with Jerry that the topic is interesting so that can justifiably bump up its placement, especially since it ties to a larger cultural rift.

    I’m not sure it’s accurate for the Chronicle of Higher Ed to say that the chain is just trying to sell sandwiches — the sandwiches were given away for free, right? Also, the NYT article suggests the conference wasn’t so much a forum for debate than a conference coming at the question from one point of view. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I think it undercuts somewhat the Chronicle’s assertion of an academic debate.

    I wonder if Jesus Chicken would show up much in Google rather than in certain social circle conversations — if you were dismissive of the chain would you bother to blog or write about it? I dunno. I’m constantly amazed how things that seem central to the culture are actually just central to my particular subculture. Both NYT and Bobby may be making this mistake on this question.

    Finally, we’ve seen this with some Christians boycotting Disney on the other side of the equation. The boycotts are interesting news but don’t deserve much ongoing coverage if it appears most consumers who are sympathetic to the cause ignore the boycott.

  • Bram

    Left-liberal zealots who are prudish toward traditional religion are very often prudish as well toward fast food, let alone a fast food (fried chicken) that connotes the rural South. The number of people who will actually stop eating Chik-Fil-A on moralistic grounds is so completely miniscule that I can’t see what relevance this story really holds. The only journalistic significance I see is the very real possibility that certain colleges and universities will be coerced into dropping Chik-Fil-A from their food concessions, spineless cowards that adminstrators are. So this was perhaps a good story for the Onion and The Chronicle of Higher Education, but not for anyone else, let alone in Section A.

  • Passing By

    I accept the premise that the incredibly hip, slick, and cool crowd that works at the Times use the phrase “Jesus chicken” informally, so it might not show up in Google. To be honest, my incredibly hip, slick and cool (wannabes) 20-something Christian crowd would have used it back in the day. Even now, I think it’s sort of funny, which makes me a jaded Christian, I suppose. Heck, I’m jaded enough to find this Jesus chicken funny.

    What makes it all less funny is the Times’ record of dishonest stories on traditional Christianity, Catholic and Evangelical (capitalization intended). Cute, breezy hipness wears thin over time, and requires fundamental honestly anything.

    BTW, Bobby, I don’t think this article was nearly goofy or funny enough for The Onion.

  • Mike

    Of course, one franchise providing free sandwiches and brownies to one seminar isn’t worth a national story.

    The problem I find with so much of the reporting at the New York Times is its lack of disclosure of conflicts of ideological interest between its reporters and stories. Michelle Malkin’s column today discuss the Chick-Fil-A issue. Malkin states that the reporter, Kim Severson, is a former vice president of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association and an active proponent of gay marriage. This hardly makes her an objective reporter.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    This is the Malkin column to which Mike refers:

    Over the weekend, New York Times reporter Kim Severson gave the Chick-Fil-A bashers a coveted Sunday A-section megaphone – repeatedly parroting the “Chick-Fil-A is anti-gay” slur and raising fears of “evangelical Christianity’s muscle flexing” with only the thinnest veneer of journalistic objectivity. Severson, you see, is an openly gay advocate of same-sex marriage equality herself and the former vice-president of the identity politics-mongering National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association. In a bitter op-ed on gay marriage
    laws not changing quickly enough, she asserted: “I don’t want the crumbs. I want the whole cake.” Severson has voiced complaints about her social and economic status as an unwed lesbian with a partner and child in several media publications.

    This is a piece Severson wrote for the Times in 2008 headlined “Thinking About California. Maybe Gonna Get Married.”

  • Bram

    I wish it was surprising that The New York Times chose not to acknowledge but rather to conceal the glaring conflict of interest here. Thanks to Mike for pointing it out and thanks to Bobby for adding detail.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    I accept the premise that the incredibly hip, slick, and cool crowd that works at the Times use the phrase “Jesus chicken” informally, so it might not show up in Google.

    Thanks to Twitter and the countless number of hipster blogs, I’m not aware of any hip, slick, or cool catchphrases that don’t show up in Google. :)

    Bobby wrote:

    When I was a kid, I remember that most stores closed on Sunday in the small town in North Carolina where I lived. I think there was one grocery store open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. I think blue laws were at play, but I was a kid, so I’m not certain of that.

    Blue laws regarding alcohol are still in effect here in Northern Kentucky on a county- and city-basis. We had a big debate a few years back about whether grocery stores should be allowed to sell alcohol on Sunday mornings in the county across the river from the Bengals stadium. Even without legal restrictions, though, it’s not a coincidence that many businesses have shorter hours or aren’t even open on Sundays. Chik-Fil-A’s corporate policy of closing on Sundays might be news, but the much bigger question is, “When did everyone else start opening on Sundays?”

    After going back and reading the whole Times article (I was on my phone giving my earlier comment), I feel even more strongly than the quote from Lambert really doesn’t do justice to the long, complex history of evangelical Christianity and business. Considering that one of the bestselling business writers in America – John Maxwell – has a degree from Fuller Seminary , and that Rick Warren has repeatedly named Peter Drucker has one of his principal influences, there’s a lot more that could be said than a short quote about Chik-Fil-A’s “muscle flexing.” Further, the claim that it’s somehow unprecedented for a major American corporation to be influenced by religious convictions is simply false. Heck, the Times’ East Coast bias is showing when they don’t even mention the Bible verses printed on In-N-Out Burger cups.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Appreciate the insight, Mike.

    I had no idea about the In-N-Out cups. I love In-N-Out and ate there when I was in Tucson last month on the Arizona shooting story. If only I’d known I was eating a “Jesus burger” … :-)

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Now I face the dilemma of knowing that In-N-Out Jesus burgers are not as good as those at Five Guys. Heresy.

    Not to mention the awesome Diplomat burgers at DC’s own Post Pub, as in next door to the Washington Post.

    That’s the journalism hook for this comment.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Oh, rather than The Onion, is the question now officially this: Why didn’t the piece run on the op-ed?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby


    As long as we’ve gone down this road (which is to say not sticking to chicken and turning the conversation to burgers) … I ate In-N-Out on a Sunday night in Tucson, then had Five Guys for lunch in the Dallas area that Monday before driving home to Oklahoma City. Talk about heaven on earth (before the red meat kills you)! I’d agree that Five Guys has the slight edge.

    Back on point: The 2003 AP story that I mentioned referenced Hobby Lobby craft stores. That Oklahoma City-based chain has 467 stores in 39 states and closes on Sundays because of the strong evangelical faith of its owners. Take Chick-fil-A, California-based In-N-Out and Hobby Lobby, and hey, that’s three examples — the required number to do a trend story on evangelical businesses taking over the nation. :-)

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    By contrast, Cheeburger Cheeburger’s Lenten offerings (which they’ve had for the past two years) has attracted no media interest whatsoever, at least if GNews is any indication. And judging from the number of RC church bulletins that show up in searching for that, you have to think there’s some more concrete religious connection. And there are three locations in the NYC area, so it isn’t as though the Times has an excuse for not knowing about them.

  • Bram

    tmatt: The reason this partisan essay didn’t run as an op-ed piece is that, especially at The New York Times, left-liberal ideology is not matter of opinion, but a matter of “fact.”

  • Kell Brigan

    “If only I’d known I was eating a ‘Jesus burger.’”

    Gotta tell ya, this phrase probably has a whole different meaning for the Catholics reading. (Must be some left-over Vatican II thing.)

    (Do Jesus burgers come with Onions? If not, what’s the secret code for adding them? Thx.)

  • JM

    I’ve never commented, but I just wanted to say two things in defense of the Times.

    1) I’m originally from Alabama and went to college there, all through high school and college (graduated in 07), both Christians and non-Christians referred to Chick-fil-a as “Jesus Chicken” – with great regularity. (Maybe it’s a generational thing?)

    2) The reason this is a story is because while it’s been known for some time they have conservative views, it was only recently they were donating food to an organization whose purpose is to prevent gay marriage. Now same sex marriage proponents must decide if the delicious sandwich is worth contributing money to a business who will donate money to fighting that cause. As much as I love their food, as a liberal Episcopalian, it does give me pause about eating there. I think this is why it’s now a news story. (Not that I have the option, as I live in NYC now. Man, I miss those waffle fries.)

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    JM, thank you for commenting. Appreciate you joining the discussion.

  • JM

    Thanks, Bobby. I’ve been reading the blog for for a couple years now, mostly due to the coverage of the “Anglican Wars.” (In school I wrote a thesis on integration and gay and lesbian inclusion and the Episcopal church and the effects on local parishes, thus stumbling upon this and other religious-themed blogs. This is the only one I’ve continued to read.)

    I just had to comment because I had no idea the term “Jesus Chicken” was ever used or heard outside of Tuscaloosa. It made me think of home.

  • Harris

    Let me echo JM: reading the story, I took the principal focus to be the reactions of customers. My take would be that the concern over Chick-fil-a probably reflects some ripple of concern within the gay community — it’s what they’re talking about.

    I’m not so sure about accusations of bias or any culture warmongering. Given the size of the gay population in the NY metro area, and their significance in the cultural life of the City, coverage of such an issue seems pretty routine. Hometown papers cover hometown concerns.

  • Bram

    The problem, Harris, is this isn’t, in fact, that much of a “hometown” concern, since, New York City has only *one* Chick-Fil-A, however large its gay community may be. If NYC gay activists do manage to shut down the city’s one and only Chick-Fil-A (at NYU), then I think that Chick-Fil-A will be just fine. If anything, it seems to me that a boycott by NYC gay activists might, if anything, prove to be a worthwhile endorsement for Chick-Fil-A, where most of its customer-base is concerned. And the same could doubtless be said of a boycott by the liberal activist wing of the Episcopal Church.

  • JM

    A lot of New Yorkers are from outside the city, and there are a great many Pennsylvanians here. If anything, the Times is late with this story (shocker), as it’s already been covered on New York blogs like Gawker. The story just really seems to be customer reaction to Chick-Fil-A’s recent and long-term activity. The Times gives ample coverage to those who are in favor of the business’s donations and to those who simply don’t care.

    You can say the opening is smug and condescending towards the chain and its customers, and I would agree with you.

    You’ll also notice no one in New York (or my Church, but thanks for the needless shot) is calling for a boycott. A group in Georgia was calling for action, but I didn’t see the word boycott in the article.

    I just wanted to say while the story might be typically smug for the Times, it’s not pointless. I knew Chick-Fil-A had ‘conservative values’ but I was not aware they were donating to groups with a narrow focus on marriage. A lot of New Yorkers do eat at the restaurant whenever they can, and the paper writes a great deal of national stories anyway. We all decide how to spend our money and sometimes that includes how the businesses we patronize use their money. It’s a solid angle, and I just didn’t think the concept of the article was that bad.

  • Passing By

    a group that opposes gay marriage and has been characterized by activists as anti-gay.


    whose purpose is to prevent gay marriage

    These quotes from the article and comment #31 suggest a focus more narrow and negative than the organization claims for itself:

    The Mission of the Pennsylvania Family Institute is to strengthen families by restoring to public life the traditional, foundational principles and values essential for the well-being of society. We are a research and education organization devoted to restoring these values to our state and nation. We produce policy reports, promote responsible citizenship and work to promote unity among pro-family groups.

    Looking at their website, abortion seems to concern them more than same-sex issues. Certainly, they oppose legal recognition of same-sex partnerships as part of their agenda.

    Hometown papers cover hometown concerns.

    Is “the newspaper of record” really a “hometown newspaper”? And what constitutes covering hometown concerns: is it the job of journalism to ask “the hard questions” about serious issues? I should say that I completely support the rights of individuals to spend their money in accordance with their values. I don’t support newspapers pandering to the locals and their prejudices, whatever direction those prejudices take.

  • http://exlaodicea.wordpress.com berenike

    Definitely “Evangelical” to describe a kind of Protestantism – otherwise you have no word left for the Greek-rooted word meaning “of the Gospel” (evangelical poverty, …).

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    AP style is “evangelical.” Again, not sure on NY Times style.

  • John Pack Lambert

    Deacon John makes a good point about the forcing of people to work on Sunday. I have been told by multiple retailers that “it was highly unlikely” that they would higher me if I would not work Sunday.

    This is an issue where the employees in retail are consistently treated as hardly better than slaves. The media almost never considers what a 24/7 retail schedule does for the lives of workers. This is especially true when doing so is an attack at traditional religion. There is never consideration to the positive effects of not working people to death.