Note: This is a guest post from Jennifer A. Marshall, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. Further biographical information at the end. Many thanks to Ms. Marshall for this excellent piece.
A grease fire has flared up at a comment made by Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy.
“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy said in an interview posted July 16 by the Baptist Press.
The pro-family remark by the chief of the chicken chain has been recast as “anti-gay” in multiple outlets. The mayor of Boston declared he’d bar the restaurant from that cradle of liberty (though he later backed away), and a Chicago alderman didn’t think the city of broad shoulders could now bear the franchise’s expansion there.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel waded in July 25 with an interesting choice of words about a business built on Christian principles, declaring that “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values.”
The media’s frenzied feeding on the Chick-fil-A flap has implied that family-friendly means anti-gay and given the impression that Cathy’s original comments set out to stoke one of the hottest issues of the day. The casual observer could be forgiven for wondering what it actually means to be “supportive of the family” and whether Cathy & Co. are missing the bigger picture.
After all, who’s doing anything about divorce and the breakdown of the family generally?
Good question. And the folks behind Chick-fil-A quietly have been answering it for years.
In 1984, S. Truett Cathy, founder and chairman of Chick-fil-A Inc., launched the WinShape Foundation. It supports college scholarships, foster care and international ministries. Several other programs offer camps for youth and families and marriage support for couples at the WinShape Retreat, a beautiful campus in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in north Georgia. A former dairy farm inspired by the country architecture of Normandy, the retreat center is “the ideal place to cultivate life’s most essential relationships,” the foundation advertises.
“We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy said in the Baptist Press interview.
That’s the particular focus of WinShape Marriage, which provides holistic support for marriage in conjunction with several other ministries by offering resources to prepare for, strengthen and save marriages. “Nearly wed” or newlywed couples can attend sessions to equip them with relational skills for the years ahead. Couples can take advantage of marriage retreats to maintain healthy relational dynamics at any point in their life together.
The ministry also helps couples in crisis. “Couples Intensive” sessions provide a small-group context for individual healing and relational restoration. For four days, couples in troubled marriages are free from the demands and routines of daily life, cared for in the seclusion of WinShape Retreat so they can focus on addressing core issues through concentrated counseling and prayer.
Many couples have found this intensive approach to be the remedy for brokenness that nothing else had healed. This testimony on the WinShape website describes the bleak outlook the foundation’s work has helped overcome:
“My wife and I attended a marriage intensive this past weekend at WinShape Retreat…[We] arrived Thursday night with a lot of hurt and desperation that I personally didn’t see any answer for or relief from…..I had the privilege of not only watching healing occur in my marriage but some serious breakthroughs in 4 others too. One couple that said ‘Monday we file for divorce…this is our last option’—they were holding hands by Sunday.”
In closets of guest rooms at the retreat center, discrete graffiti messages left by couples express a similar sense of release from desperation. WinShape reports that thousands of couples have experienced its “Couples Intensive” restoration sessions.
WinShape Retreat has also hosted strategy sessions involving dozens of groups that seek to stengthen marriage in America—among them MarriageSavers, First Things First and Georgia Family Council. A wide-ranging vision aims at cultural transformation, with efforts from marriage education through churches to public service announcements on the benefits of marriage, and from business policies supporting family life to reform of divorce laws.
It’s the kind of work that will take decades—even generations. And it’s not the stuff of headlines, which is why many Americans probably have no idea this critical effort is under way.
Dan Cathy’s interview with the Baptist Press on the Christian principles that drive Chick-fil-A’s business really wasn’t that remarkable. The restaurants close on Sunday, promote strong families and seek to create a positive experience for their employees and all who come in contact with the company.
Cathy’s comments weren’t enough to start this grease fire; it had external fuel.
“We intend to stay the course,” Cathy said in the interview. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”
Surely Mayor Emanuel and the chicken franchise’s other insta-critics agree with that sentiment?
Jennifer A. Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation and author of the book “Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century.” Follow her on Twitter.