S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, died early Monday morning.
I don’t take any joy in his death and I wish the best for his family as they grieve.
I do, however, want to point out one lesson we can learn from his life.
Cathy was a billionaire. He created one of the most popular fast food restaurants in the nation and built a very loyal fan base. He created a foundation, WinShape, to help young people. He helped children in foster care.
And yet the summary of his life includes his family’s abhorrent views about gay people:
S. Truett Cathy, the billionaire founder of the privately held Chick-fil-A restaurant chain that famously closes on Sundays but also drew unwanted attention on gay marriage in recent years because of his family’s conservative views, died early Monday, a company spokesman said. He was 93.
Those religious views helped win Cathy and his family loyal following from conservative customers, but also invited protests when Cathy’s son denounced gay marriage.
Cathy’s son, Dan, who is currently chairman and president of the chain, had told the Baptist Press in 2012 that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.” Gay rights groups and others called for boycotts and kiss-ins at Cathy’s restaurants. The Jim Henson Co. pulled its Muppet toys from kids’ meals, while politicians in Boston and Chicago told the chain it is not welcome there.
That’s putting it very gently. WinShape, Cathy’s foundation, gave millions of dollars to anti-gay groups over the years, including one that promoted “pray away the gay” conversion therapy.
This man was, by all accounts, a brilliant businessman. He did a lot to help society. But his legacy includes his bigoted views about LGBT people. You can’t separate the man from his beliefs.
You know what? The same thing is going to happen when Rick Warren dies. And Mark Driscoll. And pretty much every other popular evangelical leader, too.
No matter what good they do, no matter how many books they sell, no matter how many people they help, we will always remember them, in part, for the hatred they had against a segment of our society. They won’t call it hate, of course — they never do — but they undoubtedly fought against marriage equality and same-sex rights. Some of them do it very directly. Others, like Joel Osteen, try to avoid the subject entirely, but their silence sends the same message.
Every single one of them could change their legacy right now by admitting they were wrong and working to fix the harm they’ve caused. They would be heroes to so many people if they did that.
But they won’t.
Cathy didn’t, and I firmly believe his reputation will forever be tarnished because of that.
(Image via Wikipedia)