More uproarious than Cathy on gays: Chick-fil-A’s rule about Lord’s Day

Amid a bustle, homeschool graduate Andreas Shedrick serves Tulis family members and other customers at the Chick-fil-A in Hixson in 2012.

By David Tulis

Public interest in Chick-fil-A’s founding ideas intensified in recent days over its chief executive’s plain-spoken approval of husbands and wives and the rejection that view implies of a fashionable conceit, “guy and husband.”

Criticism of homosexuality brings shrieks of indignation and grinding of teeth among our elites and their talking heads, and Christians are right to applaud the chicken restaurant chain’s moral outlook with their words and by taking their families out to eat for chicken sandwiches and Cokes.

[This essay first appeared Sept. 1, 2012, at With the death of Truett Cathy at 93, it may be worth reading today. — DJT]

But the Cathy family’s respect for the Lord’s Day is as shocking as its acceptance of marriage. If people understood the  Cathys’ view of that day and the special claim God makes upon it, the gnashing of teeth might come from from the other side of the aisles — from among Christians who have a low view of the Fourth Commandment regarding the Sabbath, seeing it as an Old Testament ceremonial fulfilled by Christ and laid aside as were many ceremonial rites of old Israel.

As Christians in the next days rise to the company’s defense on marriage, might they be willing to consider Chick-fil-A’s Lord’s Day stand and defend that, as well?

The Cathy views on gays are stated opinion. The family’s biblical views on Sunday are company policy that affect employee schedules, profitability and consumers who can’t eat at Chick-fil-A on the first day of the week.

Company ignores tide of favor for gays

The uproar over homosexuality came from an interview with Dan Cathy in Baptist Press given to K. Allen Blume of Biblical Recorder. Mr. Cathy, son of the founder, is president and chief operating officer of the fast-food company that had F$4 billion in sales in 2011. When asked about homosexual sniping about the company’s forbearance of men and women in marriage, he said, “Well, guilty as charged.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” Mr. Cathy said. “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.

“We intend to stay the course,” he said. “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.”

The company takes no position on so-called gay marriage, leaving that matter for ministers of the gospel and elected officials. But Mr. Cathy enjoyed the liberty to express his understanding that homosexuality is a judgment of God, or at least beckoning His wrath.

“As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than You as to what constitutes a marriage,’” Mr. Cathy said on The Ken Coleman Show. “I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.”

The Lord’s Day and a personal commitment

The prosperity of Chick-fil-A, a privately held company, and its owner-operators is based on the lofty ideals of Christianity. Chief among them is an unchanging principle of business: God is creator and God’s blessings come from obeying Him. Mankind’s rest on the Lord’s Day is premised on God’s rest following six days of creation in which He saw that all He had made was good (Gen. 2:2).

With the coming of Christ and the New Creation and His New World, the day of rest celebrated on the last day of the week by the Israelites of old was to shifted the first day of the week.

Chick-fil-A makes a point of obeying this commandment forcefully, but quietly. Its officials don’t talk about the Fourth Commandment as applying to other people and organizations, but to itself alone. This circumspection reserves for the church to properly teach God’s people and the world at large about Christ’s claims upon mankind, one heart at a time.

We can learn a great deal from Truett Cathy, a longtime Sunday School teacher in the Baptist church and a benefactor to many Christian and civic causes over decades.

Closing on Sunday gives employees rest, draws into the company’s ranks people for whom God’s law is meaningful and exposes the company to God’s blessing upon those who trust less in their own labor and more in His provision.

“Closing on Sunday has become a distinctive principle of my Christian background,” writes the senior Cathy in a 1989 book.‡ “From my infancy, my Sunday school teachers and pastors stressed that Sunday is the Lord’s Day. I see another reason. God commanded, ‘Six days you shall labor and do all your work’ (Exod. 20:9). God told the Israelites to work only six days so that the seventh could be used for rest” (It’s Easier to Succeed Than to Fail, p. 69).

God gave the day not to make life hard for business and workers, but “to make it better. Our bodies and our minds need time off to recharge. I’ve accepted that as a principle and honored God by doing it. God has honored us and the business because of it” (p. 70).

Mr. Cathy’s active service to his church helped cement the Fourth Commandment in his thinking. “How could I teach the thirteen-year-old boys in my Sunday school class to observe the Lord’s Day if my cash registers were jingling at my restaurants?”

Obedience draw out blessing

Why do so many Christians — especially home educated young people such as Andreas Shedrick of Red Bank — work behind the counter and in the kitchens of Chick-fil-A? Truett Cathy explains: “We *** believe that by giving employees that free day, we attract the kind of people who want Sunday off because of their own convictions. People who take the day of rest to worship the Lord and to refresh themselves spiritually and physically are the kind of associates we seek” (p. 70).

Notice how obedience to God in one area tends to reinforce itself into others, like a wave covering low spots in a tidal basin or leaven in a lump of dough. If the leaven is good, the whole lump will soon be energized by it, for the gospel seeks total domination of a man in every area of thought and action for greater constancy.

In 1989 the elder Cathy had a divided view of the Lord’s Day. Many people may share his scruples about not earning their bread on that day. But they don’t hesitate to enter the stream of commerce by eating out or shopping after worship.

Mr. Cathy and his wife, Jeannette, nearly always ate out after church. “I tease her from time to time because she once promised, ‘I’ll cook you three meals a day every day if you’ll just take me out to eat on Sunday.’ I have been criticized for patronizing restaurants on Sunday,” he says. “Folks have said it’s hypocritical and inconsistent with my convictions. Maybe someday I’ll grow in my spiritual development to wholly reverence the Lord’s Day. Possibly my witness is weakened among some people because of my eating out on Sunday.”

This remark nearly a quarter a century ago one reads with a sense of graciousness, hoping all good things for Mr. Cathy’s walk in holiness, which is every Christian’s daily duty of sanctification. The commandment states, “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.” The emphasis is on remembering. Remembering is the weakest point in the makeup of God’s people as regards the day of rest. If we remember, we can prepare things in advance so that the day is wholly given to public and private worship and to rest in body and soul.

If Mrs. Cathy were to have remembered the Lord’s Day and planned for it, she need never have toiled in the kitchen to feed her family and never pressured her husband to take her out.

Developer pleads to Chick-fil-A, and a Christian’s response

An appeal letter by a mall developer for Chick-fil-A to be open on Sundays marshall some of the most winning arguments against the company rule. Mr. Cathy cites the letter at length in his book.

➤ Students whose only free days are Saturday and Sunday need to work both days to afford college. You are denying them jobs.

➤ The mall is open “at no cost” and is useable by church people as a service as vital as a drug store or a filling station.  The restaurant should be open “as an essential service for people who want to eat out on Sunday” allowing “the mother and wife [to] rest” (p. 73, 74).

In his reply Mr. Cathy cites his conversion at age 12 and that his conscience wouldn’t allow him to deal in money on the Lord’s day. He recounts how his first eatery, a 24-hour coffee shop called Dwarf House, imposed a hectic schedule. Had he denied himself a day of rest, “I should be in some other business.”

“I believe the Lord has blessed us because we recognize Him on this special day we call Sunday. Since establishing that policy in the beginning of my business life, we have not varied — and dare not. *** I do not condemn a businessperson for opening on Sunday; it is just a principle I stand very firmly on for my business.” He tells the developer that Chick-fil-A is first in most malls despite Lord’s Day closings.” Mall operators accept Chick-fil-A’s rule as long as all its stores obey it.

Longing for theological clarity of times past

Mr. Cathy says he is surprised by how often people bring up the Lord’s Day issue. “Never have I intended to make a big issue out of being closed on Sunday. It amazes me that other people bring up the subject so often. In almost any gathering when anyone mentions Chick-fil-A, someone says, ‘And you know, they always close on Sunday.’”

Coming from a swim lesson, we stop by mid-morning at the Chick-fil-A for a snack. This line of drive-through cars snaked around the building.

I believe the liveliness of the Lord’s Day as a talking point among Christians is a longing for earlier times when Christendom stood for clear truths and fought off compromises, as Gresham Machen did in the Presbyterian church.

The controversy over Chick-fil-A gives us occasion to consider our businesses, our compromises over God’s government and whether we desire to please Him in His claims upon our calendars and labors. We can delve into the question of whether our rejection of the Lord’s Day and the tithe has put us into the hands of implacable men who demand far more than a seventh and a tenth of these assets.

“On the first day of the week,” Truett Cathy says, “the early disciples gathered to commemorate the rising of Christ from the dead. What better reason can we have for doing the same? This is the formula God has given us for success. In this case it is definitely easier to succeed than to work seven days a week and miss the blessing.”

Sources: Baptist Press

‡ S. Truett Cathy, It’s Easier to Succeed Than to Fail (Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1989). I want to thank Judson and Shan Hughey for lending me their autographed copy of this book.