How did a religious tradition whose sacred writings reveal that God created animals to be the beloved companions of humans, come to celebrate their abuse? How did a spiritual tradition which proclaims that God has entered into a covenant with animals as well as humans, forget that covenant? And how can Christians who are aware of the atrocities inherent in factory-farming, celebrate the work of a man who is an integral part of this systemized brutality.
The work and success of Truett Cathy, founder and chairman of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, was recently celebrated in a monthly journal that seeks to "inspire and encourage" Christians with uplifting success stories. These stories are followed by prayers and meditations for each day of the month. The magazine-- "In Touch"--reaches tens of thousands of people.
The theme of the issue that featured Cathy was titled "Committed to the Course," and the introductory essay was written by the Pastor/Publisher whose church sponsors this outreach ministry. He wrote "What you believe about God, yourself and the principles in His Word will determine your degree of success and victory." And the story about Chick-fil-A which follows, certainly confirms that what you believe about God is an important factor in the claim that it is the Deity who blesses your enterprises.
Truett Cathy believes that he applies biblical principles to his running of Chick-fil-A and that it is God who has rewarded him with such great success. Eager to let everyone who works for him know that they are doing the work of the Lord, here on earth, Cathy has erected a large plaque that dominates the entrance to his corporate headquarters. It contains his "mission statement," a statement that purports to sum up the purpose of an enterprise. The plaque reads: "TO GLORIFY GOD BY BEING A FAITHFUL STEWARD OF ALL THAT IS ENTRUSTED TO US. TO HAVE A POSITIVE INFLUENCE ON ALL WHO COME IN CONTACT WITH CHICK-FIL-A."
Obviously, having a positive influence on "all" whose lives are touched by Cathy's empire does not include those who raise and slaughter the chickens whose lives, from their birth to their early death, are a testament to the human capacity for brutality. Only by desensitizing themselves to the horror of what they are doing, could anyone continue to do the kind of work that supports the Chick-fil-A empire.
God gave these creatures a natural life span of up to 20 years. But in order to meet the demand for their flesh, created by businesses like Chick-fil-A, their throats are slit before they are two months old. The cruel way in which they are slaughtered, is a reflection of the unmerciful way in which they are forced to live their short lives. From birth to death they are treated as though they were "things" rather than sentient beings created by the same God who breathed life into all creatures--human and animal.
Twenty-five thousand or more, they are packed into warehouses where there is no room to move. There, they are forced to live in their own excrement, among the corpses of their fellow creatures who have died from suffocation, heart attacks and other stresses. But there are so many that the premature death of some of them, and the loss of their flesh as a commodity, are just considered part of the overhead of running this kind of a business.
This is the work that Truett Cathy believes makes him "a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to [him]." It is a belief that makes a mockery of the stewardship of other creatures with which God entrusted the human race. And because this business is so successful, Chick-fil-A is celebrated by many Christians who believe that if people claim to conduct their business by Godly principles, then their success must be a sign of God's blessing.
Of course the Bible does not substantiate such a claim. In the Synoptic Gospels, Christ plainly warns that malevolent forces at work in this world can bring riches and success to those who are cooperative. Personifying those forces as Satan and the Prince of this World, Jesus told how he had been tempted, in the wilderness, to accept the success that can come from collaboration with such forces. And he also revealed that a profane use of scripture can be used to cover this ungodly collaboration. (See Matthew 4:5,6).
But that revelation is ignored by many professing Christians. Religious history is rife with accounts of those who used the Bible to justify their greed. It also shows that the contemporaries of such people celebrated their wealth and their success, although later generations recognized the evil that was foundational to their prosperity. Wealthy plantation owners were commended for Christian virtues which included Bible readings and sermons which informed their slaves that the scriptures admonished them to "obey their masters." Great philanthropists were lauded by the churches which profited from wealth that was acquired from the labor of children and the work of adults who eked out a living under abominable conditions.
Riches derived from slave and child labor are no longer accepted as a sign of God's blessing, but other abuses have taken their place. In our own time, the flagrant abuse of animal beings for the benefit of men like Truett Cathy is ignored. Although Chick- fil-A is built on the foundation of factory farming, its founder claims that his purpose is "to glorify God." And he is supported in this profane assertion by his employees, and by the churches and other Christian groups to which he so generously contributes. He is celebrated as a man-of-God; one whose faithfulness to biblical principles has brought him riches and renown.
Later generations will understand the profanity of such claims. Just as the practices of slave and child labor are now outlawed so also will the horror of factory farming be recognized. And there will be no retrospective support for those who grew rich from the suffering of other creatures. But if God's kingdom is ever to come to earth, those who claim to follow the teachings of Christ must be willing to reject those evils which society and organized religion have not yet recognized. They must be part of the leavening process that works to bring about the kind of changes which will insure that God's will is done, on earth as in heaven.
Copyright 2000 by Humane Religion & J.R. Hyland