Yale Faith Institute Puffs Virulently Antigay Chick-Fil-A
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Mar 07, 2011 at 10:44:12 PM EST
In early 2011, a national controversy broke out over Georgia-based chicken sandwich chain Chick-Fil-A's past and current ties to far-right wing, antigay organizations such as the Pennsylvania Family Institute, Focus On The Family, and the American Family Association (recently labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center).  Leading the investigative pack were Jeremy Hooper from Good as You and Michael Jones of Change.org, and by January 29th, the New York Times had picked up the story. But the Yale/Chick-Fil-A connection escaped scrutiny. Here's a rousing infommercial for Chick-Fil-A, courtesy of Yale University and PBS' WFYI television station in Indianapolis. According to the segment, one of 12 mini-vignettes that comprised a PBS special on especially "virtuous" companies that was aired last November 2010, Chick-Fil-A exemplifies the spirit of "gratitude."
The PBS special was a joint project, produced in tandem with one of the programs under Yale University's Center For Faith and Culture: the Spiritual Capital Initiative, headed by Yale professors Ted Malloch and Miroslav Volf.

Funded by a three-year grant from the Templeton Foundation, the Spiritual Capital Initiative plans to "spend the next several years researching the virtues derived from faith that contribute to flourishing corporations." The goal is to "publish and make widely available for use in business and management schools 24 case studies that profile individual case companies and a particular faith- or tradition-grounded virtue which they embody."

As stated on the home page of the Yale initiative,

"Chick-fil-A is the only fast-food chain in the U.S. that closes all of its restaurants on Sunday. Does this add value to its bottom line and to its reputation as a "spiritual enterprise"? If so, how? Through an examination of Chick-fil-A's history, organization, operations, marketing and philanthropy, this case invites speculation about how the "loss" of a day's worth of sales--for the sake of "honoring" Sunday as a Sabbath--may be beneficial for business growth and reputational development."

So far, its case study on Chick-Fil-A is the only one the Yale Spiritual Capital Initiative has done. Despite the suggestion, in the paragraph above from the Initiative's home page, the study doesn't seem to clearly spell out for readers how Chick-Fil-A's Sunday closing practice is supposed to add economic value. It's an expression of values, of course. But how does it add value, in a rigorous, bottom-line sense?

One obvious answer is this: Chick-Fil-A's Sunday closing practice signals to its customer base that it is a pious Christian company. It's both an expression and a branding of piety, and that alone may give Chick-Fil-A an edge in the Bible Belt. One could argue that the practice "adds value", but one could by the same token call it smart marketing.

On a more basic level of critique, it is astounding that the Yale Faith Center authors of the Chick-Fil-A study, Malloch and Volf, somehow missed the Christian supremacist working environment at the Chicken chain which, as described by the New York Times, requires that potential employees answer intrusive questions about their marital status and church attendance, and forces its workers to pray to Jesus. That's not all though. Then, there's the issue of Chick-Fil-A's charitable activities.

Shaping the Winners: The WinShape Foundation

The Spiritual Capital Initiative describes Chick-Fil-A's philonthropic wing, the WinShape Foundation, in the rosiest of terms (note: Truett Cathy is Chick-Fil-A's founder):

In addition to closing on Sunday, Chick-fil-A uses philanthropy to link its spiritual values to its enterprise.      

Philanthrophy at Chick-fil-A is fueled by a sense of gratitude, or a position of thankfulness to God for what has been provided.  For Cathy, God has granted Chick-fil-A a great deal of success and has honored the company's commitment to stay closed on Sundays.  In return, Cathy has attempted to "give back" to God and the broader community out of gratitude for what God has given to him....

The Winshape Foundation was founded in 1984 by Cathy to forward what he saw as Chick-fil-A's "mission of shaping winners."  Cathy describes WinShape in decidedly religious terms, calling it a "ministry" in the business of encouraging adults, adolescents, and children to become "all that God wants them to be."....

Homes for foster children operate under the WinShape banner "as an extension of the ministry of Jesus Christ," striving to "minister to children in a manner that will bring glory to God in meeting the needs of children under our care."

One gets the impression that the WinShape Foundation's philanthropic activities are indeed ministries, in the classic evangelical sense of the term. So is it a philanthropy, or is it a ministry masquerading as a philanthropy?

According to the Winshape Foundation's college scholarship program website, "The commitment remains to equip college students to impact the world for Jesus Christ by following Him and living out His unique calling for their lives." Winshape's summer camp program pitch to prospective counselors is more direct still: "You've come to the right place. If you have a heart to minister to young people and a heart for evangelism, discipleship and good clean fun".

Another Winshape venture, its 11 foster homes for children, carefully screens prospective clients:

"Winshape does not accept children with severe behavioral problems such as those who have been involved in illegal or promiscuous activities, i.e. sexual acting-out, drug or alcohol use, pornography, fire-starting, cruelty to animals, or runaways."

Which suggests that the point of this Winshape program is not only to mold Christians, it's aimed at creating perfect, problem-free Christians. Troublemakers, and the truly needy, need not apply.

And Winshape's marriage-strengthening programs for couples? As Good As You learned from an email exchange with Winshape, gay couples are not welcome. As Michael Jones of Change.org summed things up,

And so it goes like this: Chick-fil-A is a restaurant where franchises frequently donate to anti-gay organizations like the Pennsylvania Family Institute, Focus on the Family and others. The restaurant's charitable arm, WinShape, holds conferences for opponents of gay marriage and praises their work. And this charitable arm's Retreat program puts a blanket ban on gay couples using their facilities, because they "do not accept homosexual couples."

Yet the President of Chick-fil-A still says that all people, including LGBT people, are treated with respect by the restaurant? Huh, what a funny definition of respect.

The overall picture that emerges is that the Winshape Foundation's charitable activities seem as much or more about promoting a particular sectarian ideology and Christian outlook as much as they are about charity, as described in New Testament sayings attributed to Jesus.

Spiritual Capital, or Spiritual Bankruptcy?

Back to Yale's Spiritual Capital Initiative: on the home page we also learn that the work of the center has been turned into a PBS special, aired in November 2010:

Doing Virtuous Business is a documentary project presented by PBS affiliate station WFYI in Indianapolis, Indiana, for international distribution, including public television stations throughout the United States. This one-hour program takes a modern look at ancient virtues once studied by Aristotle and many of the great minds in spiritual history and then examines how these deeply respected concepts and beliefs are practiced within a modern business environment.

Aristotle! Great minds in spiritual history! It's all very edifying, I suppose, but I'm wondering about the vast gulf between this PBS special's depiction of Chick-Fil-A and the company's demonstrable promotion of a Christian supremacist outlook that, in the workplace at least, tolerates no religious or sexual diversity whatsoever.  

Ted Malloch's work might be mistaken as liberal if one doesn't look too closely. He's a prolific author whose latest book, Spiritual Enterprise: Doing Virtuous Business was the subject of the following scathing Amazon.com review, from David Franz:

"Admittedly I've not read all (or even most) of the books that Malloch mentions. However, I take comfort from the fact that, based on his treatment of those I have read, neither has Malloch. For example, Malloch cites Alasdair MacIntyre on virtue, without noting that in the very book he cites, MacIntyre spends entire sections laying out why the business corporation stands opposed to his understanding of virtue. Malloch cites Tocqueville on the importance of association and suggests that businesses can fill that role without noting that Tocqueville disagreed. In one of the few sections in Democracy in America where Tocqueville mentions business he argues that companies can form no "genuine association."

This kind of slippage between his representation of scholars and the reality of what they said is apparent whenever I found Malloch moving into territory I am familiar with. At best this book is sloppy, at worst dishonest, and either way it is thoroughly pretentious.

I am sympathetic to the impulse behind this book. I think business is a moral endeavor too, but this view is not furthered by ignoring or misrepresenting the objections of people you wish were allies. Authorship is a moral endeavor too. "

The Biblical Stoning Connection

What's especially interesting about the book is an endorsement, on the back cover, from Howard Ahmanson of the Fieldstead Foundation:

"Yes, capitalists can be as greedy as anyone else. But as Ted Malloch is happy to explain, the best entrepreneurs are here to serve. Business may not be the same as charitable social service, but at its best it is like social service in that it intends to serve a legitimate need. And, as Malloch reminds us, God did not retire from the universe business to go into ministry. He is still in the universe business."

Howard Ahmanson has been described as one of the most influential funders of the American religious right, who has financially backed efforts to break apart and undermine the traditionally liberal Protestant Mainline denominations, and Ahmanson has been a steadfast backer of Christian right initiatives aimed at rolling back gay rights.

As journalist Max Blumenthal summed it up in his 2004 Salon.com story, Avenging angel of the religious right, "Quirky millionaire Howard Ahmanson Jr. is on a mission from God to stop gay marriage, fight evolution, defeat "liberal" churches -- and reelect George W. Bush." As Blumenthal described,

"At the root of Ahmanson's quirky asceticism and ardent conservatism is his rocky path from cloistered rich kid to Bible-believing philanthropist. Ahmanson's father, Howard Sr., was a savings and loan tycoon whose net worth was valued at over $300 million at the time of his death in 1968. Howard Jr. was only 18 at the time he inherited the fortune....

...he found his salvation in the church and in R.J. Rushdoony, a prolific author and an influential theologian of the far right. Rushdoony is the father of Christian Reconstructionism, a strange variant of Calvinism that stresses waging political struggle to put the earth, and in particular the U.S., under the control of biblical law. In his 30-some books, he advocated everything from the end of government-administered social welfare and public schools to the execution of homosexuals. For around 20 years, until Rushdoony's death in 2001, Ahmanson served on the board of his think tank, Chalcedon, granting it a total of $1 million. In exchange, Rushdoony acted as Ahmanson's spiritual advisor, imbuing him with a sense of order and a mission.

Today, Ahmanson says he is more mature than the card-carrying Reconstructionist who told the Orange County Register in 1985: "My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives."

Blumenthal continued his coverage of Ahmanson in a November 2008 Daily Beast story concerning his financing of the campaign behind California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8.

Spiritual Retread, Tony Blair

And what of Ted Malloch's fellow leader at the Yale Spiritual Capital Initiative, Miroslav Volf? After he stepped down from his position as Prime Minister in 2007, Tony Blair went on to teach a course at Yale, on globalization, with Spiritual Capital Initiative co-founder Volf.

As Blair described the intersection of faith, politics, and commerce, "If you cannot understand the world of faith, whether you are in business, or in public affairs, or in politics, then you actually cannot understand the world." Now, Blair and Volf may well have a great deal that's quite worthwhile to say on the subject. Sure. But, remember, this is branded under the program name "Spiritual Capital", and that's at once both grotesque and absurd.

One might argue that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair squandered his spiritual capital, perhaps for the rest of his life, when he misrepresented to the British and world public the reason for the UK's support for George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003. As memos which surfaced in 2005 detailed, the real reason for the invasion was not the stated one, Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. The real reason was the desire for regime change. The result? - the ensuing invasion and occupation of Iraq has led to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, millions of refugees, and millions of orphaned Iraqi children.

'Spiritual' Corporate Astroturfing

This disconnect between rhetoric and reality seems also to run through Ted Malloch's oeuvre, the celebration of virtuous business--which bears a suspicious resemblance to a high-end corporate astroturfing project.

Consider six of the twelve case studies that make up the PBS special Doing Virtuous Business, which is essentially a Malloch-scripted project. In each case study, a company is upheld as representing a particular virtue. Chick-Fil-A is, of course, gratitude.

Walmart, apparently the examplar of discipline, has generated so much controversy, in the US and internationally, that the company has its own Wikipedia extended entry for the numerous areas of dispute. Mammoth chicken producer Tyson Foods, which according to Malloch exemplifies forgiveness, appears to need some of that given that Tyson is currently on trial for polluting the Illinois watershed with massive quantities of toxic chicken droppings.

Cargill, also a huge chicken producer charged in the pollution case along with Tyson, exemplifies leadership according to Malloch. Cargill has just been charged, by the government of Argentina, with tax evasion. In addition, Cargill has been accused of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and the trafficking of children into Mali and the Ivory Coast, as de-facto slaves. Leadership, indeed.

Even some of Malloch's more innocuous picks are problematic. Whole Foods, which exemplifies perseverance is currently under fire for allegedly capitulating to pressure from Monsanto, which is pushing the USDA to allow the use of Monsanto's genetically modified Alfalfa.

Character First!... Ladies Second

Then there's Kimray. Inc., a company that apparently exemplifies courage. Kimray is a leading manufacturer of US-made Oil and Gas equipment and controls. What's really interesting is the fact that Kimray has launched and funds the Character Training Institute, which was inspired by the teachings of cultic, neo-fundamentalist evangelist Bill Gothard, whose advice for women has been described, by author Hannah Rosin, as being comparable to "Sharia law" (note: Islamic clerics are not in agreement as to what Sharia law means. Rosin appeared to be unaware of this but seemed to be indicating that Gothard's advice was an outlier on the theocratic fringe. Talk To Action writers have covered Bill Gothard's ministry in numerous stories)

The Character Training Institute (CTI) bases its teachings around Bill Gothard's list of 49 [desirable] "character qualities", and Ted Malloch's 12 company virtues seem suspiciously like a similar, if pared down, program. As Silja J.A. Talji described in a 2006 story for In These Times, Cult of Character,

Although legally and fiscally independent, the CTI is for all intents and purposes a "secular" front group for Gothard's IBLP. In the last decade, the CTI has quietly gained entry into hundreds of elementary, middle and high schools, state and city offices, corporations, police departments and jails.

Though he never uses the term, Gothard's ideology fits into the framework of the burgeoning "Christian Reconstructionist" movement, which aims to rebuild society according to biblical mandates. Within the Christian Reconstructionist worldview, modern-day chaos is directly attributable to the division of church and state and the consequent degradation of individual character.

For Gothard, the solution is restoring the United States--and then the rest of the world--to something that he calls "The Sevenfold Power of First-Century Churches and Homes."

The concept of obeying God-granted authority runs through virtually all IBLP-published materials. "The key to understanding authority is identifying four areas of God-ordained jurisdiction: parents, government, church leaders, and employers," reads an introductory passage to Basic Life Principles Seminar.

As I uncovered for a September 29, 2010 Talk To Action story, Bill Gothard's ties to Christian Reconstructionism were even closer than Talji suspected - the only reason that Bill Gothard chose not to market Christian Reconstructionism founder R.J. Rushdoony's writings according to Martin Selbrede, Vice President of the Chalcedon Foundation (Rushdoony's think tank), was that Gothard's views on divorce were even more extreme than Rushdoony's (who thought divorce should be legal under some cirumstances. Gothard wanted it banned categorically):

"[T]he divide between Gothard and Rushdoony on divorce was a deep and abiding one. Gothard proposed using Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law as a resource for his massive ministry; the sheer volume of the resulting sales would have made Rushdoony both rich and famous. Gothard's condition for moving forward on this was letter-simple: Rushdoony merely needed to remove the section on divorce from his book, and the highly profitable deal would be sealed.

Rushdoony refused the offer."

"Obedience will take instructions joyfully"

In practice, according to one account, Bill Gothard's character training sounds suspiciously close to indoctrination programs one might have encountered in China during the Cultural Revolution.

As described in a February 18, 1999 story in the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, by Bob Norman, Bill Gothard's Character First! curriculum, now being taught in public school systems across the United States, teaches an extreme form of submission to authority. As Norman's story begins,

One of the lessons for today is obedience, and the first graders at the school inside the First Christian Church building in Fort Lauderdale sing about it quite obediently.

While the students at the Charter School of Excellence are divided fairly evenly between blacks and whites, they dress alike, with the boys in dark blue pants and green buttoned-up golf shirts and the girls wearing white blouses under plaid jumpers. All eyes are focused on their young and attractive teacher, Mrs. Blocker, who leads them in song:

Obedience is listening attentively,

Obedience will take instructions joyfully,

Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,

Obedience will follow orders instantly.

For when I am busy at my work or play,

And someone calls my name, I'll answer right away!

I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile

As soon as I can say "Yes, sir!" "Yes ma'am!"

Hup, two, three!

So much for "character" and "virtue".




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