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jennifer graham

Skip the boycotts on Chick-fil-A; handle with love

Apologies to Colonel Sanders, but no one makes a better chicken nugget than S. Truett Cathy, nor does a better job of marketing them.

Chick-fil-A’s billboards are three-dimensional fixtures in the South, with black-and-white cows perched on scaffolding and ladders, putting up signs that say, “Eat mor chikin.” The award-winning advertising campaign, launched in 1995, remains hilarious and fresh, and even has its own website, populated with interactive, spelling-challenged Holsteins. The chain’s “cow parachutists” television ad, which can be seen on YouTube, is classic Chick-fil-A humor.

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Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the gay and lesbian community could learn a few things from the cows. Most important is this: You catch more flies with honey-mustard sauce than you ever will with vinegar.

What did Northeastern University accomplish by spurning Chick-fil-A when the chain wanted to put a restaurant on the campus earlier this year? What, in his blustering about inclusion and discrimination, is Menino thinking? Despite well-meaning intentions, the school and the mayor are positioning themselves as the bad guys in an unwinnable game of chikin.

On one side — the good-natured, highly regarded chain that is Chick-fil-A and its affable founder, who believes in God, good service, and lifelong marriage.

On the other — a bunch of ill-humored grumps.

Well, yes, Cathy is, to many people, an extremist when it comes to the topic of same-sex marriage. So is his son, Dan Cathy, the current president of the company. They’re against it, as are most people of the evangelical persuasion, and the family has been outspoken and financially supportive of organizations that oppose it.

You catch more flies with honey-mustard sauce than you ever will with vinegar.

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But that’s just the Cathys.

Chick-fil-A, with 1,600 restaurants in 39 states, does not deny service to gay and lesbian people, nor does it refuse to employ them. Its stated mission is to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect” and to leave policy debate to the political arena. Oppose this philosophy, and you might as well oppose motherhood and lemon pie — the latter being another of Chick-fil-A’s delectable offerings that you cannot get from any other fast-food chain. The recipe for their peach milkshakes, I presume, was handed down to Moses on the mount from God’s kitchen.

For advocates of same-sex marriage to go after the Cathys is like a highway patrolman pulling the fully licensed, law-abiding soccer mom because her minivan’s tail light is out. Technically, yes, you can do it, but is this really the best battle to fight? Are there not other, more egregious offenders out there?

We live in a time, after all, in which a British hotel has just replaced Bibles in the nightstand drawers with “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Four thousand years of a religious tradition are eroding as fast as the dunes on Plum Island. Evangelicals are to be forgiven if they seem a little distressed.

Moreover, boycotts and slammed doors and indignant calls to Chick-fil-A headquarters advance no one’s cause. Truett Cathy, like any person of deeply held principles, doesn’t care what you think. On his personal website is this quote: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.” (That’s not from “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by the way, but from Proverbs 22:1.)

Chick-fil-A does not need Boston, but Boston needs Chick-fil-A. Man does not live by Wendy’s alone. Despite the moral superiority of slow food, fast food is here to stay, and many of us think Chick-fil-A does it better than anyone else. My children and I are so enamored of Chick-fil-A’s nuggets and milkshakes that we, on occasion, drive 40 minutes to indulge at the food court at Burlington Mall, or at Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua, the only locations near Boston.

Tough love is a wonderful concept when applied to errant teens. Corporate punishment, however, does nothing but divide and irritate. Warriors on the frontlines of same-sex marriage must wear the soft armor of traditional marriage, which is love. Let Chick-fil-A in; enjoy its waffle fries. Sit in its booths; apply for its jobs. Infiltrate kindly; make your case by admirable example. As any partner in a traditional marriage will tell you, the best way to get your way is to bludgeon the opposition with love.

Jennifer Graham, a Hopkinton resident, writes regularly for the Globe. Her website is
jennifergraham.com.
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