It was only a matter of time before this debate found its way to Indiana Wesleyan University’s campus. The comments made by Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy a few weeks ago about his stance in favor of “the biblical definition of the family unit” have drawn much public criticism. That backlash, in turn, also prompted support for the company from former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee created an event on Facebook titled “Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day” (his grammar), calling for people to eat at the popular restaurant chain on Aug. 1. The idea received support from fellow former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum and the Rev. Billy Graham.
IWU, a private Christian university with a Chick-fil-A Express on its Marion, Ind., campus, seems like an ideal place for this controversy to heat up like a spicy chicken sandwich.
According to Ron McGinly, food service director of Pioneer College Caterers at IWU, around 2,000 people showed up on Wednesday and filled the restaurant.
“We’re very, very impressed,” McGinly said. “It was orderly, it was nice, they didn’t complain about being in line, they were very patient… it’s a wonderful thing.”
Many patrons had to wait more than an hour and a half in line, but a number said it was worth the wait.
“We waited about an hour,” said Kristin Raikes of Upland, who brought her four children. “I’ve always loved the company and I’ve always wanted to support them, so this is just an extra way we can show our support. We definitely love the food, but we wouldn’t have come over today unless it was for the event.”
The majority of the crowd was from the Marion community, but several IWU staff, faculty and students also showed up, including Tim Witte (sr).
“Because of the controversy, I do want to support Chick-fil-A,” Witte said. “I believe it solidifies my own convictions about homosexuality and gay marriage. If my few dollars shows support to a company because of its beliefs and its use of free speech, then I’ll be willing to spend it.”
It was clear that people weren’t just coming for the food; enough showed up that store managers had to stay open an hour later than the advertised closing time of 2 p.m. People said they came for the cause.
“(I’m here) to support Chick-fil-A and what I believe is right,”
said Nan Turner of Marion. “I don’t think that what (Cathy) said was wrong, I just think he said what he felt and how he believed, and I don’t think that what he said was wrong, and I think that it’s good that people have the right to come out and support him and do what they believe is good and right.”
Not everyone on IWU’s campus agreed with how that support was shown, however. Joel Cash, husband of the Lodges’ resident director, Sandra Cash, said “Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day” is going about support the wrong way.
“It’s a nice way to show support of a Christian that they feel is being persecuted,” Cash said. “But at the same time what they’re doing is dividing the two sides even more, and they’re basically making it a lot harder to be able to reach the people that it affects.”
Cash said the negative light the comments have been viewed in make it a difficult thing to support.
“When something has basically been declared hate speech and then you stand up for it, you run the risk of looking hateful even if you’re not,” he said. “I don’t think that it was necessary. I think it’s a great attempt on Chick-fil-A’s part to make some money off of people’s support. It looks more like a business opportunity than any kind of ministry.”
As for Chick-fil-A’s stance on one of the most-debated topics of this century, the company noted its future role on its Facebook page: “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”