The city council of Santa Barbara, California, is unhappy with their local Chick-fil-A and has given the fast-food giant until June 7 to address concerns raised by local citizens or be declared a public nuisance and face what could be crippling restrictions.
If your reaction to that news is something along the lines of “Here we go again,” hold on to that thought.
You see, while Chick-fil-A is no stranger to negative press, this particular instance has nothing to do with its founder’s beliefs or the company’s stance on controversial issues.
Rather, the restaurant is simply too popular.
A report by the city’s Public Works Department found that cars waiting at the drive-thru back up onto one of the city’s main streets and block a lane for as much as an hour and a half on weekdays and for well over two hours on Saturdays.
As city council member Kristen Sneddon described, “They are so successful, they have outgrown their site. It’s possible they were oversized for that site to begin with.”
Given that Santa Barbara city ordinances stopped permitting restaurants to open with a drive-thru in 1978, Sneddon’s theory on Chick-fil-A being outsized for their location makes a lot of sense. After all, the only reason they were able to have a drive-thru in the first place is that they took over from a Burger King that went out of business in 2013.
As far as the city is concerned, however, the solution is not to change the ordinance limiting drive-thru options but rather to force its local restaurants to find a way to work within those regulations. It appears Chick-fil-A has already begun to do just that, as they are currently exploring options to move outside Santa Barbara and open a location in an unincorporated part of the county roughly two miles from their current spot.
Whether those plans can come to fruition in time to avoid the impending hassle of the June 7 court date remains to be seen, but it is encouraging to see the company get into trouble for being loved rather than hated for a change.
And that shift brings me to what I really wanted us to think about today.
Opposition doesn’t always mean an attack
Think back to your initial response after reading the headline and opening paragraph of this article. Were you among those who saw Chick-fil-A in trouble with a city in California and assumed it must have something to do with their beliefs?
I’ll admit, that notion is what first caught my attention when I happened upon the story.
But while that response is understandable, it should also give us pause.
One of the dangers Christians will face as the culture becomes increasingly antagonistic toward some of our beliefs is seeing every moment of opposition as an attack when the situation is often more complicated or nuanced than that.
For example, people may dislike us because of our beliefs on sexual morality or objective truth. They may also dislike us because our personalities simply don’t mesh or because we’ve sinned in a way that legitimately warrants being disliked.
If we get to the point that our default is to assume the worst about the world around us, though, then it’s going to be a lot more difficult to treat others with the kind of love and grace that God commands of us.
So the next time you see a story in the news about a Christian being maligned or experience a moment of personal attack and your first response is to assume that it’s because they don’t like our faith, pause for a moment to step back and try to take a more objective assessment of the situation. That initial impulse may be correct but, just as often, the real reason has nothing to do with religion.
Either way, though, our response should be the same as our savior, who viewed the lost with compassion and forgiveness even when those same sentiments were not reciprocated (Matthew 9:36; Luke 23:34).
What opportunities has God given you to respond like Jesus lately?