The head of Chick-fil-A called his company's response to LGBT activists' criticism about the restaurant's financial support for groups that don't support same-sex marriage and his decision to voice his own opinions about the issue a "mistake," but added that his personal stance on it has not drifted.
In an interview last week with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dan Cathy, 61, who serves as the fast-food chain's president and CEO, said that reflecting on the events of 2012 had helped him to emerge as a wiser individual.
"Every leader goes through different phases of maturity, growth and development and it helps by (recognizing) the mistakes that you make," Cathy said. "And you learn from those mistakes. If not, you're just a fool. I'm thankful that I lived through it and I learned a lot from it."
In July 2012 Cathy told The Biblical Recorder that the company "was supportive of the biblical definition of the family unit."
In a separate interview that summer with "The Ken Coleman Show," Cathy also said that America was "inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage." The organization was also revealed to be a financial backer of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group that does not endorse same-sex marriage.
Cathy's comments sparked anger from LGBT activists who organized boycotts of the restaurant. In response, those who endorsed the organization's stance, such as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, organized a day for customers to patronize the restaurant in support of its gay-marriage stance.
In turn, Chick-fil-A attempted to diffuse the ensuing controversy by saying that it did not turn away customers or employees on the basis of sexual orientation.
Cathy suggested retrospectively that the corporate response might not have been the most supportive to Chick-fil-A's franchisees.
"Probably the elements that were stressful for me most is from our internal staff and from operators and how this may be affecting them," he said. "The bottom line is we have a responsibility here to keep the whole of the organization in mind and it has to take precedence over the personal expression and opinion on social issues."
While Cathy said he regrets Chick-fil-A's actions, his own beliefs on the issue have not changed, as evidenced as by his activity on social media. In June, he expressed disappointment when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, calling it a "sad day for our nation."
"Founding Fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies," he tweeted, though quickly deleted the tweet.
Last week, Cathy reiterated those thoughts, though he added that he was respectful of views that diverged from his own.
"I think the time of truths and principles are captured and codified in God's Word and I'm just personally committed to that," he said. "I know others feel very different from that and I respect their opinion and I hope that they would be respectful of mine."
In August 2012, Cathy also reached out to Shane Windmeyer, a gay married man and the leader of Campus Pride, who had organized protests on university campuses against Chick-fil-A. Cathy and Windmeyer conversed about their different beliefs multiple times and ultimately became friends, leading the LGBT activist to publicly share about his friendship with the CEO in an editorial with the Huffington Post in January 2013.
"Dan and I shared respectful, enduring communication and built trust. His demeanor has always been one of kindness and openness," wrote Windmeyer. "Even when I continued to directly question his public actions and the funding decisions, Dan embraced the opportunity to have dialogue and hear my perspective. He and I were committed to a better understanding of one another. Our mutual hope was to find common ground if possible, and to build respect no matter what. We learned about each other as people with opposing views, not as opposing people."
In a nod to the lessons he said he had learned since 2012, Cathy did not weigh in on the recent controversy surrounding an influx of state bills that proponents have cast as protecting religious freedom, while opponents have said would legalize anti-LGBT discrimination.
"I think that's a political debate that's going to rage on," he said. "And the wiser thing for us to do is to stay focused on customer service."
Chick-fil-A declined The Christian Post's request for comment from Dan Cathy.