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According to a report by Forbes, since having announced its financial support for Washington state’s referendum backing gay marriage, Starbucks has experienced a highly unusual decrease in national sales and earnings.

Last Wednesday at the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting, when an investor dared to challenge CEO Howard Schultz by suggesting that perhaps Starbucks’ advocacy for gay marriage legislation just might be contributing to declining profits in the first quarter, Schultz lashed out:

If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.”

Schultz’s intolerance and contempt for an opposing opinion was on full display in his disdainful response to a shareholder who supports a biblical view of marriage. Based on this very public scolding in front of hundreds of fellow shareholders, one can only surmise that Schultz holds similar contempt for Starbucks customers who also recognize marriage as a sacrament between one man and one woman.

Schultz’s public bullying of a Starbucks shareholder sends a loud and clear message to Americans who believe in traditional marriage: we are second-class customers.

While jumping on the same-sex bandwagon has become the cause du jour for politicians, when companies make the conscientious decision to enter the political fray by advocating for controversial policies, they inevitably tend to pay a heavy price. Both JC Penney and Abercrombie and Fitch have suffered from declining sales since choosing to side with causes rather than customers. Is Starbucks willing to risk the same demise?

Instead of berating his shareholders, and by extension all customers who may disagree with his stance on same-sex marriage, it would behoove Schultz to emulate his Chick Fil-A counterpart, Dan Cathy, on how to deal with opposing beliefs in a more tolerant and kind fashion.

Who can forget the throngs of Americans lining up outside of Chick Fil-A last July to show support for Dan Cathy’s remarks regarding his views of traditional marriage?

To refresh your memory, Cathy had stated in an interview with the Baptist Press that he believed marriage is a relationship ordained by God and exclusively designed for one man and one woman. The liberal media didn’t hesitate to pounce on Cathy’s remarks (which by the way are completely within mainstream evangelical thought) – characterizing the Chick Fil-A President as an anti-gay bigot while launching a full assault on his character.

Predictably, however, the media’s overreach became their shame as millions upon millions of Americans stood in line to patronize Chick Fil-A in support of Dan Cathy’s freedom of speech.

Yet even after the Chick Fil-brouhaha blew over, Dan Cathy never attempted to retaliate against the unjust character assassination or try to defend his core values to an unforgiving media. He didn’t lash out at the journalists who launched a full assault on his organization, nor did he go after the activists who ginned up protests on the blogosphere.

Instead, Dan Cathy allowed his past actions to speak volumes to his character as stories emerged regarding the charity and generosity of the entire Cathy Family.

And if remaining silent before his accusers wasn’t enough to endear the American people to Chick Fil-A, store owners demonstrated unusual hospitality by offering free food and drinks to protesters who took to the sidewalks in front of Chick Fil-A establishments with their anti-Cathy placards. Talk about heaping burning coals on your enemy’s head!

Clearly there is a stark contrast between the manners in which these two organizational leaders choose to engage those with whom they disagree.

Schultz, coming across as terribly thin-skinned when asked to defend Starbucks’ response to the marriage debate, has resorted to bullying and berating while Cathy has sought to reach out to his accusers with love and kindness.

For those of us who believe in the sanctity of marriage, the next time you sit down to enjoy your overpriced cup of elitist java, think about the words of Howard Schultz and reconsider if you are comfortable supporting an organization that is willing to publically bully into submission those who believe in the sanctity of marriage.

You may discover that Starbucks coffee is just too dark and bitter to swallow. May I suggest some refreshing sweet ice tea instead?

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