Stephen Kent

Major changes in the country came from the civil rights movement, assassinations, wars and a revolution in communications. These are major trends and events, matters of dramatic transformation in the country that will fill the history books of generations to come.

Other change is evident in simpler situations such as an announcement this month by KFC, the fried chicken conglomerate.

Kentucky Fried Chicken was founded more than 60 years ago to provide exactly that: big buckets of legs, thighs and breasts fried by a trademark process. Then the movement for healthier and more nutritious food came into being and the company faced becoming irrelevant. So it dropped the word “fried” (and Kentucky and chicken for good measure) to become KFC, which could identify anything from an insurance firm to an auto lubrication franchise.

In April, the company eliminated something else: bones.

“We are taking our hero product and drastically changing it,” said Jason Marker, KFC marketing chief. Most millennials don’t know that chicken has bones in it, Marker said only half in jest.

KFC will offer boneless chicken chunks in part to satisfy the perceived need for one-handed foods for people who drive with one hand and eat lunch with the other.

Adapting to trends, KFC made changes to the basic essence of its product in order to retain the affection of customers who want change. Whether this solves its marketing problem is yet to be seen.

What, other than concern over a lost generation who believe in nonskeletal poultry, does this mean? It acclimates us to change as the result of current feelings and trends.

More important, it leads to a quiet, inexorable erosion of previous values and standards such as how we view institutions like marriage.

So what does unfried, bone-free chicken have to do with the church? Consumers accustomed to change on demand can transfer that to their views of the church, creating an expectation — based on marketing — that the church will change dogma.

Some religions in search of relevance dilute their mission to make an attractive “religion light” to people not willing to commit to the challenges — or inconvenience — presented by some articles of faith.

The problem is getting used to these marketing mutations. People come to expect it everywhere. The church must be “adapting” to times where polls show what people think about marriage, right-to-life, and human rights such as immigration. Disappointment results when it is perceived that the church is not keeping up with the times, with consumer demands.

The church may adapt by finding better ways to evangelize, of preaching the Gospel while not changing it. The Gospel of John, in relating Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life, says “Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’ … As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

Nowhere do we find Jesus as a result saying, “OK, let’s lighten this up a bit, how about we say we believe …?”

A company can remove bones from its chicken, but the church can’t remove truth from the faith.


Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: