Recently, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy told an interviewer he regrets his company’s pro-marriage stance it took two years ago.

Calling the decision to support traditional marriage “a mistake,” Cathy indicated Chick-fil-A’s priority going forward would be courting a new generation of consumers–one who, if you read between the lines, he must feel supports same-sex marriage.

In a move that’s sure to offend both sides, Cathy said that while his personal views on same-sex marriage have not changed, he does not intend to take a public stance on the issue. To put it another way, gay activists who have been boycotting Chick-fil-A have every reason to continue doing so, and conservatives who celebrated Chick-fil-A for their courageous stance for traditional marriage may decide they would just as soon take their business to Popeyes or KFC.

This back-peddling from Mr. Cathy is incredibly disappointing, and it betrays a failure to grasp the significance of Chick-fil-A’s actions these past few years.

Increasingly, our culture is “privatizing” faith and ethics. It’s OK to be religious as long as it’s in private. It’s OK to believe something as long as you don’t try to tell other people that what you believe is “true.” It’s OK for business owners to have personal beliefs, but those beliefs should not impact the way they do business. The view that the American government should be secular has shifted into the view that the American public should be secular.

This view that faith is purely private undermines integrity. It prevents people from living publicly what they believe privately.

In the middle of this cultural shift, here came Chick-fil-A with a president who was willing to say “guilty as charged” when asked if he opposed same-sex marriage.

While Home Depot and other major corporations vocally supported homosexuality and efforts to redefine marriage, Chick-fil-A was one company who said marriage ought to remain the way it has always been: As the union of one man to one woman. Whether knowingly or not, Chick-fil-A joined a very serious conversation about the future of marriage in our society. When you join a conversation that significant, any attempt to withdraw from the conversation, ultimately, will amount to a retreat.

To many conservative Christians, Chick-fil-A has been a hero–an example of how Christian virtues can inform business practices and encourage responsible citizenship. By bowing out of the conversation on same-sex marriage and all but apologizing for the stance his company has taken, Mr. Cathy leaves these Christians with a fallen hero.

Heroes do not validate our faith; scripture is filled with stories of godly men who failed in monumental ways. But heroes remind us that we are not alone, and they inspire us to rise to a higher level. When a hero retreats on an important issue, it’s demoralizing for those who once looked to that hero for inspiration.

Chick-fil-A’s message two years ago was one that said, “Integrity is more important than profitability.” This new message reads just the opposite: That profitability is more important than integrity. And if history is any indicator, those who pursue profitability at the expense of integrity usually end up with neither.