Chick-fil-A controversy shines light on restaurant's Christian DNA
February 4th, 2011
05:09 PM ET

Chick-fil-A controversy shines light on restaurant's Christian DNA

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

The ongoing Chick-fil-A flap - which has gay rights groups blasting the restaurant chain for donating food to an anti-gay marriage group - may be a fleeting controversy for a privately held company that is more accustomed to fiercely loyal patrons and generally positive press coverage.

But Lake Lambert, author of the book Spirituality Inc., says the flap may be a sign of more turbulence ahead for Chick-fil-A as it attempts to hold onto its conservative Christian business culture while expanding its chain beyond the Bible Belt.

“If you have a faith-based corporate identity and you want to function in the national marketplace, you’re going to continue to encounter resistance to those values because not everybody is going to share them,” says Lambert. “The only other option is some sort of secular identity and that’s not where Chick-fil-A is going.”

Lambert says Chick-fil-A is the most visible example of an American corporation trying to foster a specifically Christian identity. The company is privately held and family-run, making that task somewhat easier.

Lambert says Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy signed what Cathy describes as a “covenant” with his children when they took over the company, to help preserve its Christian DNA.

The current controversy erupted when some college campus and gay rights groups blasted the restaurant chain for donating free food to a Pennsylvania organization opposed to gay marriage.

The Human Rights Campaign, a major gay rights group, launched a letter writing campaign to the company, while the Indiana University South Bend went so far as to temporarily suspend Chick-fil-A service in its campus dining facilities.

The fallout provoked Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy to defend his company in a Facebook video and in a written statement.

“In recent weeks, we have been accused of being anti-gay,” Cathy said in a written statement last Saturday. “We have no agenda against anyone.”

“While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage,” the statement continued, “we love and respect anyone who disagrees.”

The gestures have not mollified many of the chain’s critics, some of whom are airing their grievances on Chick-fil-A’s Facebook page. The Human Rights Campaign is calling on the restaurant to begin participating in the Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies’ treatment of gays.

Christian culture pervades many aspects of Chick-fil-A’s operations, from its corporate purpose – which includes “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us” – to its policy of closing restaurants on Sundays to praying at restaurant openings.

According to a recent case study of the restaurant chain by the Yale School of Management, employees are encouraged to attend prayer services.

Chick-fil-A has over 1,500 locations and began moving beyond the Deep South in the last decade or so. Recently the company has expanded its number of restaurants in the Northeast, creating a more serious presence there.

According to its website, there is only one Chick-fil-A store in New York State, at New York University in downtown Manhattan.

Considering Chick-fil-A’s conservative Christian mission, perhaps the most striking feature of the recent controversy is how unusual it is for the company. As the chain continues to grow, they may find it more difficult to avoid the culture war.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Money & Faith

soundoff (3,197 Responses)
  1. Badger

    Say whatever you want about them donating to a group advocating against gay marriage. However, whenever I go there to eat – or order drive through – I have NEVER run into anyone working there who was not firendly and pleasant. I simply CANNOT say the same thing of McDonalds, Burger King, etc. I have been treated at some of those places, and by some of their clerks, like they were doing ME a favor by talking to me. Chick-filet folks always make me feel welcome there and they have never treated me poorly. If that's what being a Christian focused company does for customer relations all I can say is that part of it is working, and I like it.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  2. greenbird321

    so, what organization has Chick-Fil-A been donating to? Is the ultimate goal of that organization to prevent the legalization of gay marriage, or is that just something they happen to have an opinion on, and their aims are something completely different? would have been nice if the article had touched upon that, since it's really a crux of the issue here.

    anyway, I think the University needs to learn to be more tolerant(see Truett's quote about marriage). Why is it that those who call the most for tolerance cannot see it when they're faced with it(in this case, Truett's views are the epitome of tolerance–live and let live), and insist upon forcing their views upon others, and bullying others into their camp?

    February 5, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  3. steeve-o

    Chick-Fil-A ain't got nothin' on Flavor Flav's fried chicken, yaknow'm sayin? Flava Flav is in everythin ya eat, cuz everythin' you eat got flava! That's right boy.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  4. Robert Barrett

    Liberals are never tolerant of anyone else's point of view/opinion. They have an agenda so get out of the way.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  5. Nancy

    Everyone knows that Chic-fil-a is faith based...so eat somewhere else if you don't like it. McDonald's chicken isn't as good...so sorry. Or maybe just stay at home and cook your own.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Floyd

      Carl's Jr. has chicken "nuggets" that seem to be made out of real chicken. Much better than McDonalds, and no Chick FilA religious music in the store. Carl's Jr. is the Winner!

      February 5, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  6. OK mom

    To Zippy and Just Me - S Truett Cathey is NOT Mormon, but a devout Southern Baptist.
    And, to clarify for you, Just Me - The Orthodox Mormon religion does not fit the definition of a Christian religion, but more of a "cult" - as defined, b/c they don't believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God, and his equal deity. The Reformed Latter Day Saints, DO, so the RLDS church IS Christian in the theological sense of the word.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I thought 'Christianity' meant following Jesus' teachings, which apparently are open to interpretation since there are so many variations.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  7. Lefty

    Damn, I liked Chick-fil-A, too. I didn't realize it was run by a bunch of zealots. I'll get my chicken sandwiches from Jack in the Box now, thanks.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Lindsay

      See?! Look, someone who doesn't like it and will be taking their business elsewhere. Perfect! That's how it's suppose to work!

      February 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  8. B

    I don't share in the Chick Fil A founder's beliefs. I'm not religious and I have no problems with gays getting married. That said, why should I give a crap about what their politics are? I go there to buy chicken sandwiches, not get into philosophical debates. Why is everyone so worried about making others share their beliefs?

    February 5, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  9. Sarah

    Anti-anti-gay activists are starting to sound remarkably like Nazis.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Normon

      Next time you get beaten up and thrown in jail for being straight, let us know, then we can talk about Nazis.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • H

      Congrats you are a representative of godwins law

      now isnt there a GED somewhere you need to finish?

      February 5, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  10. Lindsay

    Hummm... A private business donating their food to a group protesting gay marriage? SO WHAT! If you don't like who they chose to give sandwhiches to, DON"T EAT THERE (don't give them your $$ that will help them do it again). Period. Any private business in this country has the right to donate or give $ to whatever organization they want.

    Leave them all the hell alone.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Patricia

      That's what this is all about though, calling them out for their actions. You are right, Chick-Fil-A has the right to donate money to NOM or whoever else they want, but we also have the right to call them out on their actions and not eat there. It's capitalism at it's finest. The more people that know, the better.

      February 5, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  11. Amy

    I used to work for a non-profit organization funding cancer research initiatives. One day, a woman called me inquiring about our policy on animal testing, since our organization was holding a fundraiser at her son's school. We do test on animals, but follow all the legal channels and believe that the benefits for human patients warrant our limited use of this type of testing. I had our research representative call her back to give her more information, she responded favorably and ended up donating. You might not agree with an organizations policies, but it's amazing what can happen with civilized discourse.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  12. Emmitt Langley


    I've stopped eating at chick fil-a. I hope a backlash is strong enough to get them out of their expanded states and keep them in the bible belt with the rest of the religious fundies
    It won't matter because Chick fil A makes most of it's money from families....and Leftists typically don't do the family thing...well, not unless they're trying to make some kind of political statement that is...

    We're behind you 100 % Chick fil A...don't cave to the hate-mongering Left!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • H

      actually statistically people who are "leftist" are less likely to be divorced and more likely to get married

      they are also statistically more educated

      now back to your trailer hillbilly

      February 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • H

      also ironically you call "left" hate mongering yet you are the one bringing political ideology into this

      I know some atheist fiscal conservative republicans who have stopped eating at chick fil a...

      you know there are gay right wingers too, they also are upset with chick fila. yes there are gay republicans

      and no i'm not gay I just don't like companies that inject religion into their causes

      February 5, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  13. Chicken Lover

    Chicken is good

    February 5, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Normon

      Hey now, we have enough problems discussing ho.mose.xuality, don't bring bestiality into it.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  14. Jonathan

    Interesting how the story left out the companies' ties to WinShape Foundation; which donates millions to anti-gay rights.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • PleezThink

      Jonathan. Is it "anti-gay rights" or pro-christian?

      February 5, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • PleezThink

      What rights are they against?

      February 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  15. Jim

    Mmmm Chick-fil-a sounds really good right now...

    February 5, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  16. Piggymama

    I don't eat there because, frankly, they are too expensive and I don't like chicken sandwiches. I'm a dollar menu type of gal. Besides, I'm pagan, so I'd probably burst into flames walking in the joint!!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  17. Oh please

    It's funny to me when people bring up Sodom and Gomorrah, yet then fail to mention that Lot afterward went up into the mountains and impregnated both of his daughters. It's also just as amusing to me when people use the word "God" as some ultimate word of Christian power, when they most likely don't know that the word 'God' originated in Sanskrit, not Hebrew ... and Sanskrit is the language of Hinduism.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • @Oh Please

      Do you even understand the story of Lot? You might want to educate yourself a little more before you criticize. It will add credence to your point.

      February 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  18. Meteorite

    Their food sucks anyway, so who cares what they do with it.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  19. H

    I've stopped eating at chick fil-a. I hope a backlash is strong enough to get them out of their expanded states and keep them in the bible belt with the rest of the religious fundies

    February 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Don't even want them here!

      February 5, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Good grief

      I'm not in the bible belt and I'll be sure to eat there more often.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  20. Emmitt Langley

    Liberals define all non-Leftists propaganda as hate speech.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.