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. Pinewalker

    3000 posts later....Holy Cow people love to hear themselves talk!

    February 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  2. Tony

    @ Hani "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you....... "(Matthew 6:44) and "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1Jn 5:8). Hate's a pretty strong word. Christians are called to Love.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  3. TheGolden1

    Chick-fil-a you donate to whomever you choose. How dare anyone tell you who you should donate to. Instead they shouldget on their hands and knees and thank God that a corporation is donating. The liberal nerve is astounding.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  4. bo

    Chick-fil-a has the right to run their business anyway they see fit, but they will never get my business as long as they maintain the current theology.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  5. Justin Lowry

    Woe, Beast Baraq (lightning) Bamah (Ez 20:29). Woe America Mother of Harlots. Luke 10:18 And I beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven. Magormissabib. Anathema Maranatha.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  6. abby

    If you don't agree with their policies and procedures then boycott them. Very simple. There are plenty of restaurants in America. On the other hand, I am sure the employees like the fact that they have Sunday off. At least they know they will have one day out of the weekend that they don't have to work. Also, I have heard high praise from employees who say that they are treated extremely well. My understanding is that the company has a very high retention rate compared to other fast food restaurants. So, it's very simple. Don't like the policies? Don't eat there; don't work there.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  7. Dave

    Honest question: why can't you just sell food like any other restaurant and leave God out? If Chick-fil-A is so worried about their image then just need to stick to the bottom line of selling chicken.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Good grief

      Seriously, why can't people just buy food like they do at any other restaurant and not worry about the politics of the matter? They're a privately owned company. They can do whatever they want.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  8. chefmommyof2

    Good for them. They have the right to donate their money to whomever they please. People scream for "their rights" in this country. What about this business' right to donate THEIR money to whomever THEY chose. We scream for our "rights" and ackowledge the "rights" of others until their (others) ideas don't coincide with our own. Then it becomes a silly news article. Agree to disagree. It is nobody's business who Chick Fila gives their money to. If you don't like what the company stands for, find your chicken elsewhere.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Lindsay


      February 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Normon

      Would you feel the same if they donated to Planned Parenthood?

      February 5, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • chefmommyof2

      Yes I would feel the same. They can give their money to whomever they please. Agree or not, it is not my place to judge them or my right to tell them who to give their money to. Your example of planned parenthood...If someone wanted to donate money to them, that is their choice. I may disagree, but regardless of my personal views, it is not my job to tell someone else what to do with their money. It is also not my job, your job or anyone else's job to judge another person's beliefs, Christian or not (and I do NOT mean that in any sarcastic way). I believe in God, so my view is that it is HIS job. We earn our money, and nobody has any right to tell us what to do with it. We may make choices that are distasteful to others, but in the long run, it doesn't matter. It is nobody's business.

      February 5, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  9. ProfessorDJF

    This whole thing illustrates the hypocrisy involved. Chick-fil-a's food is among the worst of the junk food. For example, the salt content of its coatings is through the roof – way over generally accepted healthful d levels. So here we have a company claiming to have Christian values while it provides unhealthful food to its patrons. (It will surely deny responsibility for the many health problems they'll have as a result of their high-sodium diets.) Whenever I hear a commercial organization claiming to have a religious affiliation, no matter how subtle, I run away as fast as I can.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • greenbird321

      seriously? LOL. that's the angle you're taking? wow...

      February 5, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  10. Yes I. Would

    Chick-fil-A is awesome! Always fast and over the top courteous service, although the stores and the drive-thrus are usually packed. You won't find a better chicken sandwich in the business and you know what, in the 35 plus years that I've eaten at Chick-fil-A, not once can I ever remember having my order botched. Including the last 10 years ordering for a family of 5 all at the same time. I can't say that ANY other fast food chain. Enough said.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  11. Ed

    I wonder what Pat Robertson ois saying now about his chicken business. I hope they are all picketed and shut down. I like chicken but refuse to let any of his foul past my lips. This gay guy would rather pluck his feathers than give you any money you foul scratch.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  12. nepawoods

    I've never eaten there, but now I'll have to try it. I'd like to support those being opposed by intolerant special interest groups for no good reason.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  13. indboo

    Kudos to Chick-fil-A. They are privately owned, and can donate funds or gifts-in-kind (food) to whomever they want. Gays cannot claim the moral high ground and insist that their views are the "correct" views. Just because someone doesn't believe in gay marriage, that doesn't mean they hate gays. It is terribly hypocritical how progressives and gays harp on about tolerance, yet have no tolerance whatsoever for christian-based values. They would rather insist that Chick-fil-A host the next half-dressed Rainbow Gay Pride parade and serve mixed drinks with their sandwiches.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  14. DVG

    Guess I'll have to eat there more often.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  15. Justin Observation

    Chickens breed out of wedlock.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  16. Parkerman

    Who cares if a company donates to cause that promotes traditional marriage. As long as they don't discriminate anyone who comes into their resturant and continues to treat everyone with respect. What right does the Human rights organization have to get involved with no human rights have been violated by this company. I really respect this company for standing up for its principles and their right to demonstrate that belief. Their are many other resturants that cater to only certian races or beliefs that they aren't under fire. No group should be able to force moraility or non-morality on anyone.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Normon

      Would you feel the same if they supported the Muslim Brotherhood or Al-Qaida?

      February 5, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  17. Joe

    Ugh, I really loathe religion. It's honestly what's at the bottom of this. Gays would be able to marry if people didnt follow this Christian agenda. Pick up a Darwin book and realize how bogus the Bible is.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Lefty Ehud

      Faith has been a part of human civilization since Adam and Eve, or humans evolved from single celled organisms. Religion offers the stability and balance that can offset life's difficult periods. Being a Christian does not make me delusional or a fanatic, it make me a person who has a faith in something greater than myself and all other life. That faith goes with me in all that I see and do. When I die I may just die and all the evolutionist would be right. I'd rather have a faith in an all knowing and all powerful God to guide me through this life. As far as Darwin I would encourage you to read "A Case for a Creator" by Lee Strobel. He was an atheist who research creation to find its "holes." He came away a devout believer in God. Joe, what do you have to lose by reading one book? You may be right with Darwin, but what if my beliefs are correct? Do you want to take that chance. God Bless you Joe.

      February 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • b&d

      so joe, lets put our faith in a drop out and in an unproven theory instead of proven facts. how's it working out for ya? ya know what's worst than a blind person, someone who doesn't want to see. there are scientists that don't believe in evolution even after yrs of studying it. it's true what B Franklin said... "common sense is the least common of all senses"... you are proof of that

      February 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  18. an angry man

    Everyone believes in free speech and freedom of choice, but when Christians have free speech and choose to live their lives their own way, then they're wrong. Free speech and choice should work for everyone, not just the gay / liberal / left wingers who want to push their agenda and lifestyle on everyone. People that believe in traditional values have a right to speak their mind and donate to whoever they want.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  19. Name (required)

    This Jesus guy sounds like a jerk!

    February 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • MommaC07

      Lets see how you respond when you see him face to face one day.

      February 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • larryclyons

      Lets see how you respond when you see him face to face one day.
      If that happens, which I seriously doubt, I would tell him such to his face. I'd also take him to task regarding his really obnoxious and fanatical followers.

      February 6, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  20. Normon

    Thanks for the article.
    Chick-fil-A has every right to support whatever organization they want to, but I for one will not eat there again.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:02 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.