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. scarlet101

    Why in the world would you ever eat there anyway?? It is fast food, and fast food is disgusting and horrible for you! YUCK!!

    February 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  2. dude

    Oh god.. Christians .. stop be so retarded, and gay people stop being so dramatic. don't eat there if you dont want. Gay people and republicans will do anything to make controversy.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  3. Angel

    Chick-fil-a can donate food to whoever they please – if you don't like it, don't eat there! They're not refusing food to gay people, thus not discriminating, so what's the issue?

    February 5, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  4. Terry

    When you ask to revoke the tax exempt status of houses of worship it is likely many will need to stop providing billions of dollars worth of feeding programs, health care, mental health services, community redevelopment programs, job training for handicapped people, emergency housing for homeless youth, etc. Then who will pay for these services? You and I will through higher taxes as the government has all these programs – and much more – dumped into their lap. Think again about such draconian measures. Your hate is blinding you.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  5. LeeCMH

    The hateful Christians try to pass laws limiting freedom and equal protection under the law, but as soon as they are exposed and criticized, they begin nailing themselves to their crosses. They want to take your money, but exercise the power of government to beat you into submission.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  6. John

    More like Hate-Fil-A. Heyoooooooooo

    February 5, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  7. Genki!

    I think LGBT groups can ironically be some of the most intolerant groups out there. Don't eat there. The pocketbook is more powerful than the protester.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  8. Steve

    The real story should be why people would eat this garbage food.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  9. Mel

    Way to go chic-fil-a stand by your guns. Just because someone CHOOSES to be gay does not mean that they have the right to cram it down everyones throat. If they don't want to eat at chic-fil-a thats OK with me. I will eat there.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  10. gfgfdgfdgf

    I really don't care, I have yet to find a better run fast food restaurant. Always great service and food.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  11. Badger

    The problem with the whole gay marriage issue is that many states offered civil unions that provide equal protection under the law, but that was not good enough. The extreme gay agenda wants it called "marriage". They want the definition of a word, and long held tradition redefined to suite them; ergo, what they are really wanting is not acceptance, but approval. Sorry folks, put on your big girl and boy undies and get used to the fact that other people do not have to approve of you. It is their right not to do so. The absense of approval in not discrimination.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  12. arnold

    Why is it not a news worthy article when gay owned or gay friendly establishments or franchises do not donate to organizations that are anti-gay, or do not support gay marriage? This just shows the hypocrisy of the "news" outlets.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  13. ItSOnLyME

    It's nasty, deep fried, greasy, disgusting "food". Why would anybody go there in the first place, "Christian" or not? Why not eat something that's actually good for you instead of crap dished out by Fast Food Inc? No thanks. Keep your prayer groups and your greasy chicken.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  14. EAC

    The above is, for the most part, a good healthy debate and a reflection of an open society in action. Chick-fil-A can donate to whatever legal cause or group they want and the public can react by either supporting them, refusing to eat their food or protesting them. Marketplace of ideas - are you buy or selling and do you want fries with that?

    February 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  15. steve

    I find all the comments about how liberals are intolerant because they have a problem with a company that appears to support intolerance amusing. It is fair to say that liberals are intolerant of those who would deny others equal treatment, but that is not a contradiction of their values it is an affirmation. Chick-fil-a or anyone else is welcome to express and support their views, but they do have to accept the consequences, one of which is that some of us may choose not to do business with them and to publicize our view that is in disagreement with them.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  16. Eduardz

    Whew, I'm just glad to know that god is OK with fast food chain stores. I was starting to worry.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Mercury6

      Why would he not be, he gets his people back faster if they eat fast food.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  17. arnold

    Why is it not a new story when gay owned franchises don't donate to organizations that oppose gay rights or gay marriage? It just shows the hypocrisy of the "news" outlets.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  18. Mikie

    As an openly gay man that works at CFA, i find all this silly. The company gave to an organization that is against gay marriage, that does not mean CFA is against gay marriage. I am sure every group one gives support too has some agenda that may be disagreeable to the donor.
    They gave to help – that is the real point.
    I am treated VERY well by CFA and support them as an employer and the groups they help.
    If you have a problem with a company, then feel free to not buy their wares.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  19. Vincent

    It's hard to resist their food, its so good, but I typically don't spend my money there. Not only do I try to avoid doing business with those who are openly religious, but I like to sit down when I eat, even fast food, and I can't sit and enjoy my food in a restaurant that has Christian music playing.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  20. phoobaria

    Look at another restaurant which prints "John 3:16" under the rim of the bottom of their cup..."In-n-Out Burger". The biggest difference between Chick-fil-a and In-n-Out is the region of the country they started from. Chicken place from the Bible Noose and In-n-Out from California. Chick closes on Sunday and In does their best business on Sunday's. Anyway...Chick's food is expensive and available only in malls. In's food...free standing restaurants which are always packed...even before their stated opening times.

    Beware of any business owner from the Bible Noose who mentions "Christian DNA". It means anything which doesn't totally agree with their fundamentalist beliefs is automatically evil. By reading between the lines of the current company president's response...if you don't like how we do it...we're a private fundamentalist business...so bend over and enjoy it. We're not going to change or care what you think.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:15 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.