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. PleezThink

    @ProudBeliever. Your post probably doesnt' fit their world view. They can't believe that anyone would have some view besides the standard liberal line. If you "think differently", then you must be hating on someone, not just expressing a different point of view.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  2. CommonSense

    This agnostic eats at chic fil a because they have the best fast food around. I don't like that they support groups opposed to gay rights, but they make the best nuggests and lemonade around so I'll keep eating there!

    February 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  3. Ron

    Every idiot has an opinion. Chick-fil-A should remain true to its convictions. It is not a publicly traded company, so there is even less reason to compromise. If they don't like you, they can go to hell. If they DO succeed in changing you, you will have lost everything.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  4. Ken

    I love Chik-Fil-A even more!

    February 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  5. richard

    both sides have the same rights.
    i trust the gay community a heck of a lot more than christians.
    character does not come from a book.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  6. Brent

    The truly funny thing is that a group that represents less than 2% of the population is dominating public policy. Let's prove 2 things. If evolution exists, and if people are born gay, then load them up, seperate by male and female of course, and put them on isolated islands with a defense system to prevent escape or visitors. Go back in 100 years and see how many people are on the island. Sounds like a scientifc way to end all the controversy.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  7. Brownie

    I don't want to be all in your face about it just don't shove it down my throat you know? don't be a pain in my ass, I wouldn't like that 😛

    February 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  8. Hooray Chick-fil-a

    It's wonderful there are still those who are strong enough in their faith to truly stand up for what they believe, regardless how the winds of political correctness blow. God's Word speaks a timeless message – Mr. Cathy hears that message and his witness shines in a world filled with so much hatred and wrongness. Love for a sinner is NOT discrimination.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • just sayin

      There was a time when black rights was viewed as political correctness. Christians have always been at the front fighting against liberty and freedom. The Southern Christians fought against civil rights for blacks.......so are we really surprised. Christian intolerance in the name of their God is fading...slowly but it is fading.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  9. JMcLintock

    Why should anyone care who they give food/etc too. Sounds like toddlers throwing a hissy fit because they couldn't get their way. Not interested in doing what's right or wrong, just their way. Silly children, grow up. Start a fund/restaurant and give food to whomever you so desire. After all it's your American, fought for, paid in blood right.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  10. queue

    They don't have a Chick-fll-A where I live, but next time I go to the US, I'll make a point to go there given all of the positive comments about their food and the fact that the owners live our their faith in the way they conduct their business. Keep pumping out this dribble (or news or whatever you wish to call this) CNN and keep up the troll posts – they're great ads for what seems like a great franchise. By the way, don't gay marriage supporters have anything better to do than to go on witchhunts against chicken franchises? I would have thought that the big banks that lost billions for people including many gay couples or the oil companies that pollute the environment would be more sensible targets for some of these chronic whiners.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Deborah


      August 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • just sayin

      By the way, don't gay marriage supporters have anything better to do than to go on witchhunts against chicken franchises?
      I hear you bro. Didnt the civil rights supporters have better things to do than go after Southern people who viewed blacks as 2nd class citizens? Seriously don't people have better thngs to do than fight people who wish to control other peope'es lives and pursuit of liberty. What is our country coming to!

      August 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  11. Kana

    Chick-fil-A has the right to donate food, funds or support to any group or organization they choose. Just as you have the choice whether to eat there or not. It's only in employment where there are not free to discriminate.
    We need to get back to common sense and denounce political correctness.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  12. Travis Bicke

    Wasn't Jesus gay? I mean, he was single & he hung around with 12 guys all the time...

    February 5, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      OK I'll break the silence and bite....NO he wasn't! You don't read the bible, do you?

      February 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  13. curzen

    Given that I don't share Chick-fil-a's faith and values while being in opposition to causes they sponsor I simply take my business elsewhere. It's quite simple really. Just vote with your money.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  14. PleezThink

    @ASW. If you are for passing laws allowing gay marriage, then obviously, you would be in favor of passing laws allowing polygamy right?

    February 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • curzen

      it's simply contract law. If someone can hammer out the details I don't see why it should be anyones but the involved parties business what they are doing. Any adult can lawfully enter into contracts with as many parties of whatever gender as they like. It doesn't even impact me or my life what they are doing.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  15. John

    I have refused to eat there for a while. I am not having my money eventually support something that would hurt gay rights. Its too bad, Chick-fil-A had really great food.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Deborah

      Shoot, the food is good. If they didn't want me in there, I'd send somebody in there to get it for me. :o)

      August 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  16. Rob

    You people do know that Chick Fil A franchises, right? Even if you disagree with giving free food to someone you disagree with (what?!) it's one franchisee that's made that decision, not the whole company. I don't like when Christians target gays and I don't like when gays target Christians. Both are wrong. This seems like more of the latter. Like I said, it was one operator in Pennsylvania's decision to give the free food. It seems like it's a firestorm coming from the gay community. (I'm still amazed that people are outraged that the operator gave free food to someone they disagree with.... So, does McDonalds have to worry now if they give $1 gift certificates to their local Boy Scouts??)

    February 5, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  17. Bryan

    I'm torn – on the one hand, I'm an atheist, and any contemporary definition of 'marriage' that only includes a man and a woman is comical, backward, and offensive.

    On the other hand – oh my nonexistent god! The chicken is delicious. What to do, what to do...

    February 5, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  18. Nally

    Why does not being supportive of gay marriage make you a gay "hater"? You don't approve of something so that makes you "hate" it? I fail to see the logic.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  19. Another miriacle

    It's a chicken sandwich for Christ's sake!!

    February 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  20. Matt J.

    GREAT Response by Chic-fil-A that's so frequently forgotten. Just becuase Chritians choose not to agree with a "worldly" view does not mean we do not, love, respect and apprecite the people they are and the choices they choose to make. I don't agree with some comments here and others can not agree with mine – that's all good. As for me and my house we choose to follow God.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:28 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.