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. star

    The country that offers the same freedom that allows gay rights activists to speak their mind and demand respectful treatment must also allow the rights of those who espouse a different perspective, and to donate food or money to whomever they please. Why special interest groups lose sight of that baffles me. To them it is only a free country if they can bully their agenda into play? please. Who cares whether chickfila gave food to a group that is so called anti-gay. It is their food, and their right. To demand otherwise spits in the face of the freedom that allows fringe groups to be heard in the first place.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  2. kevin

    i wish there were more chik fil a's in NJ

    February 5, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  3. Cruzader

    Having worked for them during their media image, I think I know the "inner beast. " They act like a "cult"with criteria of hypocrites and a long tail covered with dark secrets.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  4. Kyle

    Great work Cathy family, it's high time people stand up and stick to who they are instead of being swept away in delusion and criticism. This made me hungry and I'll be heading there shortly. 🙂

    February 5, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  5. Fedupwithitall

    Bottom line, if you don't like what company is doing, then don't spend your money there. It's the biggest impact you can have. If you want to be gay, then be gay. That's your choice. Just quit shoving it down my throat(no pun intended), I'm tired of it. I'm tired of hearing how you are offended constantly. I'm offended by a lot of things and I have to deal with it. So pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and get on with your life. Christians do NOT hate Muslims either. Americans hate Muslims becuase of 19 men on Sept. 11, 2001. The Muslim faith impacted the entire world that day. Muslims brought it on themselves because they hate Americans and anyone who does not belive in Islam. I've been to the mid-east and most people there do seem to be very happy. Gee, I wonder why. Gay people do not bother me except that for the most part, I HAVE to accept them. No, I don't. That's my choice. I can live in peace with you except that again, gay's insist that I accept them. Does that mean I have to be gay to accept you? That's what the gay groups portray any more. I'm not gay, not going to be gay and I'm going to eat at Chick Filet as much as I can. I like the product. Chick Filet, hold the line. And I bet if any one else was in need, they would help them too. It's a Christian thing to do.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  6. Peter

    Everyone wants to talk about how Chik-Fil-A has the right to give their donations to whomever they wish to, but the gay rights activist also have the right to express their feelings on the act of the company making those donations.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  7. Major Havoc

    I am a liberal atheist. On most occasions, I agree with my gay/lesbian friends. However, they are off target on this one. Private companies can spend their profits as they see fit – period. I am pretty sure Chick-Fil-A's board of directors considered this already.

    Strangely enough, their protest/boycott will have the opposite effect. Even more Christians and people like myself (someone with no political agenda other than treating all people with courtesy and respect) will flock to their stores and "eat mooo..rr chiken" til the cows come home.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  8. detroitjames

    I don't have a problem with anyone's personal beliefs, but when your public comment includes references to what 'the bible' says, I lose a lot of respect and trust in that company. I can't trust a company who bases their business decisions on mythology.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • @detroitjames

      Just as referring to the Bible as mythology is your personal OPINION. I don't agree with you, but respect your right to your OPINION.

      February 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Bill Clinton

      Then don't eat there.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  9. Kyle

    Absolutely love that someone is willing to stick to the core of who they are and not get swept away into the wave of delusion and bow to the demands of organizations who will cry foul and bigotry for simply taking a stand. It's high time somebody stood up and didn't fold under the pressure of trying not to "offend". The point is not to be against people, but to stand for truth, even when you're hated. And on top of it all... this made me hungry so I'll be heading there in a few. Keep up the good work Cathy family!!

    February 5, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  10. Kyle

    My brother works at a Chic fil a and there was a gay man that worked there and never had a complaint about being treated differently. Can I say it is a crime against humanity if someone says that they are anti-gun and against people who own guns and donates money to organizations that are anti-gun? It is called Freedom of Speech fellas and Jesus Chicken donating $ to whoever it wants is their business, not yours or mine and whoever you love is your business...and God's. C'mon Man!!!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  11. Patrick

    Could somebody please explain how donating the processed, unhealthy, dead bodies of factory farmed chickens to a group fighting to deny the rights of people who love each other to marry is anything but the work of Satan?

    February 5, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  12. MikeBell

    Why do the Muslims get a free pass on its doctrine concerning Gays?
    The secular elite must be afraid of them.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Joe

      The liberal mentality is all about rebelling against perceived authorities. Christianity is the dominant religion in the US, hence it receives the brunt of the attacks. They'll defend Muslim affairs to the death while foaming at the mouth about who some privately owned, Christian-oriented restaurant chain donated food to. lol....

      February 6, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  13. PleezThink

    @ASW. You shouldn't pass a law obviously, by your reasoning, banning marriage to pets.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Informed Consent... Animals cannot consent to marriage, neither can children.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  14. Wendy

    All of you who are sayng that if gays don't like Chick fi-a they shouldn't eat there. I absolutely agree but I also think that this will bring much more attention to the company, and those of us who don't want to support a company that discriminates will also not eat there. Maybe there are enough people who don't care and will continue to eat there and it won't impact their bottom line, maybe not. We'll see.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  15. Magic


    "@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."

    Don't be paranoid. There is an auto-filter here which flags certain words (or word fragments within words). It is stupid, yes, but conspiratorial, no.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • PleezThink

      @Magic. Thanks Magic. That makes sense but I dobut if I used any of those words. I'm not flamming or calling names or anything. It would really appear to be based on ideology. I could be wrong however. I'll try to keep my thoughts clean. Thanks though for the help.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  16. PleezThink

    @ASW, I love my Mom. Should there be a law allowing marriage to a parent? After all, I do need to share my benefits.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "I love my Mom. Should there be a law allowing marriage to a parent? After all, I do need to share my benefits."

      First, you might want to see someone about your relationship with your mother. Second, there are genetic problems with such pairing i.e. inbreeding. Third, even without genetic problems there are still problems with inequality of power in the relationship, I think it's called "undue influence" in the legal system.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  17. Dan

    good article...I respect them now more than before. Way to go CFA!

    February 5, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  18. autom

    Technically, the bible isn't just against gays, in Leviticus, it says they are to be put to death. So, I wanted to thank (modern) Christians for ignoring their "god" and knowing better than to do such a horrid thing. Now, if only they could apply critical thinking to concept of gods in the first place.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • PleezThink

      @autom. Interesting. So you think that it makes more sense that matter just created itself?

      February 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  19. Ronno

    They are already scary enough the way they (very successfully) indoctrinate kids. That darn cow is at their schools, in parades, everywhere.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  20. Dennis Brown

    Mormons are not Christians. My daughter recently had a positive experience dining at a Chik-Fil-A with her infant daughter. I seriously doubt if she was black she would have gotten the same treatment. Discrimination is discrimination. Shame of them.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • PleezThink

      @Dennis Brown. I love it when people assign motives and morals based on their own ignorance. Your statement is as ignorant as if I said "lucky it wasn't a male child at a gay joint, I doubt it if he would have made it out of there without being sodomized". Now wouldn't that be ignorant? But for some reason, you think that your statement has merit.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I've disagreed with most of your comments here, but this one is spot on. I totally agree.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:25 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.