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. Steve

    The article claims that Chick-fil-A just began moving beyond the Deep South in the past decade. Rubbish. I first ate at a Chick-fil-A in Dayton, Ohio in 1988. Hardly the "Deep South". BTW, great food. I always make a point of eating at one whenever I travel to a place that has them, and am eagerly awaiting an expansion into Wisconsin.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  2. NotaPoster

    So what? Let the business go as he want. Chick-fil-A doesn't support gay marriage? count me in! I already drew my line on what's acceptable and not, gays are a mental problem in my book, and just because they are not categorized as so due to external pressure doesn't meant it's correct. People need to really think about it to realize it's a discrepancy that if accepted will open up doors that should be locked

    February 5, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Jennifer.

      Then don't post your ignorant, hateful comments!!

      February 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  3. cyberia

    To Gretchen:
    You hope they go out business? You really do? - Dream on, my friend 🙂 Never gonna happen 🙂 Their food is too good and too many people like it!

    As to this tempest in a tea pot regarding them donating money to an anti-gay organization: as a private company, they have every right to donate their money as they choose and to whom they choose. End of story.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  4. Kreamowheat

    What?!?! Who cares who they donate money to. They are a business in the US and they are allowed to choose who they donate money to. Thats how America works and if you don't like it, get out! I hate these stupid liberal groups complaining about one thing after another. I 110% support chick-fil-a!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  5. Downtown Guy

    So... let me get this correct... if they were giving money to the KKK everybody would be OK with that because they are a "Privately Held Corporation"?

    I kinda' doubt that.

    The civil rights fight of he 50's and 60's is no different from the civil rights fight going on right now for equality for gay men and women.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Jason

      If they were giving to the KKK, I would't eat there. It's up to you as a consumer to decide if they're truly supporting hate on that scale, and if so, don't eat there.

      Not every one is so fired up about making gay marriage the norm that they'd boycott a place whose food they enjoy. If you are, then go ahead and do so. Maybe if enough people do it, they'll notice, but ultimately the only effect will be to keep Chik-Fil-A restaurants within the "bible belt."

      February 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  6. bux

    No good deed goes unpunished! They DONATE food, and then have to justify WHY they gave it to that particular group. Instead of crying...why not donate an equal amount to a charity of your choice? It's b/c it's easier to cry about what someone else is doing than to do something yourself.

    ....bunch of putzs....they'll do nothing but cry.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  7. star

    Wow. I made a comment saying the us honors free rights both ways, and it never appeared. No idea why but it is unnerving.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  8. primafacie

    Well of course Chick-fil-A has a right to donate food to whomever they want. But people also have a right to boycott the company because they don't want to support an enterprise that donates to groups that promote discrimination. *shrug* This article is helpful because it's good for people to be educated about the company's policies so that they can decide if they want to buy food from the company or not.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  9. jane

    Good for Chick-fil-A! I love their food and will continue to buy from them.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  10. bajadelmar

    Anyone that supports equal rights for everyone and against oppression, religious or otherwise, should boycott Chick-fil-A. After their support for prop H8 I'll never eat there again.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  11. Sandy

    Human Rights Campaign/Indiana University-South Bend...it seems to me that the only ones trying to force people to change to their way of thinking is you. The only thing Chick-fil-A appears to be guilty of doing is serving really good food...and donating money to someone that they want to donate money to. As far as I know–and I am not a lawyer here–with them behing a privately owned company, that is completely within their legal rights...just as it is within yours to boycott them by not eating there. But to say that they don't have any right to donate money to someone just because they do not believe the way you do is wrong and is worse than what you are accusing them of doing. Don't agree with them...don't eat there. Christians usually do that when they don't agree with companies donating money to groups that do not follow their spiritual convictions, don't they? So...why don't you do that...boycott them. But again...to expect CFA to change just to please you and espouse your beliefs is worse than what you are accusing them of doing.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  12. Bubba

    Homer Simpson was right. Jews, Muslims and Christians may not always get along, but we all agree on one thing. Chicken is delicious.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  13. JohnnyNmbr5

    everyone not agree with their christian views yet we can all agree their sandwichs are heavenly

    February 5, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  14. adb

    Are you serious? The attacks on Chick-fil-lay are unfounded. Gay rights groups are no better than the groups they appose. They try to shut up anyone who thinks differently than they do. I find this deplorible.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Sammo

      Yeah this is just ridiculous. The gay crusades are in full swing.

      February 6, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  15. Randy

    I would love for my daughter or wife to have the chance to be employed by a company such as Chick-fil-A. Being surrounded by others with high spiritual values. Surrounded by those who have a general love for others. Surrounded by those who are upbeat in thier views on life. That's the type of crowd I desire to see my family share in. Good Work Chick-fil-A. I'll support you all of the the way!

    February 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  16. Joshua Ludd

    The problem isn't Chick-fil-A's christian beliefs... its their support for a group that wants their view of marriage enshrined in law in a way that would discriminate against those they don't approve of. I doubt you will find many who have a problem with Chick-fil-A BEING a christian company.. its not their beliefs, its the actions they take based on them.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Jason

      Who you are is not defined by what you claim to believe but by what you do. Integrity is matching your actions to your beliefs, and that's apparetly what Chik-Fil-A is doing and has done, by supporting certain groups, by closing their restaurants on Sundays, and so on.

      The wonderful thing about living in a free, liberal democracy is that you don't have to support Chik-Fil-A. Don't like their corporate behavior? Don't eat there.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  17. Alec

    CNN with more liberal propaganda. This is a non-issue. Chick-Fil-A is a class act in the USA.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  18. Guariglia

    It's both funny and sad that this story has generated such controversy and passionate arguments. I'm not really sure why it's a news story – private company chooses to make a donation based on their core beliefs, this upsets some people and they choose to boycott the product. It's really just freedom of speech and the free market working as they're supposed to. I caution all of those who are boycotting to consider this – gays are denied the right to marriage from others. On top of that, you are now going to deny yourselves the right to eat Chick-fil-A's delicious sandwiches? That's lose-lose. Seriously people, those things are awesome. The real story – how does a piece of chicken, a few pickles, and a bun, without any sauce, taste so good?

    February 5, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Sigh

      I was boycotting Chic-fail-A all this time and I didn't even know it. I just thought they had *terrible* chicken sandwiches. Pickles? Really? On Chicken? No. I'm sorry. That's just not right. I'm taking a firm stand against pickles on chicken sandwiches and it starts right here!

      February 6, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  19. nick

    I think cows should be boycotting this chain. Their advertising is definitely dergatory toward cows suggesting that the bovine species has literacy issues.

    February 5, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • ChickFilaSandwhich


      February 5, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  20. pdb

    I am going to eat their food every day for the rest of my life!

    February 5, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Although I love their food and support their stance, you are a bigger...make that WILL BE a bigger man than me! 🙂

      February 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • MoreChicken

      The food they donated to the anti-gay group, was it nuggets? Or meat between buns?

      February 5, 2011 at 4:09 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.