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. Dan

    I was going to eat at the house today. Changed my mind going to CFA. I try to keep up with those who contribute to Planned Parenthood and they dont get my business. Thats my personal choice. If you dont like what CFA stands for go get yourself a sandwich from your own fridge and dont give them your business. Otherwise find something else to whine about.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  2. PleezThink

    Reproduction is not an argument used by the pro g-a -y crowd. They say that reproduction doesn't matter so you can take that one off of the table. Which opens up lots of possibilities. What about marriage to multiple people? Why would the pro g-a -y marriage crowd now support this using their same arguments?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  3. victoria

    one more reason NOT to eat there–besides their food is like cardboard

    February 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  4. Ray Jackson, MS

    These pigs donated hundreds of thousand of dollars to support the PropHate Campaign in California. Boycott them if you believe all Americans are created equal.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  5. Waterfront

    I am SO, SO SICK and TIRED of these damn GAY GROUPS WANTING MORE AND MORE ! If Chic-fil-a wants to GIVE to NON-DAMN GAY families SO BE IT ! IT IS THEIR RIGHT in the USA. I really wished all the COMPLAINING GAYS go to another country and complain ! WE ARE TIRED OF YOUR COMPLAINING ! GET OVER IT, YOUR NOT NORMAL AND NEVER WILL BE !

    February 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Dean

      I agree and think Iran would be a good place for them to move to.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Jennifer.

      So much hatred Waterfront. Is there something you are trying to suppress?

      February 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  6. AJ

    THey are private owned and can support who they want to. They can give money to who they want. I love their food. Hate they aren't open on Sunday. But you have to respect a business that stands by values. If you have none or don't share theirs don't spend money there. They will still thrive.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  7. Jouelle

    I often take my child to Chick-fil-a. The food is alway fresh and the restaurant, including the play place, is always clean. They don't try to charge extra for sauces and ration napkins, (unlike McDonalds.). There are health food choices such as fresh fruit and salads. The manager always stops by our table to make sure things are all right. The staff always stops by with offers of refills and tray removal. If this is an example of a Christian run business all I can say is more businesses should be run by Christians.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  8. donna

    is'nt it a good christian to feed and help another person no matter who needs the help

    February 5, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Matt

      Yes, but what's your point?

      February 5, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  9. Tim Lucas

    It's a privately held company – it's their prerogative who they give their money to! If you don't like it – don't eat there!

    February 5, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • LOVEChickFilA!

      Amen! And to those who don't like what they stand for... don't let the door hit you where the Good Lord split you!!!

      February 6, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  10. PleezThink

    @K Dear K. What if the siblings don't have children. Then it would be ok by your reasoning wouldn't it?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  11. Matt

    Damn, why does culture war have to be so delicious 🙁

    February 5, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  12. HUH!

    Ah...Religion...the best way to politics and Business...well done...jobnuts!!

    February 5, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  13. Couch Pundit

    Really? This is a controversy? Vote with your dollars. Don't go if you feel that strongly about it. But, if you want to go to a place that's actually kept clean, has great service, with decent food, patronize their establishments. If you start splitting hairs with people's personal beliefs, you're going to end up with a Nixon-esque enemies list. There's far bigger problems in the world to worry about other than who gives free food to whom. Vilifying everyone who differs in their political and social beliefs is a waste of your time and energy. Life your life well and don't be a jerk.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  14. NA

    Eat More Chicken!

    February 5, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  15. Mary

    Wow! There's a Chick-fil-A in New York City? How did I not know that. Woo-hoo! Grabbing coat and heading down to NYU . . .

    February 5, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  16. RWL

    I am a Christian and probably support and donate to organizations that other Christians do not support. The key is giving and supporting and then recognizing and respecting that we are all free to choose. I have no idea what Chick-fil-A's policy is on giving but I sure appreciate that they have a policy on giving and even though I spend several months each year visiting my grandsons in South Georgia, I'm sure glad they have a location near my home in California. How about that peach milkshake!

    February 5, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  17. Josh

    I have no problem with any type of support this company does, because they don't interfere at all with my choices. I enjoy their food, and find it a good value. I would certainly not stop going there, because some gay group is grossly overreacting.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  18. bills41

    I eat at Chick fil a because I like their food. Also, all fast food chains should take a lesson from Chick's staff. Always polite, always trying to make sure that you are pleased with their product and service.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  19. honestly

    Who cares? Gay people are awesome and all but who gives a f^%&...chick-fil-a is delicious. Why try to limit their freedom of choice? Bunch of commies...

    February 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  20. comment avenger

    Mormons are not Christians. Their system of belief is radically different than historical Christianity. That they call themselves the Church of Jesus Christ makes them all the more dangerous as a cult.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:21 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.