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. DrBob

    Check your facts before you speak. The Bible says the "love" of money is the root of all evil, not money itself. Big difference.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  2. CSh

    I personally think the only laws made by government should be those to insure the good order and functioning of society. Any issue having to do with morality or God's will should be regulated by religion. If religions enforced their own rules I would expect we would have either a more moral society – or more atheists 😉 I also think governments should recognize and regulate legal domestic partnerships – and leave ALL 'marriage' to religion. If they want the word – let them have it. Religions don't enforce their own rules anyway.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  3. PleezThink

    Sorry Bob, I'm trying to reply but my posts keep getting sent way up the discussion so that they are not at the bottom of the page, instead, they're way up where you have to look for them. Sorry too for the redundancy on some of the posts. I figured that if I tried again with a slighly different wording then it might appear in chronolgical order.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  4. Joel

    Who really cares? I go to Chick-Fil-A for FOOD. What the owners believe in and so on shouldn't matter. Oh, plus their chicken is amazing.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  5. Hollie

    Exactly... Who are they attacking?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  6. dogstar44

    I like my lunches without a side of Jesus. Religion has no place in business, just like it has not place in politics. but again, the separation of church and state is a myth. Jesus lovers push their agenda everywhere they can.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      This is a PRIVATE COMPANY!! by your rationale:
      1. No religion in school
      2. No religion in government (although Obama just proclaimed he IS a Christian)
      3. No religion in business (private or otherwise)
      4. No religion in churches
      5. No religion in PRIVATE HOMES
      6. No religion!

      No thanks but thanks or the offer!

      February 5, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Craig

      Oh good lord, this is a private company you idiot. Do you actually say things of consequence or just copy/paste rants you have written down for when you troll forums?

      February 6, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  7. PleezThink

    What about parents. Would it be ok to marry ones parent?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  8. PleezThink

    Sorry Bob. I thought that it was still illegal for cousins to marry.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  9. PleezThink

    @Bob. Sorry Bob, I thought that it was still illegal for cousins to marry. How about polygamy? Would that be ok while we are redefining marriage?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  10. rightinflorida

    I love chick-fil-a. I love their food. My 16 year old son works for them and are wonderful to him. We would do well to have more companies out there of the same character and quality. Fight on my friends!

    February 5, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  11. PleezThink

    Using the pro g-a-y marriage logic, couldn't three people get married to each other?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  12. Dr. Trout

    Eat more chick'n

    February 5, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  13. PleezThink

    Does the pro g-a-y marriage crowd support the marriage of multiple partners?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  14. Dean

    Going to Chick-fiel-A for dinner. The food is yummy and it drives the anti-Christian crowd crazy.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Ficheye

      No you are not going there funny man. And remember, the bible was written by people who thought the earth was flat. And if jesus is actually god, why did he allow himself to be crucified? That's like committing suicide. And we know that christians don't believe in that.

      So, if you are going to go have some chicken ( and no, the chicken didn't come before the egg), ask some of the good people who work there to help unravel the mystery of it all.

      February 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  15. bob

    pleezthink, I dont know where you live, but I've never heard of someone wanting to marry their cousins for obvious reasons. However theoretically speaking if a pair of cousins wanted to be together I dont think we could stop them. Futhermroe if they live together throughout their lifespan why should we not give them the same rights as a married couples receive? just a thought.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I think, cousin-cousin relationships were quite common at one time and not unheard of today. Usually there are laws against it in the interest of the children, i.e. inbreeding.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  16. Cedar Tree

    Always cracks me up – the gurus of the gay community, who wants marriage rights that have never been granted in thousands of years of human history, can't stand when someone exercises their 1st amendment rights to, oh the horror, have an opinion that differs from them.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Jennifer.

      It's one thing to have an opinion. It is completely another thing to discriminate and oppress.

      February 5, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  17. Anne Onamis

    Why eat Chick-fil-A's unhealthy, crappy food in the first place? Meh.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  18. 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 wouldn't the pro g-a -y marriage crowd now support this using their same arguments?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  19. Fuzzynormal

    Private company. It can do what it wants and the marketplace can decide what it wants to do likewise. Personally, I'm not going to give them my business.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  20. bob

    I also like the quote "Business is created because of the tyranny of nature."

    February 5, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
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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.