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. OpenDog

    No biggie.I just eat my Sunday lunch in a Gay-Fil-A.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  2. Kevin

    As someone who is neither Christian nor gay, I can understand why gays might be offended and Chick-Fil-A giving to a notably anti-gay group. That said, Chick-Fil-A has the legal right to do so since it is privately operated. Doesn't mean I approve of it, as I personally support the gays in this situation, but as a matter of law, I and all others who disagree with this decision by Chick-Fil-A have to still respect the rule of law.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  3. Damian

    None issue! Some real news please!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  4. Kara4

    Chick -fil-A is delicious. A super company with a steadfast mission. This "boycott" will go nowhere.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  5. Scott

    The biggest thing i find that is stupid in all of this is that anti-christians are saying christians are "imposing on the rights of others." And my question is, are non christians not imposing on christian rights when they say holding christian values in culture is wrong? Christians have freedom of speech and every other freedom as well you know.

    And, who gives a rip where this company is giving away food anyway....at least they are doing something useful in the community.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  6. PleezThink

    While we are fixing things shouldn't we make things right and take away the discrimination against polygamy?

    February 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  7. mrsfonebone

    So, is it true that you have to be–or say that you are–a Christian to work there? They should be selling food, not pursuing a conservative Christian agenda–pressure to be a certain religion, to pray at work, to go to a certain church–that's not allowed in a corporate work place. Put a big cross on each one so people know where their money is going. Sell your product and keep your personal religious beliefs out of it–especially when they are intolerant. I bet they accept purchases by gay people and have no qualms about taking their money. Can't have it both ways. I stopped gong there as soon as I found out who owned them and what they stood for.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  8. Colin in Florida

    While there food is decent, I think it is overpriced. Combine that with their religious bias, and I don't eat there anymore, even when I receive coupons for free or discounted meals.

    But I have a question I am hoping someone here can answer? If a Muslim and a Jew applied to work at a chick-fil-a, but wanted to work on Sunday, but have their holy day (Friday or Saturday) off, could not the restaurant open? And what if they wanted their holy day off? Would the restaurant chain grant it?

    February 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Jim in Florida

      Well Colin, I guess the Muslim or Jew would only get to work 5 of the 7 days of the week vice 6. Your question and premise is certanly one a moron would post.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  9. Khaled

    I am a Muslim and I believe that Chick-fil-A is doing the right thing. No religion advocates gay marriage and it is not acceptable. Men and women were meant to be together to make babies not women and women. Thank goodness they have values and stand for the right things

    February 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  10. Steve

    You gotta laugh. I guess while the family was making their "covenant," this "Christian" family left out their inhumane treatment handed out to the poor chickens raised in filth, disease and unable even to move or open their wings during their 16 weeks of life in Chick-fil-a's monstrous battery cages. If anyone reading this post were to tour the hell houses that chick-fil-a uses to supply the birds that you now put in you mouth, you'd get nowhere near their restaurant chain. But after all, when does a Christian truly do a Christian act? Torture the animals, but close on Sundays. You gotta laugh. What ever you do, keep the Christian blinders in place. Amen!

    February 5, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Now that we all know about how you feel about mistreated chickens, what's your stance on the right to life of the unborn?

      February 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  11. Deephaven

    There's a lot regarding the Biblical definition of marriage that a lot of people don't agree with. Polygamy is allowed in the Bible. So if the belief that wives should be subservient to their husbands.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  12. Ron

    So the Chick-Fil-A company sticks to its guiding principles, and then they receive attacks for a private donation to a group. Remember, both the private company has that right as do private citizens to not eat there anymore. I for one will continue to eat there because of the food quality and principles. I'm not gay but don't sit around hating gay people. I do, however, hate buying poor qualiy chicken sandwiches. Go Chick-Fil-A! BTW: THe university pulling their food = neo-McCarthyism from the left. "We're LEADERS of tolerance so long as you tolerate EVERYTHING we support" mentality. Way too far. Do they screen ALL social activity of ALL vendors. What's next?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  13. PleezThink

    You're right but what if they got a visectomy? That should make it ok shouldn't it?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  14. Paul http://www.youtube.com/ny007ny

    Isn't it funny how the more religious you are the more filled with hate you become. Shouldn't it be the opposite?

    February 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  15. agrl4god80

    Good job Chick-fil-a. They have a right to support who they want. That's the great thing about America...we are free to support who we want. There's a lot of companies that support things I don't agree with but I don't go making a fuss...that's their choice. It's my choice if I want to support them or not. In a nation where anything Christian is persecuted but anything sinful is praised....I say, stay true to your beliefs Chick-fil-a!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  16. Ronald McDonald

    Unfortunately, I have to admit that their food is better. I wish that our chicken nuggets were good enough so that we didn't have to stay open on Sunday. Chick-fil-a chicken nuggets look like they are made from real chicken. How do they do it? – Ronald McD.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  17. mitchyj

    Their views may be difficult to swallow. But not as much as the stuff on their menu.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  18. Jeff

    I really love thet Chick-fil-A stands for the right things. I think it is great that they are anti-gay, have great food and treat their consumers the right way. I really love their food and respect the way they do business. God Bless them!!

    February 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  19. Lynn

    This should be a message for Christians and those who value businesses who represent our values to fight back. We should support this restaurant chain even more. I personally do not care for Indian cuisine type restaurants, I don't like the atmosphere, the smell, or the fact that most are Muslim owned businesses. But, it is my choice not to eat there, it is not my place to force or criticize them to conform to my values or beliefs. Last time I checked this is a free country and we should be able to conduct our business and beliefs the way we choose.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  20. Joe Wojciechowski

    I have had a boycott on Chic-Fil-A for 2 years now, even though I love their food. I'm also straight as an arrow. I don't support hate.

    February 5, 2011 at 3:51 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.