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. PleezThink

    Unfortunately, I gotta run and take care of one of those children that I am responsible for genetically. As I leave though, you're opinion is that marriage between children and cousins will hurt society. Why? Which moral standards? Most of the practical arguments against can be solved. You just know that it is morally wrong. I believe that it is morally wrong for g-ay-s to marry. I believe that it hurts society. Again, sorry , gotta run.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  2. Gays are getting way to pushy

    Has anyone ever thought about suing gay rights activists for being anti-straight? I think I will bring a lawsuit to that nature in the future.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  3. EatsMoarChikn

    If you're trying to make a political statement based upon where you eat fast food, you're doing it wrong. And if any gay rights activist thinks for one moment that the Chik-fil-A management sat down together and said, "Let's donate free food to this group BECAUSE they are anti-gay marriage," then you're an imbecile.

    People are so polarized and hypocritical these days. They can't see 3 feet past their own broken scruples. If you donate free food to a company whose CEO is a democrat, then you must be an Obama-fueled Socialist. If you donate free food to a company whose CEO is a republican, then you're a conservative Christian fundamentalist nut job. If you donate food to both, well, you're clearly trying to poison everyone and take over the world with your own Evil Empire. /eyeroll

    And to think, people criticized Jon Stewart when he called for a restoration of sanity. I wonder why?

    February 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm |

    Chic-fil-A is junk food for the gut.

    Christianity is junk food for the gullible.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  5. Straight Up

    Looks like the THOUGHT POLICE are alive and well. Funny how they care who a restaurant gives a happy meal to but nobody is supposed to ask for balance in the ludicrous actions and notions they put forth...

    February 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  6. enigmatic

    Coming from a gay male... who cares? Chic-fil-a is a private company and they can donate their money to whatever organization they want. Don't like it? Don't eat there! It is a State's Rights issue – have an issue? Talk to your state legislature about allowing marriage. They have just as much of a right to donate to organizations that lobby for the opposite side. Open discourse is fundamental in the US... or do we forget that when we want someone that we can't have? While you waste your time complaining about not being able to marry in your state doing, I will be enjoying a delicious chic-fil-a chicken sandwich. Whether you can marry or not... what does it matter if you love someone? Don't pull the "I can't see my lover in the hospital" that's because your lover didn't sign a form making you the medical poa. So sick of this whiney "we're not treated equally" bs. Move to a state that recognizes gay marriage if you're that distraught.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  7. HappyGoLucky

    I think that while I disagree with how Chick-Fil-A spends its money, it is their right to do with their money as they see fit. I am not gay nor am I Christian but I am against the anti-gay group they are giving to. Yet, it is their money after all and Chick-Fil-A is a private company.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  8. Nonimus

    I see no problem with multiple marriages group, polygyny, or polyandry, but there again it would be a legal hassle since the inheritance and child custody rules would have to be defined. But in general, why not?

    February 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  9. Straight Up

    Does this mean that Apple Computer can't give computers to carpet munchers gang unless they also support the BSA?

    February 5, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  10. richard warren

    Where a company wants to donate free food is their business. Sounds like the gay movment has stepped into a "Nazy mentality". Way over the top. shows what some of these dorks are really all about.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  11. Straight Up

    You have GOT to be kidding. I will now eat there frequently, provided they don't change the policy. I don't personally care what they support or don't support, but I don't want to be around if they indulge the whims of a bunch of whiners.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  12. J.W.B.

    How can the Chick-fil-A president say that “While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees."? If you truly love and respect those who disagree, you would not support legislation aimed at restricting their freedoms – nor would you tell them that they are not allowed to do something you are allowed to do simply because you disagree with it.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  13. Ficheye

    Praise jesus! Space is too vast, the universe far too complex for us to understand... we need something really simple to construct our lives around... like the story of baby jesus, who is God, by the way, who grows up and makes the jews and the romans angry enough to kill him, even though he's god, and then jesus asks god, himself, why he was forsaken on the cross... even though he's god and all powerful and all knowing.

    Why is he talking to himself? If he's god why didn't he just make a miracle and make people think that all of this stuff happened even if it didn't? Well, that's just what he did. You can't kill yourself if you're god... that's suicide... but that's what the story wants people to believe. The story is so conflicted, yet people need to believe it... because the universe is an incomprehensibly vast place and mankind would be even less sane if it had to deal with the thought of being alone in the vastness. Of course, the bible was written by people who thought that the earth was flat, but that's for another day....

    February 5, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  14. Voice of Reason

    They gave food to a marriage conference. That's a good thing. Anyone who opposes loving our husbands and wives is simply a fool.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  15. Doug

    Basically, they sell unhealthy fast food consisting mainly of fried chicken and French fries... the food is really not that good. What they do have is a very successful marketing campaign. I would avoid them just on the merits of the poison they sell. But I guess if one has to eat fast food... their poison is probably not as bad as other fast food places.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  16. Jay

    I always thought you were suppose to only fight battles you could win? If the gay community won this one, wouldn't they
    be loosing the whole war? I mean Mr. Kathy would close the business first. Then gays would be in the dog house forever.
    The only beef I have with chick-fil-a is that they tasted so much better back in Greenbriar Mall back in the 1960s . They
    were cooked in a different oil and oh my goodness they tasted soooooo much bettter. For you younger folks that never got
    to eat one back then its probably a good thing. But for me everytime I eat one I am always thinking "this is delicious but
    its still not a real chick-fil-a sandwich".

    February 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  17. David

    I'm gonna go get a Chick-fil-A sandwich in just a minute. Yummmm!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  18. bob

    They are a great company with a great product. More companies should emulate them.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  19. dnnsldr

    They are a private company they can give food to antone they want

    February 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  20. Patricia

    So I am curious who In n Out has donated too? For those of you who do not know, they put a verse on their packaging. Would it be a story if they donated free food to the same group? Would those up set with Chic be just as upset with In N Out? Did any of you know they were a christian based fast food place?

    February 5, 2011 at 4:04 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.