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. Henry Miller

    What in the world does selling chicken have to do with peoples' favourite snuggle?

    February 5, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  2. Apeasant

    I used to think that all Christians were obnoxious, holier-than-thou brats that will offer to pray for you in the same way that one would offer to punch you in the face. However I've also met Christians that were loving and kind, and enjoyed the company of all people regardless of who they were or what they believed. When I told them honestly about my prejudices, they said "Don't worry, most normal Christians can't stand them either".

    That said, if you don't like those kind of people, find a different restaurant to support. Its good to be aware of what our corporations are donating money to.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • JohnnyNmbr5

      awesome post.

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

    Boycott Chick-Fil-A!

    Not for the politics... but for the calories, fat, and sodium. (Though, to be fair, they're not as bad as most other fast food chains. http://www.acaloriecounter.com/fast-food.php )

    Oh, and they can't spell either. That's always bugged me.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Henry Miller

      When Chik-Fil-A came into existence, few Americans had any idea had any idea how to pronounce "filet."

      February 5, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • W247

      Amen! I've actually boycotted all fast food places because of how BAD they are for you!

      February 5, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  4. Jay In Florida

    As a private company, they have their right to do whatever they want with their food. Particularly interesting is that in his opening statements the President said he had no agenda against anyone. Apparently Gay right groups don't just want rights, but absolute control of the country. Bravo for Chick-A-Fil. Screw these idiots who demand their agenda pushed down anyone's throat they feel like.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  5. william

    Talk about an agenda. Why do groups such as this have the expectation that everyong should believe as they do. As a Christian I don'e expect everyone to believe the way I do. That is their right and I am not going to picket them just because they make that choice. At the same time I find it offensive that any other group would insist that I believe the way that they do.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  6. MikeBell

    Another example of antisemitism being expanded to include Judeo-Christians.
    The right not to follow a secular social doctrine is under fire.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • mickey1313

      religon is harmful to socity. the antisemitism term is droped with too much frequancy. the law says you have the right to believe and prctice what you want, not prostalitize to the public.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Brandon


      Actually the law does state that you can prosolite what you believe and you are protected by the law. To prosolite is to preach and in no way forces anyones behavior.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  7. Shawn

    Go ahead and boycott.You wont be missed.Means less chance of them running out of chicken when I visit.Mmmm good.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • mz211

      Are you kidding me? The place near my house in So Cal is so buzy. I can't even get a seat. I hope half of the customers start boycotting them. As a matter of fact, let's not forget In-and-Out Burger. Boycott them too. Make my drive through faster. I wouldn't mind paying more for a more pleasant experience.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  8. Brandon

    Boycott them. That'll show them. You will not live among them until they conform to what you believe. Sounds like you are the one forcing people to believe what you do, not them. They are simply expressing their belief. I don't find any harm in what Chic-fil-a is expressing.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Don

      Boycotting is not forcing anyone to do anything, Brandon.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Brandon

      Don, Sure it is. What if the tables were turned.

      February 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  9. Michael Raymond

    Why should gay/anti-gay or Christianity even matter when we are eating a chicken sandwich. Too many reporters, too many people with too much time on their hands.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • mickey1313

      people have a right to know the corporate ethics of a given company. so that they can choose a personal boycott of the product based on moral reasons. I love chicken, but i would rather literally starve than eat at an openly christian establishment. its my choice. should the company do what they want, of course. should the consomers be makeing there choices based on what the company does with its money, you bet cha.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      Anderson Cooper and his pals are sad and so they'll run this on the news.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • JJ

      Try moving to Haiti and "literally starving" then come back and tell us you wouldn't eat a chicken sandwich because you don't agree with the values of the owners. Sounds like you've just got a chip on your shoulder.

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

      mickey1313–Having a bad day? Let Yah'shua into your heart brother...your life will be much more peaceful. You seem to be very stressed out about something you have no knowledge about (e.g. Christianity). Truly open your heart, ask Yah'shua to help you through your troubled feelings...you will be amazed that if you really mean it..you will begin to discover tranquility. Until you try it, don't knock it...you just aren't speaking from experience and that makes you appear ignorant.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  10. Reality

    Someday the owners will come to realize the following but until then they can serve free food to whomever they "da-mn well please":

    All "Abrahamics" believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied ho-mo-se-xuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore ga-ys are ga-y because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] "

    "Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, "The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation."[8

    February 5, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • c_duvall@bellsouth.net

      these same guys also believe we descended from monkeys.

      February 5, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Don

      No, we and monkeys share a common ancestor.

      February 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • NotaPoster

      A straight man cannot marry another man. What are they complaining about.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  11. Madeline

    "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment [as seen from God's eternity], is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

    February 4, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Eric G.

      Thank you Madeline, but can you please provide your interpretation of the passage you posted? I am very interested in what you think the author was meaning to say. Also, if you can provide what you think the author of this passage thought your God wanted, that would be very helpful.

      February 5, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • CSh

      Eric, this is the Bible's way of saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" with a side of "It's what's on the inside that counts." Doesn't sound so holy when you just say it without the flowery language. Most of the Bible's 'wisdom' is common-sense stuff we all know already.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  12. Evolved DNA

    Can you imagine this restaurant owned by lesbians..the Christians would be out in force complaining.. Like I have asked before.. no one has given an answer, as to why gays are hated.. is it because it means that "god made a mistake". we are all human beings first before any other label we give ourselves. religions tend to thrive on a group dislike and gays are the soup d'jour at present..

    February 4, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Normon

      Now that would be 'Chick' fil-A!

      February 5, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • BIHT

      I don't know why anybody is hated. It seems like people have forgotten the art of respectfully disagreeing and it's sad.

      February 5, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Renuel

      Don't think being gay means God made a mistake. By saying that, I take you think being gay is wrong...why else would you consider it to be a mistake?

      February 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  13. NL

    Does anybody remember the hissy fit some Christians had over Disney's Gay Days? 'O.rgy of Depravity' I believe was the catch phrase, and now people are accusing gays of being overly sensitive. What's sauce for the goose...

    February 4, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • mickey1313

      ya the jesus freaks cant take what they can dish, they have never been able to do so.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • hunnykins

      @micky1313 – Gays can't dish it out without crying accusations of hate and discrimination when they get opposition, either. I guess that the whole "dishing but not taking it" scenario describes humans in general.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  14. Great website news story


    February 4, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  15. tallulah13

    A couple of them opened around where I live in the NW, but they didn't survive. I suspect that the closed on Sunday thing was the biggest problem, since they were located in the food courts of shopping malls and the weekends were the busiest times. They were never open when I tried to go there, but now that I know what they represent, I'm glad I never spent a penny there.

    February 4, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • SGEE

      You don't know, Talullah, you just read a story and believed it.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Well, when it comes to evangelicals, I'd rather be safe than sorry.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I'm not sure which part you were commenting on, but my belief that they went out of business here because of being closed on Sunday stems from the fact that weekends are the busiest times in the malls where these businesses were located. As for the politics, when it comes to evangelicals, I'd rather be safe than sorry.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  16. Amazed

    I going out of my way to eat at Chik Fil A tomorrow. I love the fact that they are closed on Sundays.

    As for myself I'm not concerned with what someone does in his or her personal life but doing something that is obviously wrong often doesn't make it right.

    February 4, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • NL

      As the 'truth' of the bible is not universally obvious, can you give another reason why is it 'obviously' wrong?

      February 4, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • JJ

      1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, 5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. 6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat. 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 12 Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. 14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:1-14. God's truth is obvious, as even nature DECLARES God's glory. Those who cannot see it are blind, and they will never find it since they do not truly seek.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Don

      JJ, your bible babble is infantile, to say the least.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • blsseattle

      Being gay is healthier than eating fast food. Being gay is not wrong, it's just different. Like cricket.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  17. testy

    Would it make everyone feel better if they donated food to a pro gay rights group?

    February 4, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • hunnykins

      Are gays going to support anti-gay groups as a show of good faith? Its only fair.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  18. Joel

    I am an atheist and I find their chicken tasty. Good prices, good fries, and the store here has a cashier with large breasts she enjoys showing me each time I order. Love it.

    February 4, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Jett Lee

      Say it, brother! Sometimes you just have to focus on the positive.

      February 5, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • mickey1313

      youve given the best reasons on this page for eating at christ-fill-a

      February 5, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • blsseattle

      Breasts are fun. Nice work.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  19. Topkitty

    All that religion and going to hell anyway for judging others.....

    February 4, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Sarah

      People do not go to hell because they judge. They go to hell if they reject Jesus Christ as the Only Son of God (John 3:16-18), thus rejecting that Jesus was truly Who He claimed He was. All other wrongs can be made right if an individual will sincerely believe that Jesus is correct when He said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6)

      February 6, 2011 at 2:05 am |
    • Gil

      So if i've never heard of jesus, thus having no way to know he's anyones savior, im automatically going to hell? Sorry, Allah says im not going to hell and he has more power than your god.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • blsseattle

      Hell is not real. But if it were, it would definitely be for children. Thank you Pat Benetar.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  20. TheRationale

    As if the world needs more Christian organizations.

    February 4, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • EM

      one day the world will have no Christians, and on that day I hope I am not here.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:55 am |
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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.