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. nsn1946

    Forcing fast food on your kids is evil.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  2. foodie

    As a business they can do whatever they like to donate free food, At least they do.
    Nobody complains about our Arabic/Muslim DNA of the oil companies. I agree that we should support our hometown local places to eat over the national franchises anyway. Help maintain Main Street America.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  3. wilbur the cow

    Wow, I love Chick-Fil-A! Eat more chickin! If more people would eat according to their taste buds and not their political or religious convictions, we would have a lot more happy cows on this planet, because Chick-Fil-A food is ten times better than hamburgers!!! Come gay, come straight, come religious, come athiest...but come to Chick-Fil-A and let's run those slimy hamburger places out of business!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  4. jtuts099

    How are we ever supposed to take gay advocate groups seriously when these are the kinds of battles they pick. They should be focusing on the honorable gay people who are trying to serve their country, not a fast food restaurant.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  5. PS

    If Chick Fil A were truly a christian organization, they would advocate that fathers make their daughters marry their rapists, as commanded, ordered, and DEMANDED by the christian god, as clearly stated in Deuteronomy 22:28-29. This isn't me saying this – this is the christian god that millions admire every sunday – why anyone would respect someone who thinks victims should be forced to marry the people who violated them is beyond reason. But hey, if all you christians are happy with making victims marry people (and think it should be law, as demanded and ordered by your god in the bible) who committed violent acts against them, it's your life.

    Now, try and convince anyone how you can follow a god that demands and orders this. No christian I have ever met has been able to rationalize it (but they do pick and choose other parts that fit whatever political agenda they have in mind).

    Hope you sleep well at night – all christians who claim to follow god are complicit.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Joe

      taken out of context...

      February 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  6. Nonimus

    "Society does not exist apart from the individuals which comprise it. Don't reify."
    Well put.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  7. Oh please

    I always find it amusing when people use the word "God" as if it's some Word of Power that is indigenous to Christianity. The word 'God' actually originated in Sanskrit (not Herbrew), and Sanskrit was/is the language of Hinduism.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  8. pb_j

    It's great to see Chick-fil-A with a back bone. They are privately held and can do anything they please with their free food! I support Chick-fil-A!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  9. Cassandra

    Who gives a crap who they gave free food to? My guess is it was someone in need of food so why is everyone dogging out a company who is willing to help those in need? Doesn't that make the critics prejudiced against those who are not gay? Gay or not, it shouldn't matter. The point is it was a human being who was hungry. Doesn't that matter anymore? Why is everyone so consumed with what is policitically correct? Believe me people, you should be more concerned with being biblically correct! And my Bible says to love others which is what this company did. They gave away food to those in need. Just like Jesus. Good for them and I'm going to get me a chickie sandwich right now! Ha!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  10. An Interested Party

    I thought they were just funny about refusing to open on Sunday. Turns out they are more insidious about mixing their religion with their chicken than I was aware. I guess I'll have to pass them by in future – do my bit to stop yet another intolerant group from profiting from my business and using those profits to hurt society.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  11. Alex

    Since when is anti-gay marriage WRONG??? Oh, I forgot, this is 2011...

    February 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  12. Roger

    I haven't read any of the other posts, so this will probably be redundant. If you don't like Chick-Fil-A's policies or practices, DON'T EAT THERE!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  13. Rita

    What I wish for Chik-Fil-A...which is the only fast food place I go to, and only for biscuits and tea...is that they would extend their Christian values to the farm animals used to produce the food they sell. I hope that they will some day soon only sell eggs from cage-free facilities, and that their chickens are only purchased from farms commited to raising them humanely. It's possible that they are doing some of this, but it's very hard to find out as the compnay is not particularly open about where they get the eggs/meat they serve. Otherwise, I applaud them for their commitment to their values and if people object, they are free to eat elsewhere.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  14. jtuts099

    First off let me state that i am in no way a devout christian and I totally agree that everyone should have an equal right to the liberties of America. That said I believe these gay advocate groups are just a bunch of babies. How are we ever supposed to let them in the military if they whine about stupid stuff like this?? Pick your battles before you lose what little respect you have in this country.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  15. bob

    I think letting young children get married can have substantial negative impacts society as a whole. Silly don thats a terrible logic.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  16. Scientist

    What exactly is Christian DNA and how are they trying to preserve it?

    February 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  17. Papple

    OMG, stuff this delicous Christian food into my Jewish mouth ASAP. And a medium sweet tea.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  18. Larry

    I used to eat at this local Chinese restaurant until I realized that short fat man in all the pictures was none other than Buddha himself. I couldn't believe that a food establishment would bring religion into the food industry. And to find out, they funded Free Tibet as well. The audacity of it all!!!!! I'll never eat General Tso's chicken again.

    See how stupid this argument is when you spin it towards other religions. Who gives a flip if Chick-fil-a is a Christian run fast food chain. They are closed one day a week and still rake in the dough. If you are going to restaurants based on the religious affiliation of it's owners, that's your own choice. But them chicken sandwiches are sooooo good!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  19. Sophia

    I think gay rights activists are 'anti-straight." Who else would complain about feeding people in need. I think I'm going to proceed with my own lawsuit against "anti-straight agendas."

    February 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  20. B

    Sort of ridiculous that they don't want to open a restaurant in Las Vegas because of their Christian ideals. Otherwise, always glad to see someone standing up for their beliefs and fighting against extreme political correctness.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:25 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.