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. mdawg

    its time we kick gawd out of the usa... chic fil a will no longer get a penny from me or my kids

    February 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  2. renjikuchiki1

    wow... so they donated food to an anti-gay group.... i have no problem with gays, but why do they care what one company does? if you don't like it, buy KFC and stop complaining already!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  3. Joel Smith

    Go Chickfila!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  4. Roberto

    Fact is, Chick Fil A has superb customer service, an articulate kind and welcoming staff, good food, and are very profitable. All while being closed on Sundays. It is amazing that people are offended to see Christianity benefitting a corporation, its employees and customers. Pick a fast food franchise, Mc Donalds, Burger King, Hardees ect. line them all up and you will see that Chick Fil A stands head and shoulders above them all. Whether you want to admit it or not, it is because of the belief system behind the organization. I hope they never go public or nationwide and keeep the faith and integrity of a great company!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  5. SGEE

    I read the article, and it said that the seminar was a seminar in support of healthy traditional marriage. It never said it opposed gay marriage, but it supports traditional marriage. Many of the 90%+ of Americans who are straight do that. So, if you gay groups don't like how Chick-fil-A spends their money, move on down the road. There can't possibly be that many of them next to you that you have to be worried about it. Where they invest their money and donations is none of your business, just like where you contribute yours is not Chick-fil-A's business.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  6. Ed

    I love anyone who stands up to the, " we are all gay" movement!!! It's all a choice!!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  7. Curveball97

    I have never eaten at Chick-fil-A, but I will now! Keep it up Chick Fil A!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  8. ryan

    So, a corporation that serves very unhealthy food identifies itself as Christian? While that seems appropriate since christianity is essentially poison for the brain, it does seem ridiculous that a corporation would hold any world view other than the view to making a profit. I'd put forth that it should probably be illegal for any corporation to subscribe to any particular religion and enforce any kind of religious view and practice on its employees. Of course, members can be religious on their own, but it seems anti-American to force any religion on anyone (I'm thinking the employees and customers of Chick fil a)...were it a church that would be different, but it operates under the pretense of being a restaurant, not a church, so if its going to do that, it should play by the same rules everyone else does...iE no discrimination and no religious preference! What if there was a restaurant that pushed scientology on its patrons and employees, or one that pushed muslim teachings on its employees and customers? You think the owners of chick fil a would be OK with that?

    February 5, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  9. Oh, crap!

    If they are Southern Baptists, I am through with them. Those Southern Baptists are the biggest bunch of psycho's on the planet. They are the ultimate terrorist group.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  10. Get a life

    I have never posted before, but wanted to tell all of you to get a life. Call a friend, talk to your spouse, kids, or call a family member and have a normal coversation with someone. You will never win or change somone's opinion with your posts. I laugh that you spend your time and energy arguing over the computer. Read the news and then go about your day. Ive already have went to lunch with my family, ran a 25k trail run before that, mopped and swept my house, and am about to work on the yard. It is barely 3 here right now, c'mon really what have most of you done today. I see some of you have posted all day. Wow! You must be a loser.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  11. Zane

    Dear Chick-fil-A,

    Just give me my food and stop preaching. I get my weekly sermon at church on Sundays. Mixing business with religion is a bad idea.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  12. Arglebargle

    Secular government should have no restrictions on who may marry, provided that if they are of opposite gender, then there must be protections in place to prevent deleterious genetic breeding, and that they are the same species (sorry, all you folks who want to marry your cow, horse or pet chicken.)

    Given that citizens are required to have a marriage license from the secular government, churches have really nothing to say beyond disallowing anyone they choose to marry within their church buildings or to be married by one of their clergy.

    For those who think marriage is strictly for one man and one woman, fine, don't go marrying anyone of the oppose gender nor more than one at a time and be happy. There's no need to force your beliefs onto others. If they're going to the devil's playground that's their problem, isn't it. We all know how pure and righteous you are and that you'll be at the front of the line waiting to get through the pearly gates. (Wink, wink)

    And for all you who think that same-gender marriage is going to hurt society, just look at what your hallowed church-blessed marriages have brought about on our society...rampant divorce, broken families, lawsuits, killings, etc.

    When you churchy types start living what you preach, then maybe others will pay attention. Till then you have no room to be telling anyone else how to live their lives.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  13. iveeno

    Just found me a new chicken joint! We've got 1 here in Boise now. It's small, with an abbreviated menu, but I'll be a regular. They donate food. those who don't get the food call them bigots. It's a very old, well-used, smelly political move and attempt to play the gay card. I wonder if the Chick Fil-A family that owns the franchise is either black or minority? Clearly they are Christian and I believe hate speech has to do with threatenening members of minorities and beliefs such as religioius beliefs. This makes the Human Rights Campaign guilty of conspiracy and hate speech, yes?

    "...........and say vile things about you in my name, be happy and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven."

    February 5, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  14. Victor

    I you want to be Gay don't push your crap on others. Go find ypour own state and move to it enmass.Gay people shopuld STOP telling others what to do and believe.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  15. Pat

    This author needs to check there facts there are more then one chick fil a store in new york there is one at SUNY Cortland as well you reporters need to stop being lazy

    February 5, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  16. Ray in MA

    Again, CNN does not tell the whole story...

    It's not just about donated food incidents ... read about this:

    Chick-fil-A has spent about $18 million to renovate Berry’s old Normandy buildings — the long-time home of the school’s dairy — during the past year. The company now will run the WinShape Retreat Center, primarily as a marriage seminar and ministry center.


    February 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  17. Michael

    We have something in this country called freedom of choice, Any business that is not subsidized by our city, state, or federal govenrments has the freedom to express their religious beliefs without repercutions. Citizens then have the freedom to either purchase their goods or decline to do so based upon their own desires and beliefs without repercutions. No one has the right to hamper or dictate the freedom of choice from either the business or the citizens.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  18. american me

    I'll never understand why Rethuglica¬n, conservati¬ve, right-wing¬, religious fanatics think they can force other normal people to accept their deviant views and lifestyle. They love to tell other people how to live their lives, while their own lives are in shambles. The Christian (esp. Catholic, Mormon, Evangelica¬l, and Southern Baptist) Taliban in this country are going to face a violent wake up call soon if they keep trying to spread their hatred, intolerant views and actions on normal Americans.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  19. LMG

    chic-fil-a or chick-fil-agay...their company...their choice where they donate their money. There are plenty of chicken sandwiches..nuggets and strips with dipping sauces on every corner...go there!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  20. Locrian

    Great chicken, stupid family. News flash to all: There is no such thing as christian blood, jewish blood, muslim blood, etc. Maybe when more people realize that humans only have HUMAN blood, they'll start being more human. 😉

    February 5, 2011 at 4:40 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.