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. Rocket_boy

    Where I live every Chick-fil-A is packed with the drive through longer than any other fast food biz on the block. I like how they tend to hire young kids and teach them to do an excellent job in regards to politeness and respect, a far cry from all the major burger chains the can't seem to hire person that speaks english behind the counter.

    So this is how it is Gay rights boys and girls,.....my Christian friends and I have a ton more money than you do and will keep patronizing a great company like CFA. At this time I don't support companies that have a gay agenda and won't in the future, and reading stories such as this only make me want to do this more. As others have said, you don't like the company??....move-a-long and keep spending and donating your money to NAMBLA, I'm sure they'll take all of it.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  2. Aristocles

    Look, as a private company, they have a right to donate to causes they believe in, even if the far-left wing doesn't like it. If you think they are so terrible, don't eat there. That's all you can justly do. I see that most people on this site have no problem with Chik-Fil-A, and neither do I.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  3. Nicole

    I believe this outrageous! Why would they assume a company run by christians would support gay marriage first of all. Secondly, did they refuse to serve openly gay couples in their establishment I think not. And third I think they should sue Indiana University for suspending their license. They have every right to donate to the cause of their choice! People have said it's like donating to the KKK well I see that done every day too in political circles, some of the views of certain politicians and their supporters are more than a bit questionable. But at the end of the day they have a right to support what they support. When Chic fil-a starts making gay couples sit in certain areas in their restaurants or start putting up "no gays allowed" in their windows then I would say we have a civil rights issue! Until then I think Gay folks should know while we respect you and your right to be who you are you don't have the right to tell people what they should value or believe. Because at the end of the day the entire world does not support your mission. You don't own the rainbow.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  4. paige

    I hope Chick-fil-a stands their ground. Freedom of religion and speech meed to be protected. More reason to buy food there! 🙂

    February 5, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  5. Bobbie

    Some people LOVE to make something out of nothing! So what if someone who is not in agreement with another got free food? If gay people want to boy cott cause of that then more power too them! Means the line will be shorter and I'll get my waffle fries faster!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  6. frits51

    Does anyone else see the hypocrisy here? What is the traditional cry of those who are antagonistic toward Christianity or religion being manifested or demonstrated in the community? "Stop shoving YOUR values down my throat!" What do you think this whole affair is about? It is about a single-digit-percentage minority trying to shove THEIR values down somebody else's throat. Dan Cathey's statement should have accomplished much more than the other side allowed when he stated that Chik-Fil-A has no agenda against anyone. They just want to be free to be who they sincerely are. Gays should easily identify with that goal and be sympathetic. But they're not! And so they show themselves to be hypocrites of the first order.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  7. Free Thinker

    What a horrid company. I never eat there.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  8. Fluffhead92

    if that is there belief, WHO CARES. they knew that supporting their beliefs may hurt their sales, but i believe they did it in a respectful way. this is america. they made a promise when they took over the company and they are respecting that. this is honorable to me

    February 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  9. Rofliamsmarterthanyou

    Funny how all these self proclaimed 'atheists' 'intellectuals' throw a hissy fit when someone says the Christian thing is to love everyone, gay or not, and then, when the christian restaraunt commits biblical blasphemy and judges in the name of Jesus, they support it and say it's their right. LOL wow. You people need to get a job.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  10. rcamero1

    I'm Christian, and while I have no problem with gay marriage, I think civil unions are properly the business of the state and marriage is the concern of religion. If you have a spiritual bent, join a sect that agrees with you. If not, don't. God will love you anyway, but if you're religiously connected, you'll find more spiritual fulfillment, I'll bet. Chick-fil-A seems to be more consistent in its activities than most fast food chains, and I certainly support their right as private enterprise to close on whatever day they choose, if any, to serve whatever menu they choose within FDA regulations, to donate to whatever organizations they choose. We can all vote with our dollars on whether or not we support something, yet it's refreshing to see a company actually walking their own version of the talk for a change.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  11. Ray in MA

    It's not for chicken!, it's for people like Zach Wahl and his family in IOWA that this has meaning:


    February 5, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  12. Jack

    Is it me, or does anyone else resent CNN portraying gay rights groups as anti-Christian? If this isn't back-handed gay-bashing, I don't know what is.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  13. Tim

    It's amazing how many of you so-called tolerant liberals are intolerant of anything related to evangelical Christianity. You are the new bigots. It is also amazing how many of you tlerate free speech until you disagree with what someone says or promotes.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  14. Mel

    This article made me hungry

    February 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  15. Dan

    Gays, please shut up, get whatever is in your mouth out of there and insert a tasty, delicious Chick-Fil-A sandwich!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  16. Thedude123

    There are gay companies that support gay causes. There are Christian companies that support Christian causes. Get over it.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  17. Sharon

    Stay away from fast food it will kill you I eat Subway !!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  18. Lay

    ** This was stated perfectly** I fully support gay marriage, but I do not believe, that a person is racist because they dont, (my husband for one, does not agree) it is a personal choice and I dont think that the gay activist should insist that someone change their beliefs to support their cause, its ignorant on their behalf to assume that everyone should have the same morals. Also no one should judge anyone based on their religion and how they perceive the bible, if you disagree do it in a respectful manner in which the Chick Fil owner did and the others should respect that also rather than causing this entire cynical argument.


    Freedom of religion is protected by the Bill of Rights as is freedom of speech. Chic fil A exercised both of theirs. Disagreeing on a gay rights issue is not the same as hate, it is disagreement. Gay Rights have made many great strides over the past few decades exercising the same rights. It is arrogant to state that anyone who believes differently than you is racist/ bigoted/ or violating anyone's rights. The response by Chic fil A boss on facebook was by no means an apology, but it was respectful disagreement. The only way to continue forwarding social tolerance is to respect the rights of others with the rigor with which you demand others respect yours. And if you are offended by their actions, go eat somewhere else. Believe me, all other fast food companies will gladly take your money, because that is the ONLY thing they believe in.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  19. TamueL

    This is just that simple! Everyone will have their own opinions about every aspect on the planet. Why should the gay community force themselves on groups of people to change their beliefs because it differs from what their beliefs are? This is just not equatable. If everyone reversed their beliefs to what one group wants, there would not be any diversity in thinking or opinions. We would all think and feel alike. Makes sense?

    February 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  20. Anthony

    Chick-Fil-A has always been this sort of business as I admire them closing their business on Sundays so individuals if they wish can attend church. I admire their business strategy and see no reason why anyone should criticize their practices.

    February 5, 2011 at 4:54 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.