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. GDAWD

    Wanna know the great thing about freedom of choice and opinion in a capitalist society? You can take your business elsewhere.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  2. keith

    They are a privately held company – if you don't like the corporate choices that they make, then don't patronize them. Pretty simple. I'm against gay marriage also, but I'm not against gays having the same rights as straight married couples either. It's my opinion, just as it is their opinion for making the choices they make. I'm tired of people in this country slamming others for their choices. People complain about the govt trying to force their will on the people, yet the people turn around and try and force their opinions on me and others.....what do you think bible thumpers do when they knock on your door or in this case slam a company for doing something that goes against others opinions. Nothing but a bunch of hypocrites

    February 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  3. ChickenFer

    Can we please not co-opt 'DNA' for things like this. How about call it what it is: Christian Dogma. Most Christians in the USA wouldn't know DNA if it split from a chimp 5 million years ago.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • thorrsman

      @ChickenFer, What a remarkably ignorant example of Anti-Christian bigotry. 75 to 80 percent of Americans call themselves Christians (depends on whose figures your use). Do you REALLY believe that the majority of them do not know what DNA means?

      February 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  4. Chris Robinson

    I almost NEVER eat at Chick-fil-A even though there is a location near where I work, simply because I never really thought about it. Thanks to this story, I am now thinking about it and will start patronizing Chick-fil-A WHENEVER possible.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  5. Lia

    ok, they can sell and donate to whoever and whatever they want, there's plenty of chicken out there for whatever race, gender, orientation you are. lets stop fighting about this and maybe stop the war, donate to education...etc.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  6. PleezThink

    @Nonimus. Why would the undue influence argument work for any close relative? Why would that not work for a man and a woman?

    February 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  7. John

    Amazing how gay groups want tolerance and acceptance for their beliefs and lifestyle, but don't respect the beliefs of anyone else. I am so tired of there attempts to force themselves on others, organizations, and religions. Their always 'crying about something' actions has made me a whole lot less accepting of their lifestyles. And I know I'm not alone in that feeling.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • john

      I couldnt agree more

      February 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • John = Tard


      February 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  8. Tom

    If them g@ys blast them chickens then they are G@y Masta Blasta ... wee harr .. who cares. I want my holy chicken. NOW!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  9. thorrsman

    The company has a right to donate food or money as they wish. It is their food and their money. The complaint seems to be coming from those they DID NOT donate to, rather than those that they did. Sore losers, I'd say.

    For me, I hope they serve Chick-fil-A in Valhalla. Pagans party better, and Chick-fil-A nuggets go great with mead!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  10. Will


    February 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  11. john

    I am getting tired of these freaks(GAY'S), and they are going to push the straight public a little to hard, and the crap is going to hit the fan. This is a free country for everyone, not justs the fraks.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  12. TonyDe

    I hope that the smart states are educated enough to not finance Christians who use God a money maker. Oh wait. That is all churches. Well. I guess it is easier to trick the south into buying food based on religious "Values". The fact that you would bring any type of negative outlook on anyone is shameful and SHOULD hurt your business. I am sure that for people that believe in the christian faith, Jesus would be very upset with you... and the people that make the chicken. If you can't love everyone than you should not preach love at all. So to Chick-Fil-A: Why not send out a message that is positive and non-discriminative. Shame. I am not surprised though. Most christian based anything has some kind of discrimination.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Ashak B

      If Chick-Fil-A subscribes to christian values why anyone should have a quarrel with that, I do not have and I am not even a christian. First of all you make very little sense. People talk in abstract and no one understands, not unusual with so may people with diminished mental capacity can talk over internet, no holds barred. Chick-Fil-A can donate to anyone they like, if you do not like their food do not go there. I very rarely go but I like what they make (kind of expensive though), but I think they are right in believing what they want, and acting upon their beliefs. Hurrah to Chick-Fil- A. I love them.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  13. Tom

    If them gays blast them chicken they are called Gay Masta Blasta ... weee harrrr ... who cares.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  14. PleezThink

    Don, how is properly defined? Looking forward to being enlightened.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  15. James

    These gay groups demand tolerance yet have none for anyone else's views. What a bunch of hypocrites.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  16. nik green

    Christian Conservative. Thats a bit like a "peaceful warmonger".

    February 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  17. Andy

    What would have happened if they donated food at a gay-rights rally? Would this be an issue? No. I stand behind Chick-Fil-A 100%. They did nothing wrong, and they simply donated food to a group that requested it. Society is so out of whack these days it is unbelievable.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  18. Audrey

    I dont' know where they're getting the idea that Chick-Fil-A is just now expanding out of the Bible Belt. We used to eat at Chick-Fil-A in Salinas, California 20 years ago! Best chicken salad sandwich anywhere!

    As far as their corporate principles go, it's a private company...they can do as they like. Folks who don't like their practices can choose to eat elsewhere. It's a free country (or at least it used to be!)

    February 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  19. david

    Only here in the USA are we so blessed that we have enough luxury and audacity to make a fuss over the ethics of a fast-food chain. Most of the world is merely trying to survive each day.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  20. Joseph McIver

    Whether we disagree with them or not, it's their choice.
    Don't complain, take action.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:20 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.