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. steve

    I don't think anyone in my family has ever eaten here but will definitely eat there over other fast foods when we get a chance

    February 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  2. Proud Chick-fil-a supporter

    Way to stand up for your convictions, Chick-fil-a...it tells us all that you're doing something right when you are getting pushed for holding strong to your beliefs. Keep it up...I will remain your forever fan!!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  3. V Saxena

    Look, I'm all for gay rights, but they can donate their money to whomever they choose! This whole controversy is just asinine!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  4. Georgie

    Chick fil a has their own right to free speech and the right to conduct their business as they please. They aren't hurting anyone. This gay rights group is trying to suppress free speech and should focus their efforts doing what they are supposed to do, expanding rights, not diminishing rights.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  5. detsea

    i won't be eating any chic fil a and its not because i dont agree with 'christian values'. i don't agree with the nutritional values of their food. they are one of the many problems that makes our country fat and unhealthy. by the way, i also dont agree with christian values...

    February 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  6. Alison

    In general my family avoids fast food because it is simply not food, but a business to stuff chemicals in people for a profit. In our area, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A and now Garbanzo are three growing chains that all work to some extent to make their fast food, healthy food, by using minimally processed ingredients. Chipotle is working hard to serve sustainably and humanely raised meats. Chick-fil-A works to build community and lives by their Christian values (values that for the most part are shared across the world, just not always with the word "Christian") in front). Garbanzo is working to provide healthy and eco friendly meals and service. All three of them pay attention to ingredients, they respond to and care about their customers, and they ascribe at some level to the "triple-bottom-line" principle. They are not just in it for the money, but to have a positive impact, while providing a service that our society demands - fast food.

    At the same time, it is wonderful that we live in a free and democratic society, in which one group can openly critique the actions of a business and draw awareness to a cause. I applaud the gay rights group for raising awareness, while I also applaud Chick-fil-A for having a corporate values system and working to build community.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • V Saxena

      Wow. I really liked that response. You did something that even I failed to do - you gave credit to both sides. You're right. And in essence, both sides in this 'controversy' are also correct, in that the gay rights groups have a right to complain, and Chic Fil has the right to maintain its stance.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  7. Mark

    If you've ever had the nuggets, you'd have a hard time arguing they're not worth a little Christian oppression...

    February 5, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  8. bill clemons

    The best part of the chicken is the anus.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  9. Boycott 'em

    Another reason to boycott their business. If enough folks participate, maybe we can hurt their bottom line like they're hurting people who don't agree with them.

    There are plenty of chicken places with a better product than they prepare....

    February 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • thorrsman

      You do understand that your response is the one that CNN wants, right? Unthinking, knee-jerk hatred towards a company that supports morality and provides a good product. All because Chick-fil-A has the gall not to support a tiny minority of a tiny minority that wants to redefine the term marriage to their own financial advantage and force acceptance of a lifestyle that most people do not support.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • only my opinion

      @boycott 'em
      So, what you're saying is: we should boycott walmart for not supporting target stores...

      hey! let's not buy macdonalds products because they don't support having tacos or eggrolls on the menu...

      Dude.. that makes more than perfect sense.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  10. reverb

    Just STFU already. News flash Sparky, "Family Values" means traditional relationships. If you don't like that, fine – go some place else. It is ironic that a group that demands tolerance is the most intolerant of those who don't think exactly as they do.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  11. bernard

    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 5:29 pm |
  12. Bryan

    Their food is terrible anyway...but another good reason to avoid these guys.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  13. Laura Stroupe

    We have no idea what the majority of the businesses we frequent support...if we find out one agrees with our stand...we support it...if it doesn't and we know it, we go somewhere else...please people, this nation is suppose to be about freedom...grow up...if you think everyone is going to agree with your stand, your going to end up closing your doors and staying home....

    February 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  14. Keith

    Not sure why it is a problem for Chik-Fil-A Owners to choose their way of business and opinion. They are not hurting anyone, and they are privately owned. They appear to be a responsbile business. I'm not sure why everyone should bow to any one groups opinion. If someone disagreed with the gay folks it would be a serious infringement, but they apparently can dictate to others.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  15. Joe

    Wow. Chick-fil-A. Must be a slow news day.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  16. Lia

    the word chicken appeared in this forum 105 times

    February 5, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  17. Keith Ontko

    Amazing that holding to values and morals is seen by some neagtive. What an inside out world where evil is seen as good and good is seen as evil. I applaud this comany. They put values and their beliefs over $$. Try finding another business like that.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  18. PleezThink

    But Don, U are redefining marriage with the allowance of g-a-y marriage and as you've (look with a y) shown, you demonstrated that historically and factually, consent wasn't necessary for marriage to not harm society so why not allow pets?

    February 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  19. Jon

    Blondphd??? Are you insane? I think you need to check yourself into a psych ward....Chik-Fil-A isn't going anywheres, no need to worry about needing buyers. I don't know how long you have been in Georgia, but the diveristy is there you just have to get out and find it.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  20. My2cents

    Another of CNN making a story out of nothing.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85
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.