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. Chewy

    The owners the same rights to disagree with a lifestyle as those who choose a lifestyle. They donated free food to an organization opposed to gay marriage. So what? Are the gay groups suggesting that people who oppose gay marriage should be banned from eating or even accepting food from anyone who shares their views? Regardless of how you support gat marriage, damning a company for donating food to the side they choose to support is a totally selfish position. Saying you support gay marriage doesn't make it right. I, for one, admire Chick-fil-A for standing up for the principles they choose and not caving in for the sake of the balance sheet. I also admire them for their policy for closing on Sunday. Not because I think it's right or wrong, but because they express their belief that they should be closed on Sunday. If you disagree to the point that you feel that you need to act out some kind of protest, then simply don't patronize their stores. That would be enough, but any attacks or picketing would be an absolute act of ignorance.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Billy

      you are right. I am gay and i dont care. I can choose not to eat there. end of story.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  2. Stella

    There are enough chicken sandwiches in the world without eating at this place. I'm a Christian and I can safely say these folks are not, regardless of their personal delusions. Only God may judge. Entrepreneurs may think they're God but that is not factually correct.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  3. Ken

    Good for Chick-fil-A. Stand your ground and keep your Christian values.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Mitch of Atlanta

      Ken- We worship two different Christian Gods/Trinities. I pray in a religion that doesn't celebrate gluttons who eat too much and die of their over-indulgence like Jerry Falwell. My Christianity accepts all people, doesn't blame one group over another; and most importantly, my Christian God's followers don't let their fear center get the best of them and lash back by hating and trying to insist everyone be like them. I'm ok if an individual wants to cut a check to these anti-gay/hate orgs, but when it's official company donations, that becomes an issue because it's no longer an individual statement.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  4. Tom

    This thread is rife with HATE! To all of you secularists..... I'll simply say that prayer is NOT an empty vessell,and the power of Almight God is soon to be demonstrated! It's not to late....

    February 5, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  5. Bman

    Any restaurant that charades as religious makes me puke. Stewardship what a load...
    chick filla, full of vomit!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  6. harry

    I stopped eating there years ago after someone was fired for not wanting to pray before work. Their agenda is not my agenda and I don't need to give them my money to help them further their cause.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  7. Siyajkak

    I think this is an over reaction. They didn't even name the company in the article, could it be they performed this favor for a company that HAPPENED to not support gay marriage, but did so for another reason. They even publicly stated they had no grudge against the Gay rights movement. They haven't hurt anyone. I think that a religiously oriented business is a good thing, and I wish more businesses were like that. Far better than corporations run by greed and profits alone.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  8. Jim

    Whats it matter, There a private Company, so long as they are not breakin the Law who cares, besides they probably ran out of Gay Chickens

    February 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  9. Vic

    Chick fil a has the right to donate to whomever they want... but the gay rights group has every right to organize a boycott in response. Nowhere do I see where the "government" is taking sides, and that is exactly as it should be. My wife in all her ignorance will continue to eat there and support it.. I will not.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Billy

      Vic you are right. As a Gay man i wont eat there. end of story

      February 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  10. Scott

    Good for them. If you don't want to go there don't go there.
    I don't approve of other businesses that wont stand up for Christian values, so I don't go there. I don't need to be so petty as to start a a campaign against them.
    There is a gay agenda that is for sure!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Mitch of Atlanta

      I'm confused. What's wrong with a "Gay Agenda?" Aren't there a Conservative, Tea Party, Liberal, Democrat, Republican, Southern, Northern, Christian, Evangelical, Surfer, Fast Food, Agricultural Agendas??? Any group that ultimately feels its rights are compromised naturally has an opportunity to have "an agenda." As a straight single guy, when I go out to the bar, I have a "Flirting Agenda."

      LONG LIVE AGENDAS!!!!! (by the way, in case you didn't get it, your comment lacks intellect)

      February 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  11. blake

    The gay lobby groups (which includes most of our leftist media) have acquired far too much influence. Am sick of the disportionate influence this morally reprobate group of people exert in our culture.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Mitch of Atlanta

      No more power than the lobbyists supporting evangelicals, conservatives, tobacco, or any other industry/group that wants its voice to be heard in America.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  12. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    I've never eaten at Chick-Fli-A but in passing their bldgs I've never seen as many cars/patrons there as I've seen at McDonalds and I don't eat at fast food places.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  13. Mitch of Atlanta

    It's a chicken sandwich. I'll keep eating there, but keep this in mind: Chick-Fil-A is not Christian, they are evangelical. Evangelicals are a sect of Christianity that is focused on hate and that is not what all Christians believe. Unfortunately, it seems that with the uprising of fear, rage and hate in our culture, so go the evangelicals becoming the majority of Christianity. Just important to note, that while these values are on the rise it doesn't make them right.

    Oh, and one thing, the same reason we shouldn't buy certain products from certain countries because of terrorists being funded, is the same reason the protestors have just cause to not buy Chick-Fil-A. Freedom of speech is ok, but hate (which the orgs CFA supports promote, is not).

    February 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  14. TheBigBear

    It's just food. Chill out.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  15. Dan

    What I find interesting about this article is the fact that most people on here are saying, "If you don't want to support the company, don't eat there." That's logical. And that's what gay people are doing. They're vocalizing this sentiment to their friends and families as, "This company provides support to groups that want to deny us rights so we don't eat there." This is being portrayed as an "Attack". It's not. It's a group of people expressing their beliefs and the media is picking it up and sensationalizing it for their own headlines. Things cut both ways. If you're going to say gays are attacking a christian company for its beliefs, it's fair to say Chick Fil A is attacking gay people by supporting anti-gay causes.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  16. Kregg

    if gays dont like it... then dont eat there or start their own up. all these special interest groups think they can forcibly change someone by crying as loud as they can. get a f'n life!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  17. Tom

    They just earned my business. I am not "anti-gay"and support civil union laws that provide equality, but this kind of political correctness ticks me off as much as anything. Free choice and free thought- that is what America is based on. Get your stinking politics (left or right) out of my face. If gays boycott this business, then fine. For me, this company deserves the freedom to support whomever they want and this is a good cause. I will support them 100%.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  18. ITCH

    I wonder how they pay and treat threir employees. Wouldn't that be a bettertest of their Christian DNA???

    February 5, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • thorrsman

      The employees seem genuinely happy. They provide a smiling service far superior to any other fast food chain. That, in and of itself, says a lot about the company.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  19. Eric

    The Word of God makes it clear that we are living in an anti-Christ culture. Believers must be unwavering in their Christian faith and committed to God. The message is the same for all who do not know Christ – repent and turn to God. It is encouraging to know that there are people who are not afraid to stand for The Lord. To God is the glory.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Amen to that Eric!

      February 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • only my opinion

      Not to sound too athiestic here, but,

      "The Word of God makes it clear that we are living in an anti-Christ culture"
      ... makes it sound like the word of god is a bad thing... not that it isn't....

      But seriously... Would you rather live in a world where eveyone believed in a god and there was none, or a world where people didn't believe in god and there was one?

      February 6, 2011 at 1:31 am |
  20. Jim in Florida

    This is CNN's website's main news headline? My goodness, thought CNN had their panties in a twist over the "freedom fighters" who are throwiong rocks in the square in Cairo and bonking Anerson'd Cooper's empty head on occasion.

    Leave it to CNN to run anything that has the effect of attacking Christians, America, Republicans. CNN is a secular left wing network and is pro Muslim long before they are pro Christian. My gosh, anything opposed to Gay marriage will draw their fire too. How many of you think that today's top headline should be that Chik a Fil gave food to an organization with which Gays disagree and now the sky is going to fall. Goodness, morons.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:34 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.