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. pronco

    Christian company, eh?

    I wonder if Chick-fil-A opposes war.
    I wonder if Chick-fil-A opposes denying poor children healthcare for preexisting conditions.
    I wonder if Chick-fil-A opposes corporate welfare and bank bailouts and kicking families out of their homes.
    I wonder if Chick-fil-A supports reduced carbon emissions legislation in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that global warming is real.
    I wonder if Chick-fil-A supports investigating possible war crimes by former government officials.
    I wonder if Chick-fil-A opposes torture.

    But they oppose gays, so, that makes them Christian. Pass the chikin.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Independent1

      Yeah. I wonder. Why don’t you ask those questions of EVERY single business you walk into. That’s real practical. And what makes you think you know how they stand on every issue (as you obviously think you do)? I bet you shop at a lot of places owned or run by Christians. Just like I shop at places owned by atheists or non-Christians. Guess what: I don’t have a cow over it. Because I know they have the right to believe and do whatever they want. So can you.

      February 5, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • bigmowma

      I totally agree.

      February 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  2. Ol' Fart

    The true definition of PC is "Pure Crap"

    February 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  3. MJ

    Interesting. I agree that a "private" company can do whatever they want to do with their money. People give to their southern Baptist Christian churches and many of these Christian churches are anti-gay marriage if not totally anti gay period. No one is freaking out over that. However, it is good that people know their views so they can make the decision weather or not to spend their money there. Again, HOWEVER, If this were a Muslim owned company that gives money to peaceful, anti-American groups how would that go in the Bible belt? Sara Palin would crap a cow....Another cow....

    February 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  4. cestlavie

    I'm guessing that Chick-fil-A's quarterly profiits will see a significant increase in response to this gay rights lunacy. Actually, I'm headed there right now.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  5. Paul Davidson

    No longer eating at Chik-Fil-A

    February 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Chickin-Bones

      That's okay Paul, I've never been but went yesterday for the first time. The cow was nice to my kids and the people behind the counter didn't treat me like a bug.

      February 6, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  6. Greg

    If I ate their garbage, I would stop giving them my money, being an atheist myself. On the other hand, all that think they are the moral compasses of the world should eat a LOT of Chick-foul-a!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  7. Jim in Florida

    I don't believe that Chik a Fil will suffer – if their product is good (some swear by it) then they can give food to whoever they please, and if some moddycoddled Gay group doesn't like it, well, they don't have to eat there. This article ran in the NYT and some pinhead at CNN is running it on the web as part of CNN's campaign to moddycoddle Gays and bash Christians. Goodness, this is what the "media" has become. No wonder Egyptians are slapping the pesss out fo Anderson Cooper when they get the chance.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • dljr

      America is one of a very nations on earth that has the luxury of arguing over fast-food and who they serve. Much of the rest of the world is trying to find enough food to survive.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Nolbert in the U.S.


      February 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  8. sciencedude

    Religion is a disease.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  9. Benny

    Someone above wrote "Christ indeed died for all." Well, Gautama Siddhartha (the Buddha) lived for all.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  10. Dave Dawkins

    "you’re going to continue to encounter resistance to those values because not everybody is going to share them"
    Since when are hate and judgmentalism "values"?

    February 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  11. Dr.Berlees

    This has got to be one of the most useless articles I have ever read.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  12. Trey Pizzle

    Go Chic-fil-A......Stand for what you believe it.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  13. lonemountain

    Chick-fil-A has my vote. If the misfits and those with no value syatem do not like a company that does, then go elsewhere and eat....don't try to drag them down to your level. We have too many people educated beyond their means!!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  14. Name*Kim

    My family and I will never eat there again!!! 3 less people

    February 5, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  15. toni

    I don't care if they donate to anti gay groups. I do care if they won't employ gays or if their benefits don't extend to LGBT families of their employees.
    Yes, their food is delicious but if their policies to their employees aren't equally delicious then they should be boycotted.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  16. Just my thoughts

    The gay nazis will not even put a dent in Chick-Fil-A's business. I'd write more, but I have to go get something to eat from Chick-Fil-A!!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  17. Billy

    Chicken Fill Licking is a privately held and family-run let them do what they want. As a gay man I don’t care what they do with their food or money. I choose not to eat there

    February 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  18. Aziz Sabree

    Chick-fil-A should stand up for its Chrisitian values and not be demonized by a gay rights group.Who are they to tell Chick-fil-A who they should give money to.Again trying to push your immoral agenda on a family friendly business.I am glad Chick-Fil-A is standing up for what is right.If the gay rights group disagress with what Chick-Fil -A stands for then let them be and go to a place that supports your immoral lifestyle.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  19. Atomic Dog

    If Chik-Fil-A really wanted to promote Christian values, they wouldn't serve to people who deny Christ's deity. They should only serve other Christians. That's what Jesus would have wanted.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  20. think123

    Time for these gay chickens to stop flapping their wings, shutting their beaks, and leave the everyday people, who enjoy this food alone. CNN and the other moron stream media need to realize this is not a real story to the average american.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:43 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.