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.
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.
I wonder what their moral policy is like with regards to the treatment of the chickens at their processing facility. I'm sure they're heathens just like KFC.
I will eat at a Chick-fil-A at the next available opportunity!
Human Rights Campaign is another disturbing example of a politically correct, heterophobic organization that shamelessly promotes an anti-religion agenda.
Just as Chick-Fil-A has the right to run their business how they please, customers have the right to not only not eat there, but also tell others not to eat there.
It is then up to that person to make the decision about what they want to do.
This isn't rocket science people.
I think Chick-Fila-A is run by Mormons, not "christians".
The most accurate definition of PC is "Pure Crap"
You’ve said this three times now, can’t you think of anything else? It wasn’t funny the first time. Besides, PC stands for Personal Computer because politically correct is an oxymoron.
Anyone over the age of 15 who still believes that there is a sky-daddy watching over them should be under psychiatric care.
why would Gays be trying to force others into a defined mold of behavior? ... I thought that they were specifically against anyone doing that.
Its called having it both ways....Call for tolerance yet tolerate no ideas but your own. These days if your not a gay lover you apparently are a gay hater. I don't think the gays would allow an in-between.
Let the gays go to KFC>
Not that I eat fast food anyway, but I sure won't frequent any Chick-Fil-A. Didn't know they have this christian fascist backdrop.
I have an answer to WWJD? Vomit. He'd surely vomit after seeing what some Christians have to say.
I'm going for Chick Fil A right now!!
Will never spend another penny at this place, same way I feel about Domino's Pizza and their owner. Stopped buying their product over 40 years ago.
The best definition of PC is "Pure Crap"
It's very sad that we let religion control us when we don't even know if there is a higher power. People die over religion....what's up with that? Religion seperates people! Just be kind to each other and be an honest person and we'll be fine. Don't let the FEAR of god control you. If you are afraid of being punished by a higher power why would you want to have anything to do with religion? It actually sounds funny. We have made so many advances in technology and medicine yet we sound so primitive whwn we let religion and the fear of god control us. Think about it....
America youre fat as a pig from eating garbage like this...The question on the other hand is "would this company hire you based on your personal preferences" If no then they are bigots and should be refused a triple bypass because theyre haters.
Who cares, only fat slobs eat at white trashy joints like that.
Christians who patronize this chain may not be going to Hell; but are they going "to live" very long? Not if they keep this up. No selfrespecting, waistline-watching gay would set foot in this place.
This idea that Christians should be anti-gay has no basis in the teachings of Jesus. These fake Christians pull an obscure and maybe even ambiguous passage out of the old testament to justify their anti-gay prejudices and falsely claim that they are taking a Christian position. These so-called Christians are a disgrace to real Christians who try to follow all the teachings of Jesus, and they are a threat to the rest of us who wish for a fair and civil society.
I tend not to shop at businesses that reduce reverence for He whom it's owners declare to be creator and redeemer of the universe, and all who inhabit it, as a marketing tool no matter how obliquely. What next, replace that cute little paper hat with sack cloth and ashes?
I never liked their food but now that I now their agenda, I'll be eating there frequently.