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. Rob

    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.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  2. John, CA

    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.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  3. Reality Check

    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.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  4. bob

    I think Chick-Fila-A is run by Mormons, not "christians".

    February 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  5. Ol' Fart (Ray)

    The most accurate definition of PC is "Pure Crap"

    February 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Please stop!

      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.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  6. AndrewsAFB

    Anyone over the age of 15 who still believes that there is a sky-daddy watching over them should be under psychiatric care.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  7. Clark1b

    why would Gays be trying to force others into a defined mold of behavior? ... I thought that they were specifically against anyone doing that.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • smiley

      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.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  8. Ggee

    Let the gays go to KFC>

    February 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  9. Veritas

    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.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  10. Me

    I have an answer to WWJD? Vomit. He'd surely vomit after seeing what some Christians have to say.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  11. jeremy

    I'm going for Chick Fil A right now!!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  12. Silver Schnauzer

    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.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  13. Ol' Fart (Ray)

    The best definition of PC is "Pure Crap"

    February 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  14. so sad

    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....

    February 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  15. james

    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.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  16. IntegralReality

    Who cares, only fat slobs eat at white trashy joints like that.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  17. practic

    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.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  18. NC

    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.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  19. Robert

    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?

    February 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  20. Jack sheet

    I never liked their food but now that I now their agenda, I'll be eating there frequently.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:48 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.