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. melrob

    When I was growing up, a lot of business were closed on Sunday. But Corporate greed got in the way, and businesses started to open on Sunday. This was not the South either. Chicago, IL. to be exact. They as private Corporation can do as they want to do. I will still support them. Gays need to realize that they are practicing intolerance as well, when they boycott a business that does not have the same belief system as they have, or did they loose sight of that fact. I wonder how many people who state that they are going to boycott Chick-Fil-A shop at Hobby Lobby, same core values. They are closed on Sunday, the music in the background is hymns playing. They are a christian based company as well.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  2. Jerry Vinter

    Don't like fast food much and care even less for Christian intolerance.

    However, this bashing of private individuals and enterprise for makings its choices has to stop. Its not as if they refuse service to gays.

    Don't like their background ? Don't eat there. I already don't.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  3. rjolay

    If this is really a Christian business, its the only one... every other business in the U.S. is Jwish owned or financed (owned).

    February 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  4. tominscotts

    BTW In N Out is a Christian business also folks and proud of it....

    February 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  5. mensaman

    Why do Gays have to ruin everything? I love Chick fil A.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  6. john

    here we go again. The gay community isnt getting what they want so lets make things as bad as possible for the people that arent catering to their wants. Go somewhere else! Is it really that hard? Not everybody has to buy into your beliefs nor you to theirs. MOVE ON! Im so tired of this political correct to a fault crap! If you dont like it go elsewhere.

    Good for Chick fil a for standing up for their beliefs under preassure of a few troublemakers.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  7. Jason

    It's funny watching all these baby brains arguing over some crappy fast food joint and talking about their little jesus values!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  8. Aron

    i'm ultimately a gay rights supporter, I think they should be allowed to marry.. ect.

    But really? who the heck cares what chick-fil-a donated free food too? don't like it? don't eat there.

    I find them pretty decent as far as fast food goes.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  9. Chick'R Fan

    I'll swap teams b4 I give up chick-fil-a chicken & tea y'all

    February 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  10. cestlavie

    I'm guessing their quarterly profits will see a significant increase in response to this gay rights lunacy. Actually, I'm headed there right now.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  11. Inyourimage

    Sooner or later, this tyranny of political correctness will have to come to and end. Are we not called to discriminate between what is good and what is evil in the eyes of God. He seems pretty clear about this one.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  12. Frank

    I'm more concerned that this company actively donates food and resources to the creationist museum, which has an active agenda to promote misinformation and anti-science propaganda to further the reach of christian religious fundamentalists.
    Someone here wrote: "Faith has been a part of human civilization since Adam and Eve" which is the most funny and disturbing thing I have read all day.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  13. Scott from NH

    Saying "I'm sure their ethics are stellar" is a cop out. You are saying "everyone is bad, so what difference does it make?" My friends who had a child with cancer had no money to stay in a hotel near him, but they did stay at a Ronald McDonald house for free and were able to console their child. McDonald's did get together with environmental groups and dumped their styrofoam containers based on environmental concerns. And McDonalds is trying to offer more healthy items like salads, yogurt and oatmeal. If Chick-fil-A gave free food to the American Nazi Party would you still want to support them? What if it gave out free meals to Al Qaeda? For me, hating gays is no different than hating Jews, hating Black people, or hating America. It isn't something that makes me want to eat there.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • M. Smith

      In the immortal words of Monty Python... You're a looney!

      February 5, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  14. tominscotts

    It's interesting how gays want respect from everyone, but don't want to respect anyone else........just plain selfishness...to the max

    February 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  15. MiMi

    That is the issue with the gay right movement. They want rights but they don't want anyone else to have rights if they are not gay rights. It makes them irrelevent in my book.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  16. Woody

    Had I known that this place was in any way a place that discriminates against any group of people I would have never eaten there. Now that I know I will not eat there. I was born catholic and I know most Christians do not know very much about Jesus anyway. Every time I ask a christian what continent Jesus was born on they have no Idea that Jesus was born on the continent of Asia . At Asia Minor. All Christians do today is keep people stupid to the real world.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  17. PleezThink

    Chick – fil – a has great Chicken Sandwiches. Employees are nice and friendly, place is really clean and best of all, they have really great Chicken Sandwiches.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  18. styymy

    Interesting, but where do you draw the line. Are you going to go after their internet service provider for this group now, cable provider, the cell phone carrier, how about the utility company that services them? Where do you stop?

    February 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  19. What!

    They don't speak for all Christians!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  20. Benjamin Reiver

    Wow, such in-depth reporting. I think we should be more worried about Obama's associations before becoming President than who a private company, donates food too. If they only dug this deep and were as truthful for Obama, maybe we'd know a little bit more about him and his associations with Reverend Wright, Louis Farrakhan, Frank Marshall Davis, and domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. I guess Chick-Fil-A is more important than who is running our Country. Way to go CNN!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:52 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.