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. easy e

    I'm sure everyone would be saying the same thinghs if we were talking aboul Mohammed's Falafals and Islam.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  2. Mike

    Zaxby's is superior, plus I don't have to deal with all that Jesusy crap.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  3. cestlavie

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

    February 5, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  4. Middle of PA

    Last time I checked, gay marriage was still illegal in Pennsylvania, as well as most states. How is a private company giving free food to an organization that supports current lawwrong? Would you have felt better if they sold it to them instead? Reading the comments reveals alot of "hate" (in word and tone) from the anti-law activitsts.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  5. David

    I'm always amazed how hate and intolerance are the most important aspects of Christian values. Having been raised a Christian, I am disheartened that people who are supposedly taught to "love one another" and are told to practice the golden rule are the ones who don't know how to do it because people are different from them. Such hypocrites!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  6. Jay

    This company was kind enough to donate food to those in need.
    I'm gay and I support Chick-fil-A all the way.
    I commend the company for standing up and maintaining their Christian faith and ideals. That's their business.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  7. rjolay

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

    February 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  8. Woody

    Most Christians are idiots to the real world. They do not even know what continent Jesus was born on. The answer is Asia . At Asia minor. Discrimination and hate are the largest sins of all.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  9. Me

    I hate Chick-fil-A, and not becasue of their values. I'm Christian. Their chicken sucks. I do like their waffle fries though...

    February 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  10. Dan

    This is a typical case CNN Christian bashing. Other than that agenda, this is a non-story.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  11. cestlavie

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

    February 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  12. A10128

    I have an idea, CNN! Start unnecessary rhetoric on your site today between fundamentalists & gays! After all it is s slow news day!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  13. so sad

    Look what religion does to all of us! GO RELIGION!! Way to rally all of us together WOO WOO!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  14. Michael

    Huh. I never knew the place was all Bible behind the scenes. That's too bad, they made good food. I'll miss it.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm |

    Hang in the Chik Fil A. I support you now more than ever.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  16. Vader

    It's nice to know that some organizations still have the backbone to stand up against all of this PC nonsense and stand up for what they believe (too bad the Boy Scouts didn't)...

    February 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  17. Scott from NH

    My church, ELCA, performs gay marriages and ordains gay pastors, so... being Christian doesn't mean you have to be against gay marriage.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  18. boosubaru

    It's their food! They can donate to whoever they want to. Stop critiquing them.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  19. Faith

    I love how gay rights groups will eviscerate people for having a different view than they do, but they're allowed to have a different view. So what if Chick-fil-A wants to donate to a group that's against gays? They didn't say "Gay people are not welcome in our store." They simply said "our values are in line with this, so we will support it."

    Good grief. Talk about a senseless freakout.

    February 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  20. Nick

    I'm sick of every squeaky wheel fringe group expecting others to jump just because they're mad about something We don't need to hear them and if I was a business owner, I wouldn't care if they shopped elsewhere! Time we start doing what we want and to hell with the few whackos who have a problem. Right on Chic-Fil-A. Don't bow to this BS! This is the reason this country is in such a mess, we give too big voice to those who lead perverted lifestyles, and who practice vile religions!

    February 5, 2011 at 5:57 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.