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. Farah

    HI, I was curious to know if Chic Fil a blesses there chickens in Gods name..you know like like Jews and muslims do (Halal and Kosher) ..so does Chic fil A also bless there food before slaughtering it since they claim to be conservative Christians?

    February 5, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • ib42

      The only 'blessing' they see is the billions they bank.

      February 5, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)


      You mean the money that they have legally EARNED???

      February 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  2. S

    Chik-Fil-A is gross. Side eyeing everyone who eats there.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Reality

      Why the owners of Chick-fil-A are the way they are:-–

      "John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident of birth.

      The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

      The Situation Today

      Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed." J. Somerville

      February 7, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  3. SouthJersey1959

    They are free to give money to whom ever they want. Just as I am free to never eat there again. Having said that they might want to remember what happened to Coors when the boycott started.

    The gay community and it's supporters can make a difference.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  4. thurisaz26

    "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."

    So all of this fuss is about some free food. It didn't say the Chick-fil-A organization poured millions of dollars to eradicate all gay rights. A single location store just handed out some free sandwiches. No big deal. Other companies do much more for gay rights, so why would it be wrong for the other side to see support. America allows both sides to be expressed. What is allowed for one side should be allowed for another, even if that side is not strongly supported.

    Regardless, Chick-fil-A has some of the best fast food around. Their sandwiches are made with whole white meat, it is not pressed at all, and for that alone, the company should able to do whatever it wants. I currently live in MA, and I will gladly drive an hour to the closest store for my fix of the Christian chicken.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  5. ib42

    Christian? DNA? Is a large swathe of Americans completely, stark staring mad?
    Capitalistic (greedy) corporations running a business empire for obscene profits, selling a product which consists of cruelly raised then murdered animal flesh, then saying it's Christian? Sickening!
    If they had a tiny clue about Christ, they would realize how complete is their delusion of being 'christian'.
    Would Jesus eat at a Chk-fil-A? Or go to a mega baptist church on any given Sunday? Read about his nature! He would be on the streets of downtown big city, USA, tending to his real flock, the lost, the poor and sick and homeless..not hobnobbing with these rich idiots. By his very nature , Jesus would be a liberal.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  6. sdgman

    There isn't a thing wrong with Christian values or the Christian faith. But when you chose to promote discrimination against a group of people as a core of how you communicate those values you are going to catch flack for it.

    Why are so many Christian organizations in this country so anti-gay? Does it make them feel better about themselves. Instead of donating food to anti-gay rallies, why don't you donate food to a homeless shelter? Where are your freaking priorities?


    February 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  7. Derrick

    Talk about much adu over nothing. Chik-fill-a did not donate food to anyone. A single franchisee donated $100 worth of food to conference he did not even know was anti-gay marriage. Look, I'm in favor of gay rights, including gay marriage, but people need to pick their battles. This one ain't it. CFA is a conservative Christian company, but it does discriminate. How about taking your rage out on the people actually oppressing gays rather than attacking anyone who identifies themselves as christian.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  8. Good grief

    Chick Fil A is a great business and will be for a very long time. They can donate to who or whatever they want to. They have a known background for being a christian based company so why does it surprised you that they support and anti-gay marriage group? They have morals which more people should start keeping nowadays. God didn't make Adam and Steve..... he made Adam and Eve. If you don't agree with the way that they run their business then don't go there. It's as simple as that.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  9. JenInCO

    Wow – such hysterics over a private corporation donating free food! I'd like to know if the posters bashing Christians also feel the same way towards Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Wiccans, etc. Or is their hate reserved only for Christians? It's truly remarkable how much hate there is for Christians out there.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Eric G.

      I don't hate Christians. I do feel the same about all religions. I only ask believers to stop hiding behind their religions to justify their own hatred of others. There are only two choices. 1. You can provide the verifiable evidence to prove that your beliefs are accurate and thus give your claims authority. Or.... 2. You can admit that it is you that hates others.

      I think this is an important step in this process. Once we eliminate religious belief from the "why I hate others" thought process, we can start to understand the character flaws and ignorance that actually drives this behavior.

      February 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Idonteatchicken

      How did you get to a conclusion that "Christians hate others"?

      February 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Eric G.

      @Idonteatchicken: Why do you as-sume I am referring to Christians only? Do you really need an example of believers using their faith to justify hatred, bigotry and discrimination?

      February 6, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  10. Todd W. Byars

    Chickfila is a well run company with Family Values. It was created by a Family Man and passed to his Family.

    Its growth through the recession and solid bottom line financially are the best proof in the world that they are doing the right thing.

    I still visit the original Chickfila when I can and when I am in Atlanta on business. The Massive Ford Plant across the street is gone and the businesses in the area are mostly closed... but the Chickfila in Hapeville, Georgia is always busy. Open 24 hours too – except Sundays.

    Keep up the good work Chickfila !

    Todd W. Byars
    in Tallahassee, Florida
    ceo http://www.computerdudesonline.com

    February 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  11. Nancy

    First of all, they are a private comapny so they can hold to whatever princples they want, second, if you don't subscribe to those principles, THEN DON'T EAT THERE.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Katie

      I agree – to a point. But what if they decide to choose who they will serve? Who they will hire? Who they will fire? Based on their supposed Christian values. They may be a private company, but they must adhere to the law. What they do with their money – fuel hatred, terrorism, bigotry, whatever – is definitely their business. But they will pay the price in the end, whether it's being shunned, boycotted, protested, or being held accountable for what their money funds.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  12. Benjamin

    I'll definitely put Chick-fil-a on the list of places I'd never work for. I have nothing against Christianity per se, but it's the conservative Christians that tend to lead the charge against workers and the poor, and who support the monied elite.

    Not that this bears any resemblance to what Jesus Christ *actually taught*, but this point seems lost on the "Christian" Right in America.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • garyinco

      This is the stupidest post I have ever read on any forum.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • kristen

      Well said Benjamin!!!

      February 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  13. Cap'n

    Religion is a crutch used only by the weak.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • mickey1313


      February 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      The gay is a crutch used by the insane and perverted.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • hunnykins

      Considering what it takes to live by faith, I'd say the opposite is true. Nice cliche, though. If you ever have an original thought or insult to hurl, please, don't be shy, feel free to share it. I promise I won't laugh, or hurl tired lame cliches in your direction. God Bless.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • EM

      it takes all matter of strength to believe. It's not easy to go against the grain or the mindset of the world.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  14. Seriously?

    Hey kids, I think a lot of the issue is that because these people believe in sky wizards, they think it's cool to look down on and mistreat others. Because that's what they *think* (no one actually knows because it's totally ludicrous of course) that's what their sky wizards want. Maybe they're just idiots who somehow got an entire company. They don't deserve it, but that's what happened, and all the people saying we should just eat somewhere else are totally right. Everyone should just eat somewhere else. They deserve to be treated poorly. Golden Rule, right?

    February 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  15. tim

    go Chick-Fil-A . Most of the people Christ fed during the feeding of the 5000 were probably ungrateful as well, still he was generous. Go for it, hopefully you wont get treated the same way He did.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  16. ted409

    chick a fil has the right to do what it wants. the gay people have the right to do what they want
    theyre making themselves look like a bunch childish people complaining about chik a fil
    theyre supposed to act like grownups this is far from it

    February 5, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  17. Don from Ireland

    Quit your belly aching. Chik-fil-a is a class organization. If you do not like the organization then go somewhere else!!!! I think we will be much happier in the long run.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  18. ieat

    They can donate free food to whoever they want. If you disagree, then don't eat there. Besides, pro traditional marriage doesn't mean anti gay. I don't understand why every time a company donates to a group who happens to be NOT pro gay marriage, all of a sudden they are these terrible anti gay people. Can't people just agree that they disagree and move on? You can't make the whole world share your ideologies.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Why should one group get all social and financial benefits of marriage, while denying another group? Consenting adults are consenting adults, despite their orientation, and religion should never come into the debate of equal rights in this country. Sweeping discrimination under the rug only supports discrimination.

      February 5, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Eric G.

      Sorry, Logic foul on the play! You cannot sugar coat "pro traditional marriage". If you are against gay marriage, you are for limiting the rights of others because of your beliefs. Those you are discriminating against now have the right to demand that you provide verifiable evidence to support and prove your beliefs. Either everyone has equal rights or they do not. If you deny this, you are being dishonest.

      February 5, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • albie

      I won't eat there – and it has nothing to do with being pro/anti gay - i just hate christians

      February 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  19. Wzrd1

    At one time, we were permitted to mention that text, which founded this once great nation. It is no longer permitted here.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      As such, I'll not waste my time here. Let the Christian Taliban rule the land.

      February 5, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Quizzle

      This country was founded by people who were persecuted for their beliefs.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • mattmchugh

      Yes, I agree completely! People seem to want to pretend the Articles of Confederation never existed, but it was core legislative and ideological blueprint for the founding of this nation.

      February 5, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  20. Jett Lee

    Chik-fil-A's relentless Bible-banging, über Christian/conservative business model, and piped in Contemporary Gospel music annoy the bejesus out of me. I'd boycott them if they didn't make such a terrific chicken sandwich.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:16 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.