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. BillyD1953

    Chick-fil-A is one paltry excuse for poultry.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  2. Me

    Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays due to the Sabbath. On Sunday God needed to rest because he was tired. And now everyone must rest on Sunday, their donkeys and slaves included. Says so in the bible. What a joke.
    Opium for the masses.


    February 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  3. NHAZman

    CNN: Why do some of your news articles provide top-down posts while others provide bottom-up? How about providing consistency for all of us tired users of your website. Please... 😉

    February 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  4. scott adelman

    If these company cares so much about religious values maybe they could make their food healthier instead of ruining peoples lives with the low quality product of food . I cannot believe they would even try to claim any religious values when they are part of the death culture of greedy corporate america. This company is a total joke all they do is contradict themselves with all the BS . If being a good Christian is killing your fellow man with unhealthy food I will be a atheist this is the problem with America

    February 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  5. Inyourimage

    Hate – anything that does not support a feminist agenda, but does adhere to what God says is right. Whatever is self-evident to anyone that believes in God and His word.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  6. Good grief

    I wonder how much business CNN has created for Chick-fil-A the last couple of days.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  7. Linda C - AZ

    They are fighting the good fight. God bless you, Chick-fil-A!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  8. Conor

    Chick-fil-a was one of my favorite places to eat. I won't be supporting any business that supports any oppressive organizations. While they might think what they're doing is fine, they should realize that the very customers whom made them what they are, are of the very group of people that they donate to oppress. Stupid stupid move Chick-fil-a.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  9. Steelrain6

    Chic-fil-a ROCKS!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  10. NHAZman

    No matter their religious slant, they make the best fast-food chicken and french fries on the planet. Their personnel are also the most polite and customer focused of all the chains. So, don't beat a good thing to death. Just go to Burger King and you'll quickly learn how bad is bad.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  11. hasc

    I note that this story takes up more space on the CNN main page than the events in Egypt. Kind of tells you which way CNN leans, doesn't it. I say, as a private corporation, this company can create whatever culture and donate it's resources where it wishes without getting bad press for it. They have the right to their beliefs and to create a coporate culture that suits them.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  12. mary

    Just because people have been oppressed doesn't give them the right to oppress.
    This Christian business has every right to believe as they do..And to serve their chicken to whoever they please..
    Now a refusal to serve gay's might be a reason to get upset.. But to serve a anti gay group??
    Trying to stop that is oppression..

    February 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  13. Chickfila Does a lot of good

    Chick-fil-A does a lot of good in the community. The are CONSTANTLY donating their food to organizations with they are having events and are in need. They are very focused on those who are in need. Great program with WinShape. Don't pick a fight with the chicken!! Eat more chicken!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  14. AgainstChristianEvilness

    Hopefully they'll be shut down with every attempt to move north of their ignorant bible belt. let these southern nitwits burn. The hypocrisy of these b.a.stards. fk them and their evil beliefs.. May they all rot in painful eternity for them and their loved ones. Christians are evil as bad as Muslims.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  15. snookers

    I am an agnostic. And frankly I do not care what their corporate beliefs are. Although it does not sound very business savvy from a PR angle, better if they kept it under covers. In the meantime , they are free to proclaim their Christian beliefs, it does not bother me one iota .If the food is decent and affordable, I will frequent their places..

    February 5, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  16. Icepick

    I've never eaten at Chick-Fil-A in my life. I never will. And all you Bible-thumpers can kiss my a$$.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  17. Hugh

    So if I hate black people and jewish people and white people and Asian people, I am a bigot. But if I hate gay people, I've simply taken one "side" in the culture 'war." Guilt-free bigotry! All right!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • TWalkins

      Called not***** to hate people, i left that out

      February 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  18. PleezThink

    Their waffle fries are ok, their cole-slaw is really good. Their nuggets are the best. The sauces that go with the nuggets are even better. I appreciate their corporate Christian framework and stance.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  19. matt

    Kodoos for them and keeping their traditions. Although I don't agree with any of them. Maybe next time they should donate to altar boys who have been buggered by priests.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  20. TWalkins

    I guess I only have one thing to say. Im just a simple person who just wants to point out, what seems to be collective ignorance. People have been stating they "hate christian intolerance." By saying that, you yourself are intolerant also. Those people who state that christians cause so much indifference, are themselves causing indifferences. I find it funny because we all want this world free from any type of people personal belief, but that is ignorant to say. Every one has a belief of something, and those beliefs influence the way they live, like it or not. I guess I get bothered by all the ignorance that is being thrown around. So Chick-fil-A has decided to make a company with values, we should praise them for believing in something. I guess ive never seen chick-fil-a have any anti-gay agenda, in the business, but if you all want to ignorantly believe they do, go for it, its your freedom to be ignorant.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:04 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.