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. james

    Don't fix something that ain't broken! Let the secular humanist do their own mending...Go Chick GO!!! I ioves me chicken! God bless the Chick! I mean that both ways...btw

    February 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  2. Trina

    This offends me soo much. Who is anyone to say how someone spends their money. This is a privately owned company. I am not against Gay Marriage. I am against some one saying how you can spend your money. If McDonald's gave money to a gay organization I am sure it wouldn't be the lead story on CNN.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  3. Frank Sausage

    I just wonder if Chic Filet let's Jewish employees take Saturdays off to attend Temple. Do Muslims get Fridays off? Do old Mormon dudes get time off to marry additional teen brides?

    February 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Abudu Rahman

      Muslims don't have day off or a sabbath. We take one hour of the middle of Friday to worship together and return to work or whatever we were doing.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  4. Brandon

    None of you hypocrites are asking for equality – you're asking for the other side to agree with your ways. Tolerance goes both ways. If you want people to tolerate your life style, maybe you should try tolerating their disagreement with said life style. Nobody is holding you back from being gay – so stop making such a big deal about it.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  5. Heather Jeane

    Those Christians are such closed minded hypocrites. It's our civic duty to boycott them and tell everyone what jerks they are until they see the error of their ways, see we are right and become as open minded and accepting as the rest of us.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  6. Captain_Colossal

    has anyone here ever eaten at a chick fillet? its worse than Arby's.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  7. theonedavid

    If the gay is sad, they are doing the right thing.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  8. Rick Galanos

    A family eatery with traditional Christian values. A company which expresses it's love of GOD and all his children. May GOD bless this company. I know where I am having lunch this week.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  9. Southport

    If gays do not want to eat there for whatever reason....FINE!! It will make the line shorter for all the rest of us who don't judge or care. We just want to eat the BEST samdwich EVER!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  10. Captain_Colossal

    chick fil a already has the BCS games on lock. or at least one of them. they can lick my butt hole

    February 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Chip in USA

      He can't. Yours has healed thanks to Allah.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  11. Chip in USA

    May I propose lamb burgers? That is the clean Koranic meat.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  12. Andrew from Illinois

    Dear Gay Groups, please have tolerance for Christians.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  13. Chris

    Let them boycott at least I know of a place I can go to eat without having to see that crap. Hope they all drop dead of AIDS soon.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  14. Abudu Rahman

    You all keep on eating that deep fried, msg, cholesterol filled and doubled salted chicken. If it was such a moral company they would use range free chicken certified not to contain all of the additives they add to regular commercial chickens. They are killing you softly with their edible poisons.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  15. Tim

    You know, the gay marriage debate doesn't really move me either way. But you know what I am passionate about? FREE SPEECH. As a privately held company, Chik-Fil-A should be able to give food to whoever damn well they please.

    As long as they aren't openly discriminating against gay (or black, or old, or Hispanic, or Jewish) customers, this "issue" is a non-starter for me, and I am far more disturbed by efforts to silence a person or company that doesn't march in lock step (an apt metaphor methinks) with the politically correct belief du jour.

    Guess I'll be showing my support for the First Amendment by eating at Chik-Fil-A tomorrow. Well, not tomorrow, since that's Sunday.... but soon.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  16. Ash

    God is not real, but gay people are.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  17. chuckly

    why is it that gays accuse anyone they want of being intolerant, when they are the most intolerant group out there!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  18. harrisonhits2

    The food is awful, I wouldn't buy it if there was no controversy at all.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  19. Aerocog

    Chick-Fil-a has every right as a private company to suppose what movements it pleases, just like how Whole Foods and Universal can supprot Obama and enviomental movement. WHy is it when a company they support conservativism, they get assaulted on almost every front. Gays don't like people judging them on their choices and lifestyle what make them think we like and what makes them thing we don't derseve the same respect.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  20. drummerjoe

    Shame on you CNN for leaving out key pieces of information:

    1) It was a local franchise that made the donation
    2) It was a donation of food to 2 local marriage conferences.

    Unfortunately, this isn't a story of a national company that is seeking to give free lunches to activists across the country seeking to suppress gay rights as CNN would lead the reader to believe.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • forallpeople

      cnn censors my post on gays harm to society

      February 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
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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.