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. c

    We LOVE ChicFilla, we support them, we are glad they honor God and are closed on Sundays. So is Hobby Lobby.....
    There are many businesses that are Christian Owned. So what!
    If I don't want to go to a Chinese Restaurant because they have a Buddah in the entrance and they pray to Buddah, that is my perogative. I don't expect the Chinese restaurant to take their buddah down.
    I either
    a. Ignore it and enjoy the food or
    b. go to Chic Filla. 🙂

    February 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  2. Marcy

    As a privately owned business, Chick-fil-A has the right to donate food to any group it chooses and I admire the way that they that live their Christian beliefs 24/7, not just on Sunday. I don't see hatred in a donation of free food, but I see plenty in the rabid reaction of those who want to label them and call for boycotts against their business. Who are the REAL haters here???

    February 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  3. AJ


    I hate it when my wife puts words in my mouth, then acts as if I said them. I hate it only slightly less when someone does it to somebody else.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  4. adam

    so the gay rights group is seeking attention by finger-pointing. who gives a crap. a private company can do what they like, they dont have to answer to some low-rent attention-hungry backwater pro-gay group or anyone else. and they dont have to sign up the damn CEI either. most people could care less about the damn CEI. who even knows about it unless you're a militant-style gay? really. they need to spend more time seeking REAL issues and not blasting a company for some free food. Please. THEY AREN'T ANYONE'S MASTER.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  5. shazmataz

    isn't if funny, you can have BET, but you can't have an all white channel....you can have a gay bar, but you can't have a restaurant that is anti-agy.....you can have JET magazine, but you can't have an all white magazine and if a magazine doesn't have minority ads, they get sued. So here is a privately owned restaurant, running a business the way they want, they support local schools, having school nights and donating part of the money collected that night to the school (HEY MCD's and BK, ever try that?) they have family night, this week, kids can go in and make valentines day cards (Hardee's, ya listening?). You go to the restaurant, and if you have little kids, they have people come to your table asking if you need anything, so you don't have to leave your baby alone at the table (Yeah, taco bell, what a concept). Good golly, we have a place that is doing some GOOD in the world...so jeepers, of course we have to bash them.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • DDW2

      I think the KKK is accepting applications. There's your chance.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • miche flowers

      Very well said and so true!

      February 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  6. Julie

    Maybe Chick-Fill-A could be Christ-like peacemakers by giving free food to some gay-oriented cause as well.
    It's true, that we can take our money elsewhere if any aspect of a corporate philosophy is repugnant to us. I do.
    Trouble is, that I don't know the corporate philosophies of every company I come across, and the idea that I might be enwittingly supporting, through my innocent patronage, something that I find hateful or marally offensive is a problem. Chick-Fill-A implicit endorsement of anti-gay political action would certainly be enough to make me eat at home. I'm glad this was brought to public attention. I think companys should be required to have their corporate missions and what they donate to available to anyone who walks into their stores. In these contentious times of God-knows-where-the-money-is-going-to, I think it's important.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  7. bu

    Religion is a disease of the Mind! Be part of the cure, not the problem!

    Help cure the religion disease!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • simplyput

      You need to think deeply about what you write before you write it - Reason & history do not support your claims. Christianity has done more good in this world than any other philosophy. Of course, evil people use religion to accomplish there evil goals, but are you surprised? Everyone (and especially you) has a religion - It is the belief system you live your life by. The people who hold similar belief systems to yours (atheism) are Hitler, Stalin, Chairman Mao and communist China, etc - That's not good company.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  8. Tony


    February 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • Captain_Colossal

      It's McDonald's you mother fu.ck.ing retar.d

      February 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  9. Jack the Catholic

    how many gay people does it take to screw in a light bulb? 1, and he screws it in his butt

    February 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • DDW2

      How did you get out of the cave?

      February 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Nathan

      I should have known this comment was going to be stupid and pointless when I read "Catholic" at the end of the name.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • carlinism


      February 9, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  10. AWMessenger

    I am impressed at the non-negative comments toward Chick-fil-A at the bottom of this story. Usually when CNN runs a belief story, the anti-belief crowd runs amok. Looks like there are a great number of Chick-fil-A supporters out here. I like Chick-fil-A. There sandwiches are great. Their morals are great. The fact that they are a company unafraid to express their moral beliefs is amazing, which in itself is greater than anything. We have a few family-owned restaurants here in my community that express the same things, and in turn, the community supports them in like manner.

    One thing I thought was interesting about this story, possibly enigmatic, or perhaps just a poor choice of words, the writer of this article states the following:

    "Christian culture pervades many aspects of Chick-fil-A’s operations."

    What comes to your mind when you read that? I think a different word could have been used, nonetheless, I'm glad Chick-fil-A has chosen to pervade their operation with Christian values. Oh, and those cows on their billboards ROCK!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  11. Captain_Colossal

    A scary percentage of christian leaders are ped.ophiles or closet hom.ose.xuals. It's a good cover-up or 'front' for miscreants is to drive a car around with 200 D.A.R.E. stickers and attend church.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  12. Robert J. Anderson

    Who cares-You don't have to eat there-that means more for us.......

    February 5, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  13. JKRC

    their food is overpriced and substandard. I'll take that into account first.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  14. TW

    Why does it matter what position anorganization distributing food to those who need it takes on gay marriage?? This isn't a political battle field, it's about feeding the hungry and they don't withold food from gay people so I have no idea what is wrong with the gay groups.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  15. Michael R

    You know what I don't like? The fact they're closed on Sunday! Just like with Target, if you don't like their policies don't shop there. It's so simple. Quit being all dramatic about everything.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  16. forallpeople


    February 5, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  17. Shane G

    This is the same as if Chick-Fil-A donated free food to the KKK or an anti-women organization but with different variables. We are still in the same discriminatory levels in this country where people think it should be a choice whether Gays should have equal rights or not. It's not a choice. Gays are being targeted and discriminated against and it's not up for the people to decide because of a predatory "Belief System." So it's considered a choice to discriminate against Gays but not Blacks or Women even though they were once on the same boat as us and are represented as lesser individuals in the Bible?

    February 5, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  18. Jeff in IL

    Chick-fil-A is exercising their legal rights. Freedom haters wish to curtail the rights of others. Don't worry freedom haters, you are slowly winning. I hope you enjoy the micro-managed enslaved society you will ultimately bring about.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  19. chuckly

    why are gays the first to cry 'intolerance' when they are the most intolerant group out there!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  20. Mr. Nick

    Again another non news story from the communist news network CNN. Stop trying to make an issue out of a business beliefs. They have every right exercise thier rights.
    Way to good Chik -fil I support you 110%
    CNN – go to hell!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:19 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.