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. oklahoman

    Just another example from a gay activist group that seeks tolerance by being intolerant! Hypocritical ! I think that I will close this down and go and buy some Chick-fil-a!!!! 🙂

    February 5, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  2. Mysymphony

    I don't agree with blasting a private company, especially one known for conservative values, because they stand up for their values. I happen to disagree with them as a gay american. Therefore, as an american, I chose to not eat at Chick-fil-A. That's my right. That simple. They don't push their values on me, I won't push mine on them. We just won't do business together. I need to lose weight anyway.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  3. RetLaEnvEmp

    Boycott whomever you want, just remember that a backlash can take place. Gays can all be "outed" even if they don't want to be. Gays are out numbered at least 10 to 20 to 1 in the general population and can be kept under a "glass ceiling" in business corporations like any minority group. People are getting their guts full of media fueled gay problems – if you don't like the chicken sandwich don't buy the chicken sandwich but shut up.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  4. Trina

    Contrary to the some of the post not all Christians are against gay people or gay marriage.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  5. Phoenix and Trinity

    Good luck and God bless morals!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  6. Surfrider68

    Why is this even an issue? I am so tired of these groups acting like their rights are being violated. This is a privately owned company and they can support any organization they wish to, this is still America right? Gay activist always causing drama to make their voices heard. You want to be gay be gay! But stop trying to protest against a company(s) that chose to acknowledge marriage is between a man and woman. If you don’t like that, or believe that to be true go eat at Taco Bell or Pollo Loco.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  7. Jonathan

    Listen to all you Hippocrates. I've seen half of you get ticked off about tv show and voice your opinions so hard about wanting change or something pettier. If this was a food chain giving food to the terrorists I bet you'd be ticked off even more. Well, about 3/4 of you would just post on CNN or other forums but take NO action at all. I applaud all gays who fight for their rights. When war comes, I wonder how many of you will actually defend your country. I think you'll troll forums and just spit out bile and hate.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  8. Rod

    That age old adage: "be sure of your sin, or your sin will find you out" has proven true again.
    You can not force "true" Christians to believe that sodomy is not sin.
    The message that Jesus has for all of us simply this:
    "Take my yolk upon you and learn from me,
    for I am gentle, and humble in heart
    that you might have rest for your souls."
    "For my yolk is easy, and my burden is lite."

    February 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  9. medstu2012

    Please explain why this is on the front page of a national news network website? Giving food away turns into a controversy? A private business can do anything they like- I applaud Chick-Fil-A for standing by their values. Praise the Lord! Instead of complaining about something like this, we need to pray for Hillary Clinton giving advice to the conflict in Egypt... a much greater concern.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  10. richard newman

    I'm over this crap. I don't normally eat at Chick-fil-A but from now on I will go there at leat once a week and encourage all my frinds to do the same. No one group should dictate the standards of a business. You do it with your wallet. And BTW why is it always the christians that are attacked...Muslims cut off peoples heads and noone says poop.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  11. Farran

    Companies have a right to donate to any organization, as much as those who disagree with the choice of beneficiaries have to not like it and say so. It's great to live in a country where we have that freedom. I for one support this company because of their community focus.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  12. JD

    Problems for Chick-Fil-A?... Have these guys ever tried to walk in and have lunch at one of these restaurants? (Good luck finding a parking spot or navigating the drive-thru line that wraps around the building twice) I hate to see the media crate drama over something as silly as this.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  13. ELH

    Please stop parachuting cows into the stadium, it is dangerous.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  14. Gary

    Would it matter to you if a company donated money or food to a white supremacist group? Or a charity that pays for abortions? Or to build the mosque near ground zero? I agree with the people who say that we should vote with our dollars, but it is good to inform everyone about actions that companies do with their profits.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  15. erock

    The majority of Americans oppose gay marriage. So, its national news that Chic Fil A happened tp donate some food to a group that shares the same opinion as most Americans? Who cares what this gropu that's complaining has to say? Any group or person that holds on to any form of traditonal American and/or Christian set of ideals ends up being attacked the fringe left. We need to start equating the far left with the far right in that they both want to oppress other's views and beliefs.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • DDW2

      "The majority of Americans opposes gay marriage?" - How do you know that?

      February 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  16. DDW2

    Greetings from the 21st century, Americans!

    Could one of you religious nutters please tell me what exactly the "biblical definition of marriage" is? Citation and all. And once you have, could you also tell me why we should follow rather arbitrary interpretations of what is written in a really old book to decide how to live our lives?

    Europe thanks you for the comedy. Keep it up!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  17. Nathan

    With the world as diverse in beliefs as it has become, it's impossible to please everyone. Maybe they did give free food to a certain group of individuals. Does it really matter? It's their business and the can run it how they choose too. If you are offended by the fact that they gave food to a certain group, then don't eat their. If you don't give them your money, then you really aren't associated with them. It's kind of like groups of individuals who are anti-gay. Gay individuals don't affect your lives, so you have no right to tell them how to live. By not giving Chick-Fil-A your money, they don't affect your life, so you can't tell them how to run their business.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  18. guestor

    well........I dunno.......are they calvinist or arminian? I wouldn't want to do business with anyone who wasn't line up perfectly with what I think......are they supra or infra?........premil or amil?......lotsa important factors....

    what a crock!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  19. forallpeople

    is dangerous and should be discouraged.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • forallpeople

      cnn censorship is dangerous

      February 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  20. Cheesekun

    God forbid someone disagrees with you!!! OMG lets riot! There's someone out there who disagrees with my stance!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:25 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.