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. Tom

    Who would picket if Chick Fil A donated food to a gay rights parade group?

    February 5, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  2. Justin Case

    I'll tell you one thing I HATE people who HATE people.

    And I will NOT tolerate intolerance.

    And if that company is against gay groups than I'm against that company!

    That will show them.

    Wow... the world feels better already.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  3. TexAnne

    First, those that think a Chick-Fil-A sandwich is more healthy than a fast food burger, etc., go check out the nutritional value information. I wouldn't call it healthy. Now their grilled sandwich is more healthy than the fried one, but you're still putting it on a carb laden bun. You're NOT going to find anything terribly healthy at most any fast food chain no matter what their name or religious affiliation. I used to like their sandwich many years ago– then I read the nutritional info & figured I might as well just be injecting the fat directly into my veins, so I marked them off my list so that I might live a bit longer before having that massive coronary....
    Second, try being gay and working for Chick-Fil-A. My daughter had a friend in college who worked there for about a month before he just gave up & quit. He got tired of the nasty looks & cold shoulder from his bosses & the other employees who regularly discussed the evils of being gay in front of him (knowing all the time he was gay). Meanwhile they raved about the good Christian values of the company founder & his family (like they actually knew any of them). Tolerance for others?? Not much.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  4. NickB5

    "employees are encouraged to attend prayer services" wow..... I'd get fired from that job fast for praying to my pagan gods. LOL

    February 5, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Alverant

      Yep which shows you how American christian conservatives are; they don't believe in "freedom of religion". Unless it's their religion of course then they whine about persecution when you don't bow down to it.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  5. James

    I agree with those that think this is much ado about nothing.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  6. Frank

    I know that they are a "christian" company but I eat there anyway.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  7. Ryan

    That's awesome that they have values and they stick to them. They have the right to give food to whoever they want. I think I'll get chick-fil-a on the way home.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  8. HoosierRN

    Like many previous posters in the comment section before me, I agree with the "if you do not like the way they are doing business, go elsewhere." No one forcing you to eat at anyplace that you do not feel comfortable with their policies.

    Last time I checked business owners in the United States could donate to any charity or organization they choose.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  9. NickB5

    "employees are encouraged to attend prayer services" wow..... I'd get fired from that job fast for praying to my pagan gods. LOL what a terrible company

    February 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  10. Redneck Randy

    "The company is privately held and family-run..." and can do whatever the hell it pleases.

    Gay rights activists, go start yer own chicken joint and by all means, donate everything you make to support gay marriage. The MAJORITY of the country DOES NOT support your agenda. Never has. Never will. Get used to it.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • westcoaster

      Redneck Randy (shudder), please do not presume to speak for me. I suspect you actually have no freakin idea what others are feeling, beyond your own little pond "son".

      February 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  11. Ken in MO

    This makes me crazy. I am a Christian but this is a corporation...it has no faith. it is a group of greedy executives that care more about money than they do God. I dont get it. I love to see signs that say "you cant be pro abortion and Catholic" But appararently you can be pro money, anti poor, anti elderly, pro war and be a Christian! Give me a break!!! This is all a gimmic.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  12. austin

    I love Chick-Fil-A, but hate that they are so religious. I also hate die hard Christians Glen Beck, and people that like Twilight.

    – One nation under Charles Darwin

    February 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  13. FreeCountry

    Free country, they can give to whoever they want. If you don't like it, eat somewhere else. I may not agree with them but I love their vanilla milkshake. In fact, I think I better run to get one now, since they are closed on Sundays!!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  14. Rock God

    Chick-fi-A "values" bigotry. I value equality more than their awesome waffle fries.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Just my thoughts

      I prefer the fries.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  15. Guy Placer

    They will fire you if they even think you might be gay, or don't have a girlfriend.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  16. free thinker

    Another example of the progressive left who claim to be open minded complaining about another group and wanting them to change because they don't like the fact they hold an opposing view. Whiney ass babies.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  17. Joe

    I don't see Chik-fil-a picketing anything the gay rights community supports. Why do they care this is a free country, people/companies can support anything they want to... this isn't China.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  18. kyle

    I am taking a different stance here. I will refuse to eat their food because they are christian activists. Religious people are about as smart as a box of cheerios.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  19. mjg228

    For one this isn't news. Chick-Fil-A has never shied away from its Christian values. Second of all, they are a private business and can donate food to who they want to. Boycotting their food isn't going to do anything. They became the business they are today because of how they do business and nothing is going to change that.

    And personally, I know of gay people work at Chick-Fil-A and have never felt as though they were discriminated against in any way. If this company wasn't so bold about being Christians, this probably wouldn't be big news. But they have a target on their back because of that and people will pick on them if they make one wrong move (whether or not it really was a wrong move). So much for "tolerance" from the atheistic left.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  20. Latinvic

    As a gay man I am digusted and appalled by the gay rights movement and the university. I respect Chick-fil-A and think they did nothing wrong by giving this other group free food. I respect the fact that this company has morals and values because we live in a world where people have very little of that. The gay rights or whoever can blast me all they want for taking Chick-fil-A's side but I'm tired of the gay rights movement trying to make everything into a big issue. GET A LIFE!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:34 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.