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. garyinco

    I don't usually eat fast food, and don't particularly like Chick-fil-A, but I will be eating there everyday next week. A company helps feed people and the libtards squeak. Disgusting.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  2. wanda

    I love Chick-fil-a......They really know how to cook chicken.......I think Gays should marry and have to suffer all the crap that we do with being married to another person......and putting up with all their inferiors........Gays don't know the half of it....At best, it is a drag and they need to really know who they are mad at and they need to be very, very careful at what they want, because they might get it............and may GOD HELP THEM !

    February 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  3. oklahoman

    Don, what a childish response! Go outside and ride a bike. I don't think your dad is going to like it when he finds out that you have been playing on his computer!! 🙂

    February 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  4. Angie

    We love Chick fila and their Christian beliefs make me want to eat there more!!! Eat mor chickin!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  5. Texan1225

    It is real simple if you are gay and don't like chick fil a's stance don't eat there. I don't eat at gay places and you don't see me whining about it.

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

    I don't patronize Chick-Fil-A because the two days I am most likely to be out and about and in need of fast food are Saturday and Sunday, and restaurants that are not open on both those days are kept off my radar. I just don't want to have to think about what's open and what's not, and the only one that is not is apparently Chick-Fil-A.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  7. Kasey

    Enough of the protesting. If you don't like them, then don't go there to eat. Your statement is then made. Gay "rights" activists: get over yourselves. They run their busness according to their principles, and they don't have to agree with yours.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  8. copanut

    I'm an atheist, and I like Chick-fil-a. They don't preach to me and they make a good chicken sandwich. What else matters? It's a private company and as long as they don't violate any laws really who cares what religion nonsense the owners wish to follow?

    February 5, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  9. Mark

    Personally I could not care less what they believe in – so long as I never have to hear it, your their to serve chicken so serve chicken. Closed on Sundays? Don't care, I can spend my money elsewhere. The religious beliefs have not prevented them from building a successful business model – and I really doubt their beliefs will have much impact in urban cities – if people want chicken they'll eat it. It might change if they start pushing their message to their customers, but I dont think they would be that stupid.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  10. Alverant

    I don't have to eat there. I refuse to spend my money there. And the government should not give money to them either, including tax breaks or enticements to build in a particular city. They can have their views, but we should not be forced to support them with our tax dollars.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  11. Klaark

    Guess I'll eat somewhere else. And if I see a Chick-Fill-A that happens to be on fire, I'll drive right on past.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  12. laxer37

    I eat there because the food is good and is fairly priced. I could care less what the corporate political and social views are. I care even less about a couple college students that started a letter writing campaign after a private company donated to a group with views differing from theirs.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  13. blember

    we let christians marry even though they're retarded

    February 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  14. Frank

    Lots of fat people posting in this thread

    February 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • austin


      February 5, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  15. rough rider

    apparently being pro hetero marriage like 90% of teh world means you are anti-gay, who knew....

    February 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  16. Keith

    Who cares what they did – more Chicken for me – more Chick-fil-a – gay people should harass the state governments not good business

    February 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  17. NickB5

    "employees are encouraged to attend prayer services" wow.....

    February 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  18. Stephen

    Didn't now any of this. I don't eat fast food and I certainly do not support Christian activists / fundamentalists, which I think is the point: a word of caution in case you are one who does not support religious people forcing their views on their employees and on society at large.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  19. Peter

    i must say these gay right activists are big time hypocrites. they claim they want freedom for all(only when it applies to gays and those in favor of gays) but do not want others to have freedom of opinion or association; how does that work? every1 should have the right to associate with who they want and donate food to who they want without the fear of intimidation from some so called activists and the media! i will start eating at Chick-fil-A from now on

    February 5, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  20. NickB5

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

    February 5, 2011 at 6:44 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.