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. drew

    I'm pro gay marriage but all this article did was make me hungry for chick-fil-a.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  2. reaper 678

    No more awesome waffle fries for me. Chick Fil A, I now must boycott you. I feel that you would persecute me for just being different too since I am not Christian, or at least support those who would.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  3. john316

    I hope you can get a "sermon" with your fries at the drive thru.....it's the power of the wallet....not the pulpit.....there are plenty of other options to buy your fast food from.....they are opening a new store in our neighborhood....but I definitely won't be going there .....this is a family owned operation .....like Westboro Baptist Inc.......

    February 5, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  4. Uvgtafrnd2

    What's next, The Human Rights Campaign? Going after Hebrew Franks for being Kosher?

    February 5, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  5. Joot

    NO company has your/my/their morals. If you don't like a company, don't patronize them or, better yet, save up the money and buy the company. Then you can impose your morals and deal with the people who don't agree with your morals.

    Oh, and if anyone thinks this is going to force Chick-Fil-A to hire QUILTBAG's... too late. They already do. My daughter works at a Chick-Fil-A with three.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  6. proud_atheist

    Oh, those little children that need a Father figure to protect them from all the ills of the real world. If you're drunk, just confess and you're forgiven to become a president of the country. If you use male escort service while preaching against gays, just confess and you're forgiven to open a new mega-church. And don't forget to pray regularly as this higher being up there would of course register your complain but only if you droop on your knees and light a candle. I can hardly contain my smiling. And the earth is flat.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  7. Skorzeny

    Please. Let's just all run in circles screaming "I'm offended!". May as well. Everyone else seems to be. By the way, I'm forming the "I'm Offended by the Offended" Group and we will protest all those who are offended. Including ourselves.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  8. Luis Wu

    THat's it then. I'll never eat there again. Stupid Christian morons.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  9. james

    I support them to serve hate based fast food.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  10. Common FN Sense

    Seriously, the messages I've read on this board make me feel truly sorry for the state of mankind, of the most part.

    First of all, Chick-fil-A is a privately owned company. If they want to be closed on Sundays and give free food away, who are we to judge them for that? It's in the owner's rights to give food to whomever they want and operate on whatever days they want. It's not government funded so everyone here can pipe down unless you're the owner.

    Secondly, so what if they give free food to an organization that has views on traditional marriage? Again, privately owned company giving its own money–not taxpayer dollars–to something it wants to. Who are we to tell them what to do with their food and money? Where does the LGBT community have a right to want to lambast CFA for this? No laws have been broken and nothing unethical has been done.

    Now, if CFA is giving, say, AK47's to an extremist organization that takes said weapons and attacks someone? Then yeah I might see where perhaps there's an issue. But they're giving away food that they own, and that their private ownership has authorized.

    Seriously, I know all those for gay rights are like vicious little chihuahuas but come on. Pick and choose your battles.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  11. Alexis

    Am I missing something? It is a privately held company, why is it any of the public's business?

    February 5, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  12. KSWilhoit

    I'm still shaking my head wondering why this, of all the news happening in the world, gets the elite prime space on the CNN home page. It seems that CNN is bent on prioritizing above all other important matters any news that even hints of opposing the radical gay agenda to impose their views on the nation. O the hypocrisy of those who would cry out for acceptance and tolerance while simultaneously spewing hateful, intolerant venom to anyone who dares disagree.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  13. ???

    God as advertising...classy.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  14. Tim Riker

    What's your beef? No, what's your chikin?

    I would be interested to know if Chik-a-fila hires Muslims, Hindis, and people from all kinds of religions or do they only hire Christians. If so, are they required to do Christian things in order to work there?

    I honestly don't give a hoot because I don't buy food from Chik-a-fila. With this latest controversy with donating money to an anti-gay group, I'm even more glad I don't buy food from there. Fast food is nasty anyway.

    I think Chik-a-fila will have more issues in the future regarding employment and diverse views within the Christian faith. As a Christian, I strongly oppose using the Lord's name in vain for something as secular as running a business and making a profit.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Lora

      I know for a fact that they hire Muslims because I have seen it at the University I used to attend. Besides, I don't think they force their views on the employees. They might offer an opportunity for prayer but that's probably all. Business have never been required to be secular. What if your business was a Christian book store? Would that also be something too secular to use the Lord's name in vain for?

      February 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  15. brian

    i certainly won't be spending any money there anymore.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  16. Jim

    I'm always amazed at the "liberal" gay rights advocates. They insist that their rights be respected, but anyone advocating a religious theme or message (particularly Christian) is immediately attacked with vehemence. It seems to me that if you want people to respect your rights, that you are obliged to respect theirs. It seems to me that owners of Chick fil A have a right to their own religious beliefs, just like gay rights advocates have a right to theirs.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  17. SkyKIng

    Stick to your guns, Chik-fil-A!

    February 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Lora

      Careful, someone might think you are using violent rhetoric.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  18. Jon

    Gays just like to cause DRAMA! You know it's true.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  19. caris simmons

    So what's the big deal? Chic fila is free to donate to whom ever they please and0 who cares if any group is upset live and let live.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  20. Justin Case

    Even corporations should be allowed a public aspect and a private aspect.

    How they treat their customers and their employees is the public part of their business.

    Who they chose to donate to is the private part of their business... as is the faith of their owner.

    And we have NO right sticking our noses in their private parts.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:51 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.