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. TEX

    Chick-fil-a has my money$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    February 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  2. Matt

    In California, and a few stores in AZ, UT and NV, we have a privately held Christian chain called In N Out Burgers. On the cups, burger wrapper and fries container, they have references to certain bible passages. People (like me) will literally drive hours to get a burger sometimes. We jokingly incest they put crack in the burger, so we call them "CrackBurgers." I am an Athiest. Does it bother me that they are so flagrant will these references to the Bible...not in the least bit. Like a lot of you said, it is about the food, and should only be about the food. What they believe in, I could care less. Just give me my dose of "Crack" and I'm happy.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  3. TheLurkingBat

    after reading this I keep having visions of the Dr. Righteous Fried Chicken boxes from 'Styx – Kilroy Was Here'.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  4. DADvocate

    Why are the gays so intolerant and fascistic? They want to be tolerated but tolerate no one else. Typical liberal fascism.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  5. Keith in Michigan

    I've never eaten at Chick-fil-A before but I will now! The gays are always looking to pick a fight.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  6. Goofball

    It's a little known fact that Jesus fed the 5000 with Chick-Fil-A

    February 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  7. Richard Krings

    I hope they stick to their values. I and most customers could care less about how they rate with the corporate equality index.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  8. TEX

    Chickck-fil-a has my $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    February 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  9. Holly

    I'd like to know more about the details of this story. My feeling is that they probably donated to a church and cnn or the gay rights association has twisted it into being an 'anti gay group' because that makes for better headlines.

    Either way it is clearly another oppertunity for the media to bring a bad rap to Christians, because as it stands today, Christians are the last group in our 'politically correct society' that people seem to find acceptable to ridicule for their beliefs. You will not find articles on cnn ridiculing blacks, asians, muslims, scientologists or just about any other established group.

    That said, I enjoy Chickfila's food. I have been a frequent patron over the years as well as an employee. As an employee I was treated well and with respect. As a patron I find Chickfila to be one of the last establishments in our society today that remembers what good old fashioned customer service is all about. The atmosphere in Chick-fil-a is always great, the greetings are friendly, the thank yous are sincere, and there is always someone coming around to check if you need refills and to make sure your food tastes good. If there is a problem it is quicky remedied. I patron three different chick-fil-a's, based on where I am on any paticular day, and service is just as good at one as it is the next.. I wish other restaurants would model their service after chickfila. Chickfila employees are in general so much better than the bored kids at other fast food places who look as if your arrival is an annoyance. I've been to so many other places where I've thanked the employee for helping me and didn't so much as get a response, either thanking me for MY business or otherwise.

    This is just a hiccup for Chickfila. They have grown their business with great customer service and great food, and I don't think they are in any danger of hurting for business in the near future.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  10. Be done with it

    I really do hope that Islam spreads faster throughout the US than it did the UK, so maybe in 50 years I can take a look around at all the retarded atheists who bashed Christians endlessly over petty crap (while using the actions of a few to stereotype the entire body of Christianity, which ironically would be racist if I used the actions of 1 african american carjacker to stereotype the entire race as criminals...but hey why apply logic amirite?) when they get to live through Sharia law. I can't wait to see how CNN and Fox News and GLAD and all of them fair against social rule that will simply castrate gays and deprive women of all rights. It'll be a blast.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  11. Quill

    Who would the gay group expect Chic-fil-a support??

    February 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  12. caris simmons

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

    February 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  13. C.S.

    Karma will take care of all the meat eaters. You see, they'll all come back as mistreated, factory-farmed animals. Like they say, Karma is a B!tch.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  14. celeste

    Why can't a FAMILY OWNED business give money to whatever group they want without EVERYBODY'S tail feathers getting stepped on?! It's STILL America, people!!

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

    Looks like I'm eating at Chick-fil-a tonight. Amen

    February 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  16. Travis

    If the gay community doesn't like the Christian values of Chic-Fil-A.....then GO EAT SOMEWHERE ELSE! It's Chic-Fil-A...not gay-fil-a

    February 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  17. Uvgtafrnd

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

    February 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  18. Mark

    I am not a huge fan of Chick-fil-A's food, but based on these crazy attacks, I will now go out of my way to eat there.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  19. Lora

    I do not eat fastfood, but I might have to buy some chicken from this restaurant and give it away to a homeless person. I only wish more businesses had an ethics model to follow, especially a Christian one. Gays want everyone to be tolerant of them, but have no tolerance for others. They want more than tolerance, they want everyone to say that what they are doing is correct. Well, not everyone agrees and they can't accept that. They need to push their ideas onto the rest of the world. Maybe the gay people need to look in the mirror and ask themselves how tolerant they are instead of hunting down a family owned business to target.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  20. FaithWalk

    Chick-fil-a is the only fast food restaurant that is always clean and has food that is consistently good quality here in our are of PA.
    Besides people should be able to donate to whatever cause they want. The Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations can donate to political campaigns because not to allow them to do so would violate their free speech and corporations are made up of people. Liberals have been trying to ignore that ruling ever since.

    February 5, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • carlinism


      February 9, 2011 at 2:26 am |
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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.