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. Marie

    Never have eaten there, and I will make sure to avoid it forever now. I avoid fast food in general so it won't be hard. I prefer my chicken with some gay-loving sinner DNA anyway... juicy.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  2. cindy

    way to go Chick-fil-a!! Stand up for wht you believe in! If people don't like it they can go somewhere else. As for me, I will go there more often!!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  3. Love

    closed on the 'christian sabbath'? whoever said Sunday was the sabbath. Please. At least the Jews and other 'sabbatarians' have that right. There is NOT one Bible verse that upholds keeping Sunday. If you want to go to church on Sunday, thats fine. But to call it the Sabbath, thats another story. Need some historic accuracy here, please.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  4. Keith

    I think a lot of people miss the point. I see analogies such as, "I don't like gay bars, so I don't go to them. Do the same". The one difference is the gay bar is not actively seeking to deny you a right everyone else has. My advice for the fundamentals out there is support churches who don't marry gays. But please, if you and your God would stop acting as though the state is your church. It is not. And the 14th amendment is not up for a vote.
    Straight just Not Narrow

    February 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  5. D Frost

    God, not religion, is the glue that holds this Republic together. That's why it's falling apart. So many weird, fringe agendas that comprise a small percentage of the population but nearly all of the attention. Oh, that's right, that's "hate speech" in these demented weirdos minds.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  6. 2tired2care

    Live by the sword, die by the sword. I will no longer eat there.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  7. RangerDOS

    I support gay rights and I support gay marriages, but I don't support the suppression of others rights and practices because they don't mirror your own. Pull back on the reigns, go after real dangers to civil rights for the gay and lesbian community.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Sue

      After years of trying to keep up with the lstaet and greatest tech gadgets, I've gone back to the simple things. When I moved I threw out so many old Palm Pilots, cell phones, digi cams, etc. I'm all about simplicity now!

      October 9, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  8. jaz

    Wow the tolerant liberals @ it again. Go Team Chick!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  9. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Government must stay out of PRIVATE business and religion! *unless it's Islam, in which case building a mosque on PRIVATE property is subject to seizure by the eminent domain, as established by the 'constructionist' Supreme Court, which foresaw that the founding fathers would WANT government to stop PRIVATE PROPERTY development in case it doesn't conform to white anglo-saxon protestant dogma!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  10. 8andSkate

    Thanks for reminding us we're not a free country, CNN. We have obey you and your brand of fear mongering. While you're at it, you think you can do a hack piece on how PETA spends its money allegedly on events that do harm to property and lives?......No? Didn't think so. Oh, and great job getting ACooper out of Egypt. When he's done wiping his tears, I expect he'll be reporting about this on his "show". Cheers

    February 5, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  11. Doug in AZ

    Frankly - I haven't been to Chick Fliet a lot – but I'll make a point of going there. I am thrilled a corporation would take a stand on this issue. Others are vocal with THIER beliefs – so I'll vote too – with my pocket book...

    February 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  12. Daisy

    I would like to know about their hiring policy...do they hire gays? I mean they can be a Christian company, but they still have to follow EEO laws right?

    February 5, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  13. Art

    If you don't agree with what they did, don't buy food there. Simple as that.

    It isn't like Chick-Fil-A is forcing anyone to eat their food or share their values.

    Bunch of whiners...

    February 5, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  14. jhendrix731

    Why not go after the worst religious organization of them all? The Catholic Church. Christians along with all other religious people are ignorant and weak minded. They can sell their high fat chicken how ever they want to, its a free country, you don't have to eat at their cholesterol and ignorant religion ridden establishment.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  15. Jeff Lebowski

    Regardless of values, morals, gay, straight, ethical treatment of animals...........the #5 twelve piece nugget meal Value Sized with waffle fries and a cherry coke may be one of the best meals of all time. Dip those perfectly cooked nuggets in Ranch, Chick-fil-a sauce or the always incredible Buffalo and you'll forget all about all the trials of the work day. God bless this incredible chicken cooking business. If Colonel Sanders was still alive he would agree this is the best chicken in the nation.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  16. Lisa

    Personally, I'm sick and tired of hearing about the political drama that revolves around these companies. They are not proponents of slave labor (WalMart is, however), they don't inject their food with drugs (at least I don't think they do), they don't abuse their employees, they treat their customers great, and they provide a very tasty product. What they believe religiously, I really don't give a damn. As long as no laws are being broken, I don't see the problem. Do I agree with them? No. But do I care if they want to do what they believe is a "christian" thing? No. It's like saying your neighbor is a terrible person because he doesn't agree with your political or religious views. It's ridiculous. Why does the media always have to stir this crap up? In this case, politics and food have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Let it go!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  17. Matt

    I'm gay, liberal, a foodie and I totally support Chick-Fil-A. If somebody wants to close on Sunday that is their business. I wish more businesses would follow their lead; not because it's the Christian sabbath but maybe people would focus on spending time with their friends and family instead of getting their crap fast food fix. Not to mention their food is damn good and one of the better choices out there for fast food if you take the time to look at the calories compared to other chains. HRC is no less narrow than the "conservative" groups they attack. No more money for you.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • Hungry on sabbath

      What is the 'christian sabbath'? The catholic church/pope changed the day of worship to Sunday and everybody follows. Some consistency here please. We should all be Catholics then.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Sweetipete

      The "Christian Sabbath" is Saturday - the seventh day of the week. The Lord created the Sabbath day and blessed it as part of His creation cycle (take a stroll through Genesis and through the New Testament for evidence of the Sabbath). The change from worshipping on the seventh day - or the Sabbath - began when Roman Emperor Constantine evoked the first Sunday closing law. Thus began the evolution from worship on Saturday to Sunday.

      The Christian community today does recognize and respect the difference between worship on Saturday vs Sunday. The Christian community does not call Sunday the Sabbath; they can’t because the Lord has made clear the day of the week He ordained as Sabbath. Therefore, they call it “The Lord’s Day.” There are numerous references of the Sabbath throughout the entire Bible, but there is only one reference to “the Lord’s day,” and that is in Revelation. No Biblical writer names this day as Sunday, and nowhere in scripture does God change His covenant with His Sabbath to Sunday.

      The Old and New Testament cannot be separated; if God blessed the seventh-day as Sabbath back in Genesis, then the New Testament Sabbath refers also to the sacredness of the same seventh day.

      I believe Chik-Fil-A's agenda is only to stand by their beliefs, not to discriminate against any one group. Although they worship on the day that man created, Chik-Fil-A’s devotion to the Lord is commendable! I am only sorry they are not here in my hometown so I could try their sandwich.

      February 6, 2011 at 6:13 am |
  18. jos

    Chick-fil-A is only so-so. But now I'm going to eat there more often.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  19. seriously

    Go Chick fil A and go In-N-Out and go every other well run faith based family business. That's what made America great – not the gay lifestyle discriminating against everyone who does not embrace their lifestyle as the best thing since sliced bread. Seriously – you are NOT the only ones on this planet and you wouldn't even be here if not for a mother and father. You believe as you do, please allow a private business to believe as it does without your bullying.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  20. Mercury6

    So they gave some food to an group whose social or political agenda differs from yours. Get over yourself, any business or person is allowed this. If it's so disagreeable, drop them a note and stop buying from them. If you look deep enough, there are probably not many businesses that do act exactly as any of us would wish. Besides, their sandwiches are pretty good. I'm going tomorr...er Monday.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:01 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.