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. Cruzader

    My comment has been banned twice, perhaps because it describes in detail how this cult works.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  2. Paul Vogt

    Hey "Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor"...What happened???...Did you try hitting on some dude at Chick-Fil-A and he turned you down? C'mon, with history in the making in Egypt, don't you have better things to focus on? This is what's wrong with America. You suck.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  3. mike

    Thank GOD they dont use gay chickens!! Oh wait... they cant cause they couldnt stay in business.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  4. wiseman60

    unfortunately we are now turning into a society of critics.... anyone who sticks their head out and stands out for a belief or something else that not all people will not agree with are branded as a 'bigot" ..... I am starting to look for heroes now .... someone who walks the talk ... who stands for something different .... closing on Sunday in this age is certainly "radical" and what is wrong with prayer??? Let us get into trouble and what comes to our lips.... is it not a prayer... Stick you head up high Chick you have the right to be different!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  5. Sighko Sis

    I know this company. They are basically against anything non-Baptist. Of course, the Baptists have struck a deal with the Roman Catholics. Have fun. And, yes, I'm judging everyone, and everything. Are you? Or do you simply take orders from another one who is judging? Have fun.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  6. twalk

    Just don't eat there. Gay groups are alot like black groups they complain about everything.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  7. Rajat Singh

    Does'nt USA has freedom of religion? If they believe in Christianity and donate food to someone they like, who are you to object. If you want free food to be given to gays, then you cook some food and donate them (I bet you guys are good with kitchen stuff) and stop nagging, for god's sake. Women nagging was bad enough, but now... well never mind.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  8. DanJ

    their values make me as sick as their food. (only place I have gotten food poisning)

    That said I agree that no one forces me to eat their food or believe their godless message, but they do have a right to donate food to whoever they wish. I for one will take my food dollars elsewhere because of their values and bad food

    February 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  9. 1mile50

    Their chicken sandwiches suck. Tastes like it's been microwaved, no flavor, just a bare chicken breast, not even browned.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  10. Victoria

    I am so surprised that this blog doesn't call Chik-fil-a out on not only being a Christian company, but a Mormon company, a group that doesn't just feed anti-gays, but funds them (Prop 8). As a openly gay ex-Mormon, I'm especially sensitive to this clarification.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  11. Butter

    Come on now, Human Rights Campaign! You can pick a better fight than this! As an ultra progressive/liberal, I agree with most of your stands, but I think this one is silly. These people have done nothing to stand in the way of anyone's human or civil rights – they are just conservative, which is their right. Back off and find a REAL problem!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  12. SMH

    The great think about America is that you have choice...so if you dont like Chick fila...guess what...u have the choice not to eat there..

    February 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  13. Donny

    We need more is these types of companies in the United States, that take a moral stand. I have never eaten at one of these food chains but I will now make it a point to do so to show my support.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  14. John

    I really wish that people would keep their religions to themselves. I will NOT eat at a place that discriminates against ANYONE, or supports ANY causes that are pro-discrimination and pro-bigotry. Religion can be a force for good in the world, but can also be a force for great evil. In America, Evangelical and Roman Catholic religion is bigoted and narrow. Now, if their owners want to believe such garbage, more power to them. But DON'T try to shove your narrow and bigoted beliefs down the throats of everyone else. Of course, they're free in America to try to do so. We're also free to push back and free to boycott their restaurants. I do both. I also boycott corporations that advertise on Rush, Beck and Hannity, for similar reasons. I do not want to patronize hate.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  15. Michelle

    I have to admit that I have never eaten at Chick-fil-A. But, if gay rights groups are making this kind of fuss about them, I'm about to go there right now and try them for the first time!!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  16. Johnny

    People should be allowed to run their companies accorsing to their own values. If you don't like it go start chick-fil-gay and make your own donations. Leave these people alone. Remember the sword swings both ways!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  17. Norman

    theimmigrant-youre ignorant=as everyone knows, evolution has nothing to say about creation-so the only magical beliefs is religious-some deity made everything in 6 days by snapping its fingers...silly
    to others-so much hate-dont kid yourself-many christians trhink being gays is a sin, that two gay men expressing physcial love will burn for all eternity-there is nothing more hateful than that
    the fuss over this southern fatty food is that gays want peopel to know that they support anti-gay groups-that they are ok with gays being treated a second class citizens
    no one is being attacked-its just that agendas are being brought to light...
    makes sense that the restaurant is based in teh south-fat, bigoted religious people support it-the south is backwards by in large
    but it wont matter soon-gay eqaulity si coming soon-there is no stopping it
    so eat up, fatsos-the sin of gluttonywill be your undoing

    February 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  18. 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 and, on that note, their core values are no big secret. Don't like 'em, don't support 'em. It's their business and it's a free country last I checked.

    Bunch of whiners...

    February 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  19. Troy Robertson

    This is stupid. It is a private company It can do as it pleases, just like restraunts that hang a rainbow flag in front of their establishment Wake up people this is America not the Soviet Union.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  20. Jamie Douglas

    How sad! So many people with nothing to do but spread hate on this comment section. How about all you "good" christians go volunteer at a shelter or do good deeds, instead of debating an idiotic issue like this chicken sandwich thing. Your god is more likely to note the good deeds that you did in this life, instead of the blabbering on useless forums on CNN. And going to church on sunday or sabbath or whatever day they choose is not counted as a good deed, it is merely an act commited by Religions all over the world, to atone for all the selfish things they do the other 6 days.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • Ed


      I would just make two small, but perhaps important, adjustments to your post.

      First, while many religions do require some sort of effort (including perhaps the church attendance you refer to) as part of the atonement process, the Bible is clear that salvation is a FREE GIFT of God. The work has all been done by Christ's death. It is only by the grace of God that anyone is saved. As such, no one can boast in what THEY have done to earn it. Not that we don't still try.

      The other correction would be that, for me at least, the selfish things are done all 7 days of the week. And even some of the good deeds I do are done for the wrong reasons (ie. the aforementioned boasting). This is problematic because the Bible is also clear that while man looks at the outward acts, God looks at the heart. I am truly in need of saving. But that is the good news (which is what gospel means). The Bible states that when I accept that Christ's death is what 'saves' me and not my effort, then God sees Christ when He looks at my heart. Christ has solved my deepest problem! Now I can do good deeds, like going to church, out of appreciation for what He has done not compulsion.

      More than you asked for in a reply, but maybe that helps clarify your thinking about religion a bit? Perhaps it gives hope to any stuck in a religion of effort, works and trying to earn favor with God? Oh, I hope so.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:56 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.