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. Bob

    I don't see what the big deal is. If you don't like what a business stands for, then talk with your wallet. I think all that has been done here is bring attention to the corporate structure of Chick-fil-a. Love them or hate them, this will probably help business more than hurt it because they are one of the few business owners who are not shy about their Christian faith.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  2. crucified

    Christians do not hate gays.. we love all God's creation. some of God's creation just chooses to rebel. Jude 1:7 Don't get mad at Christians that choose to follow Jesus. Your anger should be directed at Jesus himself, the one who died for you, Being a Christian means loving God more than what you want to do (sin) and choosing not to do it.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  3. MAL

    I think most people here missed the point of the article, Chick-fil-a is a business and it wants to expand, they will not be able to with their outdated aSome Christians are very outspoken when talking about other faiths such as in the discussions regarding the NY Islamic Center (most of the protestors weren't even from NY) or the Jewish Speaker of the Texas State House, but those same Christians are easily offended when questioned about aspects of their own faith. Just some food for thought.

    Chick-fil-A president stated they have done no harm to the gay community but they do support those who would, and that buys them nothing.

    When it comes to running a business, Michael Jordan provided an excellent business model. Jordan is a liberal and has been asked to endorse liberals candidates in the past, he refused, stating conservatives buy shoes too.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  4. Brian D.

    if you don't like they way they do business, don't go. It's privately owned and you don't have to support them.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  5. Adam G

    I didn't realize Chick-filet's involvement in anti-civil rights until a few years ago. After researching the company and what they actually stand for, I made a conscious decision not to visit the chain. I then began telling friends and family about the company's involvement in anti-civil rights (anti-gay rights) and they too made the decision not to patronize the chicken chain. It's really too bad; their food is pretty good and their staff always are kind. However, if I'm craving a chicken sandwich and Chick-filet is right there, I will go out of my way and travel some distance to purchase a chicken sandwich elsewhere. Civil rights is far more important than a chicken sandwich.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • LouisvilleSlugger

      I tell all my friends that Chick-fil-A is awesome and it seems they keep telling their friends too. Guess that balances out all of your friends.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  6. Tessa2011

    Chick-fil-a has the right to contribute THEIR money to whoever they want. They have a right to THEIR religious beliefs. Gays have a right to eat where they want, the right to believe how they want. Folks are getting tired of having GAY beliefs crammed down their throats. We don't freakin' care. Be gay. But STFU telling everyone else how to feel. Equal rights? By all means, absolutely. Changing religious tenets? Get real, get a life and practice a little of that tolerance you preach to others.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Eytan Weber

      First of all, gays aren't telling people how to think, feel, or act. They are simply asking that people don't tell them that they are somehow not allowed the right to marriage because of the way they were born. I'm sorry if you feel things are "being crammed down [your] throat" but the fact is that what you see as an inconvenience is a struggle for basic rights for others. As per Chick-fil-A, I think that the point here is not to shut it down or turn people away, but to inform them that they support a certain set of values that may clash with the customers'. I know I wasn't aware of these values and being a pro-civil rights person who doesn't believe in evangelism, I know I won't eat there anymore.

      February 6, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  7. Frank S

    Don't give me that "if you don't like their values, don't eat there" BS. It should be just like abortion. Instead of leaving it as a choice between a woman and her doctor, these jerks are trying to pass more laws to actually stick their nose in and try to control behavior. So it is with Chick Fil-A. I want them actually shut down, they should not be allowed to force their religious agenda on employees and customers and further it with their profits.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • MM22

      frank: "So it is with Chick Fil-A. I want them actually shut down, they should not be allowed to force their religious agenda on employees and customers and further it with their profits."

      Is that supposed to be ironic? Or are you really just that stupid?

      February 5, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      My name is Frank and I don't like to eat chicken and I need attention and counseling and it's not my fault waaaaaaaaaaaah and I need something to complain about because I like the gay.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Anna

      Surely you jest, Frank. You're accusing the Christians of proposing to do what think the rest of these people are actually doing! Taking what money and resources they can obtain to PUSH AN AGENDA ON THE REST OF US. Personally, I find the Christian agenda more palatable than what the others have to offer. And as for your reference to the abortion issue:, it's not a choice, silly it is a B-A-B-Y. And if you don't think there's an agenda on the part of those who want abortion as a means of birth control you'd better EDUCATE YOURSELF before posting such ridiculousness.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • james

      CoOme on Frank...you self-righteous left winged nut jobs got someting to say about everyone elses business. Hush boy...God bless he Chick and the employees who KNOW before they are hired that it is a Chrsitian business...so hush up frankie boy and mind your own darn business.....Go join the Al Gore camp...thier serching for some warm air!

      February 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  8. Craig

    Another shining example of the LGBT national agenda and their intolerance of anything that and everyone who disagrees with them. Oh, how intolerant the Tolerant (as they have deemed themselves to be) always are.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  9. LAW0531

    Personally – I could care less about gay marriage. But boy, you aren't allowed to disagree with gays about anything are you? They can disagree with you but you have go along with EVERYTHING they want because it's their way or the highway. Please – guess what? Lots of people don't agree with gay marriage – get over it – STOP TRYING TO MAKE OTHERS ACCEPT YOU – just accept yourselves – that's all you have to do...

    February 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  10. Zaaa

    I really could care less, I love their food.

    Although it'd be nice if they weren't so Christian so I could eat there on Sundays.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  11. Mike S.

    If you don't like it, don't eat there.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  12. CF

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsJHqstPuNo .. nuf said

    February 5, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  13. CF

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsJHqstPuNo ... nuf said

    February 5, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  14. Sardonicus Rex

    Go ahead and boycott. More Chick-Fil-A for me. Mmmmmm ....

    February 5, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  15. oooga

    Why does it amaze people that a private business spends its money the way it pleases?

    Many business' spendings go towards many things people approve or disapprove of.

    The responses to this article are very nihilistic, very narcissistic; where is reason to discuss the issue of faith intertwined with our everyday consumeristic lives?

    February 5, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  16. D W McCoy

    Why wasn't In and Out Burger mentioned in the story. They even print bible versus on every wrapper! They can support who they wish, and my family and I don't have to eat there again....

    February 5, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      Yes, and get rid of those Veggie Tales too! (But keep the gay agenda going everywhere like Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow.)

      February 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  17. Horace V

    Do i share their beliefs, no. Do I support gay marriage, yes. Am I Christian, no. Do, I love their food, yes! Do I support the company, yes. Chick-Fil-A is one of the few large, successful corporations that puts principles above profits. They close on Sundays becasue they don't believe they should be doing business on Sunday, despite the money it costs them. I'm Jewish and I like to eat chicken on Sundays, but I get it, they are taking the day off. If you don't like what they stand for, don't shop their. If you really don't like what they stand for, picket them. Meanwhile, you should respect them for putting principles over profits and for making some yummy food.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  18. Loren

    The donated food to a marriage seminar. NOT money to the corporation! They are limiting no ones rights, YOU are limiting theirs.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  19. Andre Castillo

    The fact remains that this is a free country and while Chick-Fil-A has the right to donate food to any organization they want. Other organizations have a right to complain about who Chick-Fil-A donates it's food and or money to. If those organizations opposed to Chick-Fil-A donating to anti-gay marriage organizations are successful in stopping Chick-Fil-A from donating food to anti-gay marriage organizations, then Chick-Fil-A saw that it was detrimental to their bottom line.

    People have a right to organize boycotts and letter writing campaigns just the same as Chick-Fil-A has a right to donate food and money to retards. Chick-Fil-A is a business that's also trying to sell a belief system. They are just like those writing and boycotting against them. Except they don't do it with letters and boycotts, they get their message across one chicken sandwich at a time. They in turn use the money to fund their beliefs (and lifestyle I suppose).

    If anything those organizations against Chick-Fil-A are doing Chick-Fil-A a favor by letting them know. Think about what would happen if for some reason those opposed to Chick-Fil-A were powerful enough in numbers to hurt Chick-Fil-A's bottom line. One day the accountants at Chick-Fil-A look at their books and say, what's going on, why aren't people buying our food. Then they have to pay to find out what the deal is; focus groups, advertising, etc... At least if those organizing against them come out and say; "Hey, Chicky baby, if you keep giving those people money and food, we're not going to buy your food anymore and we're going to get others not to buy it too", then Chick-Fil-A can easily determine what the deal is.

    It's the power of choice. If Chick-Fil-A wants their money, or needs their money, they'll choose to stop giving money to retards, otherwise they wont. If the gay organizations don't like who Chick-Fil-A gives their money to, they'll let them know, and they'll choose to buy their food somewhere else.

    At the end of the day, I'm pretty sure Chick-Fil-A doesn't give a damn, considering how well their doing. I'm an atheist and a liberal and I love their food. I don't care who they donate money to though considering that the country will likely legalize gay marriage as a matter of our humanity changing over time. More and more people see that their beliefs are most of the time stupid and based on nothing more than words written by idiots hundreds of years ago with no understanding of the world they lived in.

    So if I boycotted Chick-Fil-A I'd be hurting myself. We only get one life and Chick-Fil-A makes damn good fries, I love the way they're shaped, it's like a whole different fry. Anyways, I'm glad to be an American. Otherwise none of us would be discussing this right now.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • jimintexas

      I am surprised at the overwhelming support for ChickFila here. No siding with them, but yours (andre castillo) is about the only well reasoned, non knee jerk reaction to the issue. The chain can support whomever they choose. And protest groups can oppose the chain all they want to. No ones rights are being imposed upon. When I hear responses like "go eat somewhere else" I smell an agenda. A Christian, intolerant agenda. I wonder what those responses would be if Chick donated food to the Muslim Brotherhood, or Al Quaeda?

      February 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Juaquin

      THank you for your manifesto. Who really gives a rat's a** whether or not gays are upset with the chain. Don't like it do not eat there. Because the majority of Americans believe in the traditional definition of marriage, get over it. It always amazes me how the gays scream for free speech as long as you agree with what they are trying to shove down your throat (no pun intended).

      February 5, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  20. Kirk C

    It's not their DNA that is under fire. It is their financial support for antigay political activists.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:35 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.