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. brad

    IF GOD didn't EXIST. there'd be no ATHEISTS or AGNOSTICS.. imagine that

    February 5, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  2. Amanda

    I support Chick-fil-a!!!! I will eat there and I support what they do. I also support gay rights!!!!!! They gave free food to help people and that is it!.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  3. Me

    Well, Chick fil-a has CNN to thank for all this free advertisement. On a side note, what is "Christian DNA"? Your religious views don't have anything to do with your DNA.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  4. Austin

    II'm an Atheist in Texas and I enjoy a good Christian chicken sandwhich from time to time... I wonder if I should make myself known as an Atheist and see what kind of service I get.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  5. Dboy66

    Wow I had no idea the chik fil a people were jesus freaks. I guess that's just one more reason not to eat there.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  6. ldsmom02

    I don't know about that styrofoam comment. My kids eat there all the time and I haven't seen one styrofoam package. All paper. I applaud Chick-fil-A for their practices. The problem with this country is that too many groups think that they are more important than anybody else and that everyone needs to believe like they do. Or at least spend all their time obsessing about their particular group. The gay community is no different. It's your choice to be gay and it's Chick-Fil-A's choice who they donate to. Just like they can choose to be closed on Sunday.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  7. james

    I can't say I've ever really considered the religious affiliation of a business I patronize. If they have the goods I want at a price I can afford, I'll buy from them. Never seen a Chick Fil A around here anyway though.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  8. Arels

    Hey blondphd, if you have a phd, you'd think about your comment. Chick-fil-A is a highly successful company who strength comes from their values AND diversity AND the fact that they close on Sunday. More people are attracted to a franchise that gives you a day odd rather than greedily chasing the soon to be inflated dollar.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  9. 2manyhorses

    I went to school with the Cathy kids (now owners) and they were one of the nicest, most humble families I ever met. Although I am an agnostic and support gay rights, I have no quarrel with Chick-fil-A and their policies. They do not proselytize or force their religion on anyone.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  10. Chocoholic

    Chick-Fil-A won't have to worry. There are a LOT more Christians who are willing to support their restaurant. For fast food, they are pretty good and I'd eat there before I'd eat anywhere except In-N-Out. Radical liberals don't believe in religious freedom or choice. They won't tolerate anything Christian or conservative.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  11. Billy in NC

    A gay community can disagree with a Christian community but a Christian community is not allowed to disagree with a gay community. Well that is simply interesting.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  12. motley

    I wonder if their cows are gay? They sure seem gay.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  13. callitasiseeit

    Hey blondephd: Chick-fil-a opened their first store in Atlanta in 1967. It made 3.5 billion (with a b) in 2010. It has 1539 locations in 39 states. And you think the marketplace will take care of Chick-fil-a. Yes, it has. But not in the way you think.
    Hope your PhD isn't in business, because you didn't learn that much.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  14. bigdemdc

    Now we know the secret ingredient..."Discrimination"!

    If Chik-filla only donated food to Food Programs that only serve white people, would you still support, defend and invest in them?

    Yes, it is the same thing – there is no heirarchy.in discrimination

    February 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  15. ThinkAgain

    I've never eaten there because they use peanut oil and one of my children is allergic to peanuts. In light of this recent controversy, I will not only never eat there, I'm letting everyone I know about their anti-gay rights stand.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  16. CyberChicken

    As a CHICKEN I would like to weigh in. I find myself torn between the opposing viewpoints. Being the stuff from which Chick-Fil-A sandwiches are made I'm obviously inclined to side with the gay folks and see the Chick-Fil-A operation bullied out of business. However, I know America is all about freedom. Peeps, check it out, I'm just a chicken, and here I am, exercising my freedom to speak on cnn.com! I do it without the threat of violence of any sort (direct physical violence or indirect intimidation by the thought-police).

    I'm also a little conflicted over the Christian thing. Now, I'm a God-fearing chicken myself and as such I am commanded by God to love others as I love myself. Christian or non-Christian. However, I'm still a little miffed that God didn't give us chickens the ability to fly, which I'm also convinced is the reason us chickens are on so many dang menus. (Just a quick question for all the atheists out there – do you seriously not believe in a higher power than yourselves and that the whole universe has no intelligent design? Really? Come on, I'm just a chicken and I know better!)

    But I digress, I have enjoyed reading the debate and I am happy that we live in a free country where this can happen! P.S. #$@& Colonel Sanders!

    Deliciously Yours, – CyberChicken

    February 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Ryan

      Hahahahahahahaha! Well said, Chicken, but, seriously, there is no god... And I'm certainly not holding a hatchet behind my back. Here chicken, chicken, chicken.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  17. jamesr1976

    The food is no better or worse than any other fast food joint to me, but nobody even comes close to the excellent service you get there. The employees are friendly, polite, and efficient, a very rare thing for this type restaurant. I don't really care about their religious beliefs if a get a decent meal for a good price, served in pleasant, clean environment. It's too bad they are closed on Sunday, but many of the family owned businesses are closed on Sunday in my small town.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  18. h




    February 5, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • HeIsGod


      February 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  19. Who am I to judge...?

    Luke 6:37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

    Luke 6:41 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

    Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

    James 4:11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  20. pai

    I don't understand why everyone says that Christians are intolerant. They tolerate hypocrisy, bigotry, judging other people, ignorance, and illiteracy in scientific matters. PS. I loves me some chik-fil-a anyway!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85
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.