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. George Pereira

    The country is tired of these minorities trying to undermine oír principles and values. Gay rights stop where normal person rights begin.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  2. joe

    Seem's to me that people should mind there own business. It's kind of refreshing to see a company stand up for what it believes in regardless of public criticism. They must be doing something right because no matter where I go there always packed.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  3. C5qu4r3d

    Oh who cares...feed them all to the lions!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  4. Mike in SA

    Perhaps, just perhaps, we should let a business do what they think is best for them and their private company and let the gay agenda individuals do the bending for a change.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  5. BlueK

    Face it. People would eat at Satan Burger or Hitler's Fish Shack if the food was wrapped in pretty packaging and the price was right. I find it humorous that people equate buying (or selling) chicken with a moral statement. Even more ridiculous are the people here saying, "I'm going to buy their chicken so people know I don't support gays!" Please, the only thing I know from that is that you waste your money on processed crap full of fat and sodium to shovel into the bloated holes of your obnoxious offspring instead of making a good, home-cooked meal!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  6. Bob In Mered

    I used to support the Gay Community. Sort felt live let live. Would support Gay Unions, but no more. I refuse to bend over kiss there tail. They are major haters of non gays.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  7. GayChicken

    Less gay drama as I stand on line for chicken. Good for me.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  8. Paul

    Fascinating that nowhere in the article do the authors care to actually name and tell us about the "anti-gay marriage group" (I guess we are too ignorant to be able to evaluate ourselves). I'm pro live and let live and believe that anyone or any group that wants or needs food gets it regardless of their beliefs...al queada and the like excluded. For God's sake, let these people donate as their hearts and faith desire. And next time I see a Chick-fil-A's I'm going to stop in and get some!
    So once again journalists leave out key details and

    February 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  9. mario

    What a company does is nobody business and if the gays and lesbians feel upset about who the food goes to...welll lets remember that they will let you have gay marriage in certain states and they don't want to sell pets in pet stores in the gay bay area...but it is alright to promote gay life...If you don't like it...eat somewhere else.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  10. lolarites

    Gay marriage is probably the tip of their hate filled philosophy, but I gives me an even greater incentive not to eat fast food garbage. But I have to say, the Mars family is as right wing as they come and I still buy their candy.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  11. fishfry001

    Making a point to head out to Chik-fil-A sometime soon to exercise my right to free expression (and to eat chicken!)

    February 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  12. james

    i'm a christian worship pastor, i do not hate gays and actually have many close gay friends. I do however disagree with gay marriage as i believe it to be morally wrong. as far as the chik fil a situation goes, you cannot fault a privately Christian run business for donating food to a cause they believe in. But i'm also sure that the weirdo Christians would be up in arms if McDonalds donated food to a local abortion clinic. God is love folks.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  13. Michelle

    Someday, in the not-too-distant future, the actions of Chick-fil-a and their dubious donations will be compared to those that donated and supported the ku klux klan. History is just full of bad characters cloaking themselves in Christ. So, you just keep going on wrapping yourselves in your "Christian" beliefs while Christ shakes his head in sorrow that you NEVER REALLY GOT WHAT HE WAS SAYING.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  14. Granite Sentry

    The gay groups want those who disagree with them to starve? Now that's what I call civil discourse!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  15. Richard

    What in the world. This is a PRIVATE business. Chick-Fil-A can give free food to whoever they want. Have you ever seen the "No shirt. No shoes, No service sign? There is no law about eating with or without a shirt or shoes on. However the business is saying THEY refuse to serve you. The business has the right to do that and you have the right to NOT go there.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  16. Chamborde

    Since when did gay rights organizations become the model of democracy and the model of fair treatment to which everyone else is held accountable? People can donate money to whomever they please. If the gay rights people don't like it, then tough toenails—eat someplace else. At some point, maybe these groups will realize that they are not going to convert or convince everybody that they have the moral center of this issue. Politically correct nonsense is ridiculous and in time will play itself out.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Michelle

      Well, yes, you have a point...but BUT the point of this article is that their business model is not going to fly outside of the deep South. So let's hope that they spend tons of money trying to expand. They will fail. Meaness a la Palin no longer has a place in our Brave New World. Of course, if they do expand, I'm sure that there will be plenty of people who do go there to eat: the uneducated, the fast food junkies, the illegals (who can't read what the problem is about) and the weird, tweeky, religious nuts that exist outside of the south. It still isn't a stellar business plan. Remember what happened to South Africa (another great Family Values State) the Apartheid State was destroyed by the entire world NOT DOING BUSINESS with them. So, yes, no shirt-no shoes-no service...but also: If you are a nasty bunch NO BUSINESS.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:30 am |
  17. Ewe Knobetter

    Greasy, salty artery clogging psuedo-food, causing heart disease and autoimmune disorders. Off to the trough with ya then. Fast Food, the food that stays with you to the grave... What a way to go!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  18. JesusMyth

    Chick-fil-A's mission: "to glorify God" in all they do, which includes giving free food to anti-gay marriage groups and not poor homeless people. Always with an agenda, always hypocritical, and always obsessed with the gays. Evangelical Christianity really needs a new hobby.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  19. Jim bob

    Hey RGM, how can you be bothered by spit when you linger around another man's anus?

    February 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  20. 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?
    John 8:7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
    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.
    Romans 14:10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat.
    Romans 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.
    1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
    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 7:29 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.