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.
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.
Gays complaining over something ! Thats surprises me! And gays wonder why people get tired of hearing from them! Worry about things that matter and maybe people will stop hating you!
I will be dining at Chi-fil-A more frequently–thanks for publishing this article. As the cows on the billboard as say, "Eat more chikken!"
It is more than just a christian company. It is a white christian company.
For example, here in Cary NC, all the fast food chains seem to have a mix of African America, Hispanic, Asian, and white employees. In contrast, the Chick-Fil-a on Highhouse Rd. you only see white people working the counter. No Hispanic and Asian work in a customer facing position. I have only seen one African American woman work the counter once. If you happen to see into the back of the store, you see several Hispanics working the fryers and other cookers.
I am white and if I noticed how odd this is I would think it would be more obvious to people of other ethnic groups who are more sensitive to discriminatory practices. The other Chick-Fil-as seem to have to same disproportionate employee mix.
Mark, You are an idiot. I live in San Diego and the chick-fil-a restaurants are mostly hiring black and mexican's. It has to do with the area they have the restaurant in not company prejudice. I would bet that a chick-fil-a in Los Angeles will be all mexican and one in San Francisco will be mostly asian. Who the hell cares. They are christian, not racist.
This is ridiculous, if a company gave free food to a pro-gay marriage group would there be protests? They are being hypocritical in doing so. I support gay marriage, and I am christian, this is because I also believe in separation of the church and state. But regardless of what I believe and what anyone believes, they are a private business with their own beliefs and agendas; don't like it? Don't buy it.
Gay Rights Groups: You either completely support and agree with their views or they try and shut you up then shut you down.
In my opinion all this petty bickering doesn't do anything to raise gay rights awareness.
Well, gay people, you want the freedom to do what you do. Chik Fil A also has the freedom to support a cause that opposes your agenda. Deal with it. You can force laws to change, but you can't control what causes a company wants to give to. If you don't agree with their beliefs, don't eat there. It doesn't get much simpler than that.
I could honestly care less about chick fil-a, I wish Raising Canes would start opening more locations. I quit going to chick fil-a once I discovered them, way better in my personal opinion. Plus they're open on sundays.
I will never again go to Chick Fil A, now that I know they give money to groups who try to prevent other people from having equal rights. Gays should be allowed to marry the partner of their choosing.
Thanks for publishing this article. I will be dining at Chic-Fil-A more often, and as the cows on the billboard as say, "Eat more chikken!" Banish the politically-tyrannical thought police!
This report MAKES me want to eat there! Wow, I can be supporting good folks and not have a greasy burger. I know where I am taking my dollar.
Which by the way says "In God We Trust"
They are a racist company.
I don't see too many people getting up in arms over labor unions donating money to democratic groups and politicians. So I suppose if this company was Pro Gay Rights, that would be ok...even though the majority of Americans are opposed to gay marriage. If they were pro abortion, that would be ok too? It is a private company, they can do what they want. If people don't like it, then don't shop there. What is this world coming to?
Why is it that groups like this always want to play the victim when someone wants to promote moral values...
This is America...land of the free and one nation under God. Since when is it a sin for a company to have
Christian values? I support gay people, but I also support Chick-fil-a. If I were a fast-food employee, I'd want to
work there since they give people Sundays off. Our country's lack of values sends us further and further down the
tubes as a nation. The company is not forcing their values on you; while should you force your values on them.
I don't give business to bigots.
And I have a hard time understanding how supposed "Christians" can continue their hatred toward gay people.
They can donate food to whatever charity they choose. If you don't like the charities they donate to then don't buy or eat anything from their franchises.
Funny... all these years that I have been aware of the Chik-fil-A brand, I never knew they were a Christian based business. I guess that's because they don't jam it in your face but simply go about their business, unlike some others we know. *wink-wink*
I'm not one who hides behind anonymity. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
I just want to know why gays, and I'm gay, think that everyone has to be inclusive of them yet they are not inclusive of those different than them. That to me seems to be the true hypocrisy.
I'm also gay, and that seems to me, also, to be the biggest problem. If you want to be accepted, you must accept others.
I've seen some comments echoing this sentiment, but I'll offer my voice in agreement: I don't eat at Chick-Fil-A because I think the food sucks. The fact that they're super Christian doesn't really make a difference to me. I wouldn't send them hate-mail if I didn't agree; I would just never eat there. Problem solved.
If the gays don't like it...eat somewhere else.