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. Christopher Harrison

    I'm not for them supporting anti-gay groups but I do like that Chick Fil A respects their workers by closing at 10 every night and closing the store one day a week.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  2. Laughing at this story

    Time for me to go get some Chick-fil-A!! Just wondering if the "anti-gay marriage group" was a Christian group. ....Don't know if you heard, but most Christian groups are against "the gay lifestyle". I am not religious, nor do I see anything wrong with being gay, but I think it is really funny that anyone would be shocked by this story...

    February 5, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  3. Walnutt

    Seperation of Church and Steak...and Chicken

    February 5, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  4. Neal Sheppard

    To the people who criticize religious people for believing in an unseen invisible God and compare it to believing in a fairy tale.... Here's my point of view: Why is it so hard to believe that there could be another living being who is far beyond us? And even had the "know-how' to create us? Humans haven't been on this planet very long (relatively speaking) but already we have the ablity to travel to other planets and build artificially intelligent computers. Our ancestors from a thousand years ago would look at our wireless technologies of today and consider them "magic" or "fairy tale like" I'm sure. Any being who has been around for billions of years surely knows how to do more things than we do (like maybe create life), right?

    February 5, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  5. Walter n Mary

    Hmmmmm......interesting that Christianity is a religion that was founded by a man who spent most of his adult life hanging out with 12 other guys...one of whom was singled out as "the one whom Jesus loved." Soooooo......did he hate the other 11? Just saying.......seems to me there is a disconnect between Christianity and the example set by its founder.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  6. Evie

    To me this all seems somewhat critical of the Chick Filet folks. What I am hearing is that everyone should accept gays and since Chick Filet gave something to an anti-gay group, well then , let's not accept Chick Filet.

    Chick FIlet has a right to donate to whoever it wants. They can support who they want. It is not a statement that they support gays or not. However I find it interesting that Chick Filet is in effect being boycotted because they donated food.

    I think media and people are too hard on Christians these days. ...

    February 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  7. AGeek

    Look, this is simple. They can do as they wish. If they wish to give free food to organizations openly advocating hate or discrimination against would-be customers, then they reap what they sow in terms of backlash by those who disagree with this advocation. Where's the problem? It's called free market. Don't like it? ...then change your corporate tune.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  8. viaad

    Gays suck!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  9. Ralf the Dog

    They have the right to promote their hyper conservative agenda. If they choose to do so, we have every right, if not obligation, to do everything we can to put them out of business. They will not get my money. Most of my friends will not do business with them.

    Question, do they promote people who go to church above people who do not? If they use religion as a part of their hiring practice, then they are breaking the law.

    Generally, I would prefer to let the conservatives eat the junk food and die of heart attacks.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  10. Scott

    The Chick-Fil-A in Northfield Center does alot for the community here, the people that work there are wonderful and the food is great! So why don't you idiots mind your own business. If you don't like it, don't eat there. your patronage won't be missed!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  11. 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. Down with Colonel Sanders!

    Deliciously Yours, – CyberChicken

    February 5, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  12. phillygal

    I don't understand why ppl are mad. Was this food donated for an anti-gay meeting? Because not everyone will agree with all the views of every organization, & if they want to donate food to an organization it should be to whoever they want. Are u paying for it?

    February 5, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  13. street462

    Please keep your Secret Sauce(christianity) off my chicken sandwhich.....

    February 5, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  14. a real human

    what happened to being tolerant of others beliefs...i dont care if they do or not....dont be a hypocrite...for some reason whiny liberals stand on being hypocrites....

    February 5, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  15. TheLurkingBat

    ...and what's with all the posts being scrambled? (check the timestamps)

    February 5, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  16. sandy

    Hmmm. I'm going to have to eat some Chick-fil-a. I will offer them my support since they support the family.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  17. Clifford

    What? They don't fry the chicken in K-Y? Blasphemy!

    February 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  18. Richard Dover

    I'll take a chicken sandwich, some fries and an Iced tea. Oh yeah and a large super size of family values.

    February 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm |


    February 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm |


      February 5, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  20. TheLurkingBat

    What do they serve on Fridays?

    February 5, 2011 at 7:43 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.