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. David Rice

    Several years ago I became ill after eating a chicken sandwich at the Chick-fil-A in Belden Village Mall, Canton, Ohio.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  2. David

    I know lots of Christians who support gay marriage and are not happy with them either. Were Adam and Eve really married? Salomon had 300 wives. Is that the Bible definition of marriage the owner refers to?

    February 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  3. John

    I can't believe this crap is still spreading, it's essentially a smear campaign against Chickfila.

    1) They are franchises. It was a franchise that donated to the organization, if you don't know what a franchise is, look it up.
    2) Last I checked it's not illegal to be religious
    3) There is no where in all of this that takes away ANYONE'S RIGHTS. This is not about discrimination for employment.
    4) It's a private corporation, not public.
    5) Last I checked private companies donate to these types of organizations all the time.

    So in conclusion, who CARES if they are religious or donated to a religious charity - IF THERE IS NO DISCRIMINATION OR AN ATTEMPT TO TAKE SOMEONE'S RIGHTS AWAY, this is a NON-ISSUE.

    HEAVEN FORBID THEY SUPPORT MARRIAGE!!!! Just because you support marriage does not make you anti-gay-rights. GET OVER IT PEOPLE!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  4. Independent1

    A company does a good deed, and we have five miles of comments and arguing because of it. This country is bringing up a generation of whiners who can’t handle conflict or disagreement. I’m a Christian and my beliefs are offended every day, all day, by advertising, where I shop, where I eat, everywhere. But guess what, I go on and live my life. If you need the places you visit and the people you do business with to be 100 percent on the same page of your belief system, then go live on a deserted island somewhere. It ain’t gonna happen Crybaby.
    I worked at a mall and had lunch often with the Muslim man who owned the Greek place in the food court. He knew I was a Christian and I knew he was a Muslim and we got along great.
    If you can’t tolerate people who disagree with you, then go start your own little communist country somewhere where you can force everyone to think the way you do. Since that is what your immature definition of tolerance is.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  5. C5qu4r3d

    Who cares....feed them all to the lions!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  6. CaliforniaLawyer

    We dont have chick fil-a in California yet but I do seek them out when I'm in Florida. I did not know until today they were run by right wingers so I will avoid them ion the future. Carl's Junior has long been known for being founded by a fascist (Carl Karcher). At least Colonel Harlan Sanders was apolitical!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  7. sonofRaul

    we have taken Christ off the cross and nailed up a bird! Just asking God to send a few more customers our way!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  8. SupplyAndDemand

    (a) If you don't like the beliefs of the owners, or the product, don't make a purchase.
    (b) All you haters are missing a golden marketing opportunity: Chick-For-Atheists. Pool your money and open a chain.
    (c) No one cares. Really. We have five Chick-Fil-As in town and they all doing great business.
    (d) Keep your beliefs to yourself and out of my face, I'll keep mine out of yours and we'll all get along just fine.
    (e) I don't have to accept your lifestyle or or approve of it, it's your deal let's keep it that way.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  9. forallpeople

    The ho_mo_s_exual lifestyle is dangerous and should be discouraged.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • forallpeople

      Ho_mo_s_exuals spread s_exually transmitted diseases at a rate 100 times greater
      than non-ho_mo_s_exuals and 20% of ho_mo_s_exuals have HIV.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • forallpeople

      Ho_mo_s_exuals take no responsibility for the harm to society from the ho_mo_s_exual lifestyle.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • forallpeople

      Preventing HIV and s_exually transmitted diseases among g_ay and bi_s_exual men is a
      top CDC(centers for disease control) priority. Visit the CDC website for more proof.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • TheLurkingBat

      explain that without using biblical references.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • forallpeople

      Encouragement of the ho_mo_s_exual lifestyle must stop. Everytime another child is encouraged to be a ho_mo_s_exual another life is exposed to HIV and other s_exually transmitted diseases.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • forallpeople

      Same s_ex marriage and anything that encourages the ho_mo_s_exual lifestyle harms society.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • forallpeople

      Ho_mo_s_exuality is not proven to be genetic.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • forallpeople

      Ho_mo_s_exuals want protection for the ho_mo_s_exual lifestyle that harms society.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • westcoaster

      You are frighteningly, frighteningly ignorant. And your ignorance is nauseating.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • forallpeople

      The 14th amendment does not provide equal protection of the law for ho__mo__s__exuality.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • forallpeople

      Life expectancy with HIV is 10 years.

      February 5, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  10. Darren

    Is there a reason when you click on "Restaurant Openings" on their website it give you an "Operational Error" message...I feel for some of these new franchisee in more northern states about to open.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  11. wally zebco

    Stopping debating and just boycott the place

    February 5, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  12. M.K.

    Chick-fil-A is a company that engages in interstate commerce, and like the companies of the sixties that had to integrate or have the wrath of the U.S. Government come down on them like the demons of hell, they must abide by big brother's rules. Lester Maddox thought he could run his Pickrick Restaurant in Atlanta like he wanted, but he found out different when the feds forced him to close his business. The feds can do just about anything they choose to do, and you can either live with it or forget about it.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  13. Ken

    The secret ingredient to their chicken is pickle juice. You can tell. Mmmmmmm yummy chicken!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  14. Morgana

    I am straight and have no concept of why somebody would think their breath is even worth spending trying to make sure on group of people has less rights them them. You want to say God doesn't like it, okay separation of church and state. You want to define marriage, okay, you're not Webster. I have never thought for a moment of keeping these people away from the rights they deserve as humans. Seriously, I don't get it. What about having more rights than the next person makes Christians so excited?

    February 5, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  15. Desert Dude

    I don't care what they believe. The chicken tastes good.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  16. jaz

    Chill jamie douglas. May I suggest Chick a fil-a to calm you down.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  17. Natedogg

    This is ridiculous, dont the gays have anything better to do than bash great food...go shove it in someones guys a$$

    February 5, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  18. Kevin

    I find it quite funny how this has turned into something completely different than the topic.

    Leave Chic-Fil-A alone. If you don't like it then don't buy from them. It really is that simple. /steps off soap box

    February 5, 2011 at 8:07 pm |

    I heard about some people who get off on insects. When are they going to start rioting and demanding equal rights for human-insects relations?

    February 5, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  20. jaz

    1) I did not know or noticed that Chick closes on sunday,if so, so what! Most of the stores here closes on monday (I believe they are jewish owned.. Who cares).
    2) IN & out rocks! I don't care if they are owned by gays or christians. They make the best burger, fries and chocolate shake!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:05 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.