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. dmcoxfree


    February 5, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  2. RoyalWulff

    I can not believe this many people have this much time on their hands

    February 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  3. Terry Isenhour

    I will eat at Chick @ flick every chance I get.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  4. TheLurkingBat

    I still want to know what they serve on Fridays.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  5. Paul

    Stand strong, Chick-fil-a!! You've got PLENTY of supporters. Anyone who has visited your restaurants can clearly see that God has blessed you for your corporate stance. I've rarely seen an empty store. They are always doing great business. Let the gays whine, and do NOT join their stupid index. They aren't the final authority on anything. God is. You and Him are by far a majority. May God continue to shine on you as you follow Him...in spite of the naysayers.

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

      Ah, the sickeningly sweet (like decay) of the self righteous special people, blessed by god for their highly moral stance.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  6. No-one

    Wow, people get this offended over free food. They're a private company, and they can give food to whoever they want to. Why is it that when a company gives free stuff to gay rights supporters no-one really complains, but when a company gives free stuff to people who don't support gays a firestorm ensues and the company gets bashed. When will people get over the fact that there are people who don't support the gay agenda. You guys are so sensitive. Just watch, I'll be call a bigot just for saying this.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  7. Diane



    February 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  8. mdh60613

    I've had their food at the local mall, and it's disgusting. So let the redneck baptist south keep their greasy fast food. Until they call it Chick fil Gay, I'm stayin' away!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  9. ccnblowscookies

    gay activists are as bad as PETA goons, complaining about anything that gets them media coverage. Next thing you know they will complain thats AIDS is a conservative plot against them

    February 5, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  10. CaliforniaLawyer

    They do have the right to close on Sundays, but lot of lost revenue. Should hire heathens to work on Sundays and to deliver. Cant always get pizza on football days.

    Does anybody know about In and Out Burger? P:LEASE don't tell me they are right wing bible thumpers too!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  11. MPLArms

    People PLEASE...Let's agree to disagree!
    BUT as a straight married man, I am all for gay marriage.
    Don't they have the same right to be miserable as the rest of us?
    (Obviously, my wife is not in the room)

    February 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  12. cmd

    WAY TO GOOOO CHICK-FIL-A!!! WooHoo!! Don't back down, it's your money/food/business give it to whoever you want! If gay and lesbian people don't like it then oh freakin well! WAH..WAH..WAH...that's all gay and lesbians do...Just SHUT the HELL UP ALREADY!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  13. JesusMyth

    So that’s your religion? Obey god and be rewarded for obedience? Be a good little slave, ok? Disobey god and suffer his wrath and eternal torture in Hell. Sorry, man, just not feeling the love. Some Jew (supposedly) hung on a cross for 3 hours and you think that makes up for thousands of kids dying of cancer every year.
    You deluded fools amuse me.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  14. oitotheworld

    I'm definitely eating at Chick-fil-A more often. Good for them.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  15. Pauline

    I hope Chic-Fil-a stands their ground. They are a superior fast food restaurant.
    I really resent the use of the words "The Human Rights Campaign". It's not about human rights...it's exclusively about LGBT rights and to hell with everyone else or any other issue.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  16. Dizzyd

    @PleezThink – you're joking, right? Those arguments are ridiculous. @Waterfront – 'not normal and never will be'? Way to share the love, bro! Yes, Chick-fil-A has the right to run their business any way they want (used to have one in Sunnyvale, CA) but I think what gays are really worried about are groups who profess to be Christian trying to undo the gains they've made via seemingly innocuous venues. It's no secret, unfortunately, that a lot of openly fundie groups hate the gays with a passion – so even well-meaning calls to repentance can sound too much like 'Rev.' Phelps cackling that he hopes they burn. Think about it, if you're a part of a hated, marginalized group constantly told 'you're bad, deviant and going to hell – don't pass go – unless you be like everyone else says is acceptable, even if you can't change – no matter how hard you try – how would you feel? (BTW, I'm a Christian – in belief, anyway)

    February 5, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  17. Jon Smith

    Can't someone order a chicken sandwich without some gay rights group getting offended? What the hell is this country turning into?

    February 5, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  18. elizabeth

    A number of Christian sects believe Jesus was the teacher we should pattern our lives after, but not any more the son of God, than any Godly person would be if he/she sat quietly and listened to and then followed the inner light. . . the still small voice within . . . that of God within each of us.
    They also see the bible as an amazing guide. .. . but like any great literature, using analogies and metaphor.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  19. Jennifer

    The food there tastes good and I'll keep eating there regardless.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  20. 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 8:21 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.