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. Foster Farms

    Well that's just great!!!

    FOR SALE: 10,000 gay chickens. If interested please call 555-1212.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • TheLurkingBat

      now THAT was funny!!!!

      February 5, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  2. Dan

    I like Chic-fil-A's food and I fully support their beliefs regarding marriage. God bless Chic-fil-A.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  3. Viper

    I will now eat there more often!! Hooray for freedom of speech!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  4. Wing

    If BLGT boycotts Chick-fil-A for their belief, it would be fair for those who are against gay marriage to boycott companies supporting any BLGT gathering. I am not suggesting anyone to have such mean spirit. However, should that happens, I honesty believe that some nasty words and not so nice name will be flying around. I believe the far left monopolize the word "intolerance" and is not willing to share it with everyone.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  5. ron

    This company is only sticking to it's God given fundamental rights and as an American they should be able to serve
    whomever they wish to whenever they like. These postings are rediculous to me but I'm not going to try and stop anyone
    from voicing their opinion.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  6. TheLurkingBat

    Are We There Yet?

    February 5, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  7. proudlypoliticallyincorrect

    mypoliticallyincorrectblog dot wordpress dot com

    February 5, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  8. Light of Truth

    RELIGION! HA! Get a clue people. Life's origin is a mystery and will most likely remain so. Have faith in the spirit of creation but by all means, NEVER LET RELIGION HIJACK That FAITH!!! No matter what religion, history has proven it to be against our better interests.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  9. Willy Brown

    I'm tired of hearing the flame throwers cry everytime someone gets their panties in a wad.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  10. seelyjl

    Sad that u can only give to people that gay and aprove of shows the lack offreedom we have in this country

    February 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  11. Pedro

    Do chickens have talons?


    February 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  12. lance corporal

    I did not know about this, well I vote with my $s and I will never set foot in one of their stores again and it will be explained why to many people, the fact is when you give material support to a group that is ATTACKING someone then you are assisting in the attack, this ceo can twist all he wants but he's a part of the war on a segment of america and I will not support cick fillet in that

    February 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  13. dmcoxfree


    February 5, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  14. Terry Gordon Smith

    Tastes like crap, best reason not to go there

    February 5, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  15. BillyJ

    Leave them alone!!! They are a great company with great product and service. Better than McD's!! If you don't like them....don't eat there!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  16. Brian

    First of all, as a gay man, and someone who loves chick-fl-a, I assure you that this will not impact my patronage of the company one bit. Am i thrilled that they donated food to an anti gay marrage organization? not at all, but it's there company and they can run it how they please, if they had fired all of there gay employees, then, it would be a different story.

    The reality is, gay marriage will be legalized, younger more reasonable and flex able generations will assure that in our life time, problably within the next few years, and those who have a misguided concept of god and think gay marriage is wrong are fighting a battle that they can not win, however, they do have the right to fight it.

    I will say that the very concept of a god who would deny love between any two people, especally in this world and day of age, is absurd, and if you're religous principles guide you in that direction, perhaps the time you spend fighting for "biblical marrage" should be spent questiong your own faith.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  17. Maria

    If you don't like what they stand for, you can make a stand yourself by not eating there and not giving them your business. I really don't care what they stand for. They serve great food at a good price and are always courteous. Are they going to convert me to Christianity? No. Will I keep going back for the chicken? Yes.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  18. TheLurkingBat

    *hides a peanut butter and jelly sandwich here*

    February 5, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  19. Mark

    Don't like it then don't eat there, it's really not that complicated.

    February 5, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  20. nataliya

    I dont like Chik-fil-a but i will eat there tomorrow, just as a result of this article! 🙂

    February 5, 2011 at 8:37 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.