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. Tolerant One

    ChickenFilA has not offended anyone. They have channeled their money where they wish, which is their right.
    The gays are intolerant and bullying. People have the right to see the gay agenda as offensive and not support it. So do corporations. I applaud the tolerance and true to their beliefs response of ChickenFilA and will wholeheartedly patronize them.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  2. John

    Just as people can ban buying from this place others can ban from buying at places that support gay marriage if they chose. It's a free country after all.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  3. Chris

    Chick-Fil-A is a great company. I worked their in highschool. They do hold christian values. Thats what makes this place such a great place to work for. Just because the company doesnt support gay policies, doesnt mean they arent a good company. I knew a few people people at Chick-Fi-La that were gay, but they never complained about Chick-Fi-la's stance agianst gay issues. Chik-Fi-La has never discriminated against gays in their workplace. Hey, if you dont like Chick-Fi-La because of their stance on gay issues then dont eat there. Thy have the right to give monety to any group they want to.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  4. ChickFilaSandwhich

    I hate that this country has become nothing but a bunch of whiny sissys. If you are gay, be gay. Worry about yourself not what others think of you. If a company doesn't want to donate to you, tough. If a company does, good.
    I am tolerant of everyone's beliefs, but don't try to force them on me or whine about it when someone does something you don't like.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  5. RuralGuy

    It doesn't matter any way. They're food is awful. Not that any fast food is gourmet, but their fare is a disgrace to food.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  6. justice3688


    February 5, 2011 at 9:15 pm |

    Glad to see this restaurant taking a stand.

    Had you people not been such cowards, you could have civil-wars over this and many other issues. Civil war is a fine way to get your message heard and in addition, you get to blow off some steam. But cut it with this political correctnes-crap.

    Please divide into two camps.

    Feminists, gays and devilworshipping atheists in one camp.

    Monotheistic, righteous, good, decent and God-fearing men in the other.
    Then fire it out and end of debate.


    Good luck to the just & God-fearing. To Hell with the others.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • westcoaster

      "good luck to the god-fearing, and to hell with the rest".

      What an amazingly enlightened, and apparently Christian thing to say.

      February 5, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  8. justice3688

    this is so stupid! Chick-Fil-A gave FREE food to an organization. Everyone expects the ENTIRE society to agree that gay marriage is ok, but no one is willing to respect those who think its wrong. I thought in order to get respect you had to give it. Does this mean that gay rights groups get to dictate what everyone on earth does based on their beliefs of whether or not being gay is wrong or right? doesnt really make sense if you want the community at large to always support you!

    February 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  9. Richy Rich

    The Gay Community will burn in hell.Die a slow one for destroying family traditions.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  10. Bobby b

    If i was the guy running the business....this would be my statement... If you dont like the way i do things...stay the hell out! go buy your chickens from a jew...lol

    February 5, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  11. Pat

    The only intolerence I see here is on the part of the gay rights groups who insist on forcing their views on everyone else. Clearly they are not stopped from going to Chick Fil A or discriminated against in any way. This is one of the few fast food chains that, because of thier Christian values, provides insurance benefits to their employees. Thanks for reminding me that this franchise is a Christian owned business, I'll make sure I eat there more now.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  12. Lou

    I appluade Chic Filet for donating to whomever they want..last I looked this is still (barely ) a free country with freedom of expression..

    February 5, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  13. Aleph

    Note to "Andthewinneris..." I'm a member of MENSA and I'm not aware of any such research. You'd be surprised at how many intelligent people believe in an Intelligent Being. If this company is privately owned and chooses to support certain organizations, it's their business. If we don't like it, we can eat someplace else. It's absolutely appalling that some Americans don't think the owners of this company should be able to support whomever they choose - whether they be NAACP or KKK, The Tea Party or Al Qaida. If we don't like it, we can stop doing business with them. It's a PRIVATE company.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  14. LarryO

    Welcome to America folks. That's the beauty of business here and is why so many folks from different countries bring their business here...because they know they can do business and not get shut down because of their religious preferences and they can feel free to support the religious affiliations of their choice. Don't like it...move to a communist country where all these decisions get made for you.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  15. Katherine

    The restaurant has the right to donate to whom the feel appropriate. Thank heavens we live in America where we have those rights. I respect the gay community but it doesn't mean I have to believe everything they do. I don't have to support gay marriage to be an american. I'm a little tired of the gay community making me feel like another Hitler if I don't love every aspect of every one else's life. Again, I have total respect for people who believe differently than I do and I feel we should all enjoy equal civil rights but that doesn't mean we all have to believe the same! We should love the fact that we are different and appreciate the freedom of religion we have in this country. I would welcome a gay neighbor, friend, coworker etc. but don't tell me who I have to support and who I have to shun. This is America and I can decide for myself. I also have the right to call myself a Christian if I believe in Christ, and I do. I say this in reference to the "Mormon" bashing. Why should we be "bashing" anyone? It seems that we live in a free country but when people choose to use that freedom other people object. To me the highest form of freedom is not to all just believe the same but to believe differently and still hold respect in our hearts for one another. The restaurant should be able to donate to whom they want and the gay community can choose not to eat there. Thank our founding fathers that we live in a free country.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  16. Paul


    Don't YOU DARE pray on your death bead! Actaully I subscribe to the Blood Sweat and Tears theory "I swear there aint no heaven and I pray there aint no hell"

    February 5, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  17. bubbles

    @norm - Thank you 🙂 You are an inspiration

    February 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  18. hello

    This is so stupid. people get mad at chick fil a for giving FREE food to an organization. ok one, every expects people to tolerate gay marriage etc..which is fine. but if you expect people to respect you, then shouldnt you respect others who have a different opinion as well??? the truth is, not everyone thinks gay marriage is right. and if gay people want to be respected, then shouldnt they respect others as well?

    February 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  19. mypoliticallyincorrectblog

    Defend your rights – this is America!

    Mypoliticallyincorrectblog dot wordpress dot com

    February 5, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  20. Adam

    Dear CNN, Please get your story straight before writing these ridiculous articles. I read about this incident a few days ago on World Net Daily. Chic-fil-a did not donate any food to any conference with any anti-gay agenda. What happened was a franchisee in Pennsylvania provided free food for a Christian meeting encouraging Christian couples to strengthen their marriages. Then some radical group of gay activists fussed, whined, and complained to officials at Indiana University South Bend. As a result, the university temporarily suspended the operation of a Chic-fil-a on campus. The suspension was lifted a few days after it was imposed. Way to bash a successful business merely because it is distinctly Christian. However, what should I expect from a network that constantly demonizes Christians. Way to go CNN!

    February 5, 2011 at 8:58 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.