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. Michael D

    You can never disagree with a liberal or they call you a name. Why can't they understand that not everybody has to agree with them? All these "open minded" people sure are close minded.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  2. kurt

    I've seen Chik-fil-A's all over the country wherever I've been and never once have I identified it with Christianity nor felt that it was trying to maintain some kind of a Christian image. This article is the first I've ever heard of the idea.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  3. Randy

    I will be picketing my local chic-filet tomorrow, sunday, 6 Feb 11. Come and join me everyone who lives in MIlton, Fl. We'll show them!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  4. noteworthy

    i guess chick-fil-a is okay since no one has passed a law for separation of church and chicken.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  5. SPLAT!~

    “we love and respect anyone who disagrees.” read: "we love and respect anyone who has a dollar."

    February 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  6. Lisa

    If you don't like their practices, then don't go there. I am pro-gay marriage and I still eat there.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  7. YBP

    What on earth does cheap greasy fried chicken and biscuits have to do with the belief in a dying and rising man-god from ancient mythology? The company seems to be very misguided. In more ways than one.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • nope

      Seriously? This family has something that is very important to them, their beliefs, and because of the prominent place their beliefs occupy in their lives, it affects other areas of their lives as well. To ridicule someone for not being ashamed of their beliefs is a definition of intolerance.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      Moron. Go back to your closet.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  8. nope

    Mormonism is not Christianity. Yes, YOU may call it Christianity (you may call it whatever in the world you wish to call it)...if you want to create some broad label of "Christian" and lump everybody who acknowledges a "God" and a "Jesus" into that category, clearly that is your prerogative.

    The fact remains however that a Book of Mormon versus Bible following person do not see eye to eye on many basic, fundamental truths. Who God and Jesus truly are matters. It MATTERS whether God is eternal and omnipotent or if he used to be a man and became a God. It MATTERS if Jesus was born to a man-become-God and his wife, or if Jesus is also eternal and omnipotent, equally God.

    What is a person who believes in the accuracy of the Bible supposed to call themselves? Christian? But my beliefs are completely incompatible with what a Mormon believes.

    Mormons are Mormons, just as Jehovah's Witnesses are Jehovah's Witnesses, Buddhists are Buddhists, Hindus are Hindus, atheists are atheists, Christians are Christians. The are true, fundamental differences. Therefore for the sake of clarity, these differences should not be pretended to not exist.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  9. Dan

    I will never patronize any business that takes a public religious stance. It has been my experience that religious people are among the least tolerant of differing viewpoints. And I have also found that if it says Jesus on the door then that is the first place that will likely rip you off. Freedom from religion gives me the option to boycott Chik-Fil-A and I urge everyone to do the same.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  10. blurbn

    Jesus said to 'FEED THE HUNGRY", not to just provide nourishment to those whose political/sociological views agree with your own!!!!!!!!!!! Chick-filet is one clean, classy franchise!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Oh please

      how typical for a 'christian' to ignore or make fun of the true message of Christ. how sad.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  11. Plightman

    Chick-fil-a does so much business you aren't going to hurt it by having a boycott. I laugh at this. It's crazy how packed their stores are pretty much all day long. I welcome all people that want to censor this chain to never eat there ever. Please, never eat at Chick-Fil-A. It's their belief system and that wonderful tasting chicken sandwich that keeps me coming back. They don't do business on Sunday. How many establishments can you say put their belief system ahead of profit margins? And I agree with one of the above comments regarding how pro gay marriage groups should open up their own chicken establishment and compete in the arena of capitalism and of ideas. Just compete. Unless you're scared.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm |

    READ THE BIBLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • westcoaster

      No Ed, Just plain no. I rally is not the answer to everything for everyone, you one trick pony, you.

      February 5, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  13. D

    Its interesting that the same people screaming for equality or demand chick-fil-A conform to their way of thinking. Simply by keeping to Christian values in their workplace is no indicator that they are trying to hurt gay people. Its simply absurd. Let the family run their business like they want to and either buy it or don't. The world as become an absurdist place where any little thing is held under a microscope and blasted for not going with the status quo. If it isn't harmful to others, why bother? The simple fact is popular culture and the power that be behind them are the truly insufferable ones. If you aren't for them you are against them so to speak. Blindly lashing out at all who oppose, while calling them nazis. Enjoy that downward spiral of thinking.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:57 pm |

    read the bible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Oh please

      YEA!!! like where god allowed Lot to impregnate his daughters!!! incest!!!! yea!!!!!!

      February 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  15. GENE Hamilton

    Although I do not discriminate I believe that iit is time to take a stand . I am tired of leting people be belittled . Read the bible god created adam an eve not adam and adam or Eve and eve . May I be wrong and u right but because a man believes and gives to his choice does nt make it wrong for what he believes in it makes u wrong becase u are taking his fredom away to choise what his values are . If you don't like chick fill-a don't eat there . They do far more good than bad God bless the owner for taking a stand on what he believes !

    February 5, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  16. Servant

    May the Lord bless and keep Chick-fil-A, it's owner(s), shareholders and other faithful business stakeholders in His abiding love and grace. May the Lord make His face to shine upon them and bless His mission and ministry through them, making them fruitful. May He make even their enemies to be at peace with them and silence their foes.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Oh please

      Maybe you could ask "the Lord" to cure cancer in children while he's at it. That is, when he's done protecting a chicken chain from the gays.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • EM

      if you believed you could ask the Lord. You can move mountains if you believe. Ask, seek, knock, but if you do not seek, you can not knock and therefore, you won't have the opportunity to ask.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  17. albie

    I will never patronize them now that I know they are christian – just like I dropped In-n-out burger in LA when I found out THEY were christian – I also never patronize any business that has the fish symbol. In my opinon, christianity is the single biggest threat to logic and reason.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Servant

      Abbie, some of the greatest minds of ALL TIME were and are Christians. For example, Sir Issiah Newton, the father of classical physics, so advanced in his thinking that he invented calculus in order to enable his physics theorems; C.S. Lewis is another of many, many exceedingly intelligent and knowledgeable Christians, who began his professorship at Oxford University as an atheist, who through REASON became converted to Christianity. There are many famous atheists which through trying to disprove and discredit Christianity which converted to Christianity.

      The point I'm making is that a stronger case can be made for the reasonableness of Christianity than the counter argument.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      Yeah, albie, go to your gay chicken store where special sauce has its own special meaning.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Oh please

      What a joke. A case for Christianity, really? The book called 'the bible' is full of so many inaccuracies and fallacies that it boggles the mind. And for every 'smart' person who is a Christian, you can find 10 more who aren't (Einstein, to name one). But have fun with your plagues and water to wine, and oh yea, earthquakes aren't a result of tectonic plates shifting over a molten core, but rather, a sign of the times! Get a life.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Nonimus

      This is an appeal to authority. Just because Newton was a Christian doesn't mean he was right. If that were the case we'd all be alchemists like he was.
      And I'm not sure there is a 'reasonable' case for Christianity. You might make the argument that there is a 'believable' case for Christianity, but I don't think reason comes into it.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • BT

      Wrong Both Times

      February 5, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • SouthWestSalad

      Albie- What about a fish restaurant with a fish symbol?

      February 5, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • EM

      it truly is the biggest threat to logic and reason. You can't use logic or reason to believe. God said he would confound you and it seems he has. The proud will never be able to believe because they must put aside logic and reason in order to see. This world uses logic and reason, they are man's tools to use, but you can't get to God with the tools of man.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • EM

      on that day Jesus will say "I never knew you" and close the door.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  18. Rick

    The biblical definition of marriage is one man and as many wives as he can buy, con into marriage, or steal.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  19. Randy

    Lets see, how does giving food to an organization whether they believe in gay rights or not have any effect on your daily life. I'm sure they won't turn you away when you step up to the counter and order some nuggets. Your money is as good as anyone else's. Get over it everybody. It's so tiring to have to listen to every dam group in america complaining about whatever! We have a crisis with skyrocketing unemployment, health care no-one can afford and tons of other problems.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  20. albie

    I will never patronize them – just like I dropped In-n-out burger in LA when I found out THEY were christian – I also never patronize any business that has the fish symbol. In my opinon, christianity is the single biggest threat to logic and reason.

    February 5, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • crucified

      What Logic? What Reason?

      February 5, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      albie is the single biggest threat to logic and reason.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • LouisvilleSlugger

      You stopped eating at a burger joint because the owners are christian? Sounds like you don't think logical to begin with.

      February 5, 2011 at 3:46 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.