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. Katia

    Gay-rights group got upset because a some people gave food to other people? They had the RIGHT to donate anything to anyone! It's not like they took food away from gays! ...?

    February 5, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  2. Chick-Fil-a-Is-Great

    I am going to "Share" This on Facebook and tell everyone that I will eat at Chick-fil-A more just to show my support of their company and their right to run their restaurant any way they decide. Great to see a company with great values and food.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • vamike

      I don't have a facebok account, but I will definately support a campaign to patronize Chic-fil-a.

      February 5, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  3. BibleMessage

    Most of the Southern Baptists say they are religious and sing about how Jesus is their savior, and then sin all week, hate, and point. Mormons are peaceful people, I guess, but they don't emphasize Jesus enough and follow the work of some stupid guy from the 1800s (which is never mentioned in the Bible) so they technically are a blaspheming organization. Gay people are just going to have to suffer what's theirs and follow by the Bible if they want heaven.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  4. vamike

    I don't understand the point of this campaign. Chic-Fla has not broken any laws and is not openly discriminating against anyone. This look like Christian bashing.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  5. coffeeandtea

    I do not care about a private company doing whatever the heck they want to do, within the limits of the law.

    I do, however, continue to have problems with those who perpetuate the myth of religion. Religion is the root of most of the problems in the world. Religion was created by early humans to explain natural phenomena and to control other humans. If you believe in the concept of the Christian God or the Muslim God, then you must also believe in the Greek God Zeus or the Babylonian God Apsu, or the Norse God Frigg, or the Mayan God Au Puch, ...or the thousands of Gods that humans have created over the history of Humanity. It would be the height of Christian arrogance (and it often is) to say that all these other gods do not exist and their god exists. It is also the height of Christian arrogance to say that all the other gods are wrong and their Christian God is right.

    I do not give a hoot about what the private business wants to do with their business plans; the real issues is they continue to perpetuate the nonsense of the imaginary person in the sky who is all-powerful and all-loving. Let's put aside the fact that the all-powerful god allows 22,000 innocent children to die each day (http://bit.ly/ihbSv4).

    Wake up to the fact that religion was created a long time ago, when people were ignorant of science and logic. In its current manifestation, in light of reason, science, math, and logic, religion is clearly not useful, and in most cases, it is a scam.

    NO, I do not need any of you Jesus freaks praying for me or my soul. How about you spend that time reading a science book or a book on critical thinking or do some Internet research and see how many preachers and pastors and so called Holy people are really nothing but scammers and, certainly in the case of the Catholic Church, pedophiles.

    Religion is a scam. Period. End of discussion.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  6. BibleMessage

    I see nothing wrong with what this restaurant did. I will continue to condone and support their decisions and I am proud that they live and act like Jesus would. Gay rights organizations are looking for special laws and me and the 2.2 billion Christians in the world will continue to go against that legislature.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  7. jon

    how refreshing to see a corporation that does not give in to the whims of the world. It is already our favorite restaurant...and now we'll be going there more often.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  8. Kmac

    I support gay marriage, and the protesters against Chick Fillet are acting well within their 1st amendment rights here. It is insane to call them terrorists as an earlier poster did.

    Of course the same goes for the owners of Chick Fillet. They have a right to donate food to conservative groups, they have a right to oppose gay marriage, and this opposition does not categorically make them hateful of gay people.

    I wonder how many of the Chick Fillet protesters voted for Obama (as I did). Now what was his position on gay marriage again?

    The protesters against Chick Fillet could much better spend their energies on the the anti-gay atrocities in Uganda, and on examining/exposing the role certain non-Ugandan anti-gay evangelicals have had leading up to that.

    As the world falls into uncertainty and chaos, it is far more rational and ethical to rally against murderers, than it is to rally against the makers of chicken sandwiches.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  9. Mr. Dakota

    Chicka-Fil-A is run by a bunch of social neanderthals. I'll never let out company functions be catered by it. There are so many other brands of fast food to make people obese and get diabetes, that there's plenty of other junk to eat, that we don't need to support these narrow-minded hillbillies.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  10. Tommy TT

    I don't mind their being faith-based. I don't mind their closing on Sunday. I know plenty of Jewish establishments, for example, that close on Saturday. But I do mind their contributing money to groups that attack part of our population that has different beliefs than theirs.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  11. Really?

    Here we go scapegoating. It is so like Americans to blame a fast restaurant for their problems. Gay rights are ignored, not because of an admittedly delicious chicken sandwich, but because we all waste so much time blaming a chicken sandwich! Let's just ignore these archaic name brands and drive across the street to burger king. And truthfully, any fast food chain that would deny it's patrons tasty treats on a sunny Sunday afternoon obviously follows Satan's bidding.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  12. Mr. Dakota

    Straight guy here speaking here. While I always try and avoid eating fast food for health reasons, Chick-fil-A's support of such neanderthal social views will ensure that I NEVER eat there (nor let any of our company functions across the nation be catered by Chick-fil-A). What a bunch of narrow-minded hillbillies; these people want to take us back to the dark ages.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  13. Cris Craft

    This story shows how the world claims to accept all opinions and all religions unless that opinion or religion is based on Christianity and the Holy Bible. John 15:19 tells us: "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." I'm proud to see a business take a stand for the truth and not back down. A Christian never should apologize to the world for Jesus. I'll be watching how many liberal media organizations continue to "try" to make businesses like this one look bad. We should not be concerned with what the worlds media says about us, we need to only be concerned with what Jesus Christ thinks about us. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

    February 5, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  14. westcoaster

    what would happen if nobody had a "superior" faith? Does that ever factor into the picture?

    February 5, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  15. Cat MacLeod

    Chick-fil-A's food will kill you. Shouldn't that be the bigger issue...instead of what invisible man in the sky they wanna talk to?

    February 5, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  16. Tamla

    When did gay rights = human rights? They "gay" movement is trying to force everyone to accept their lifestyle and its NOT GONNA HAPPEN. I can respect you but I don't have to condone your lifestyle. T

    February 5, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  17. willywonka

    Yeah, lets protest because someone is supplying food to people "YOU" dont like.
    I dont see gay rights b-i-g-o-t-s protesting unicef or the red cross, or meals on wheels or any other group that feeds people.
    Get a life gay peeps, nobody cares what you do. Stop trying to garner more rights than others because you feel marginalized and want to change the definition of the word marriage.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  18. Beth

    JesusMyth, You've taken your Leviticus passage out of context. This passage outlines the consequences that will follow if the Israelites, under the old Testament covenant, fail to keep their promises to God. If you keep reading, however, you will see the grace and mercy promised to them as God redeems the people for himself. (26:44-46). You can't possibly expect to be taken seriously in a theological debate if you refuse to use the most basic of hermeneutical processes. Taking a passage out of context is a chap way to score a point.

    And regarding the question at the top of the page as to weather or not Mormons are Christians: Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus IS God while Mormons believe that Jesus was Created by God. While Mormons believe in the saving power of Jesus, it is not the same Jesus that Christians worship. Same name, different attributes = different religion.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  19. Paul Begala

    I hope the Chick-fil-A company has enough sense to tell the sodomites to F-off!

    February 5, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  20. justice3688

    this is stupid! Isn't it chick-fil-a's right to give FREE food to whoever they want?? Gay rights groups want everyone to support their views, but they wont respect anyone with differing views from theirs...I thought in order to get respect you had to give it?

    February 5, 2011 at 9:21 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.