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)

    People listen.
    This is just a continuation of the debate "whose rights are more important". The PRIVATELY owned company reserves their right to support what organizations they want. The gays and others reserve their rights to call them intolerant for giving a group food. Whose rights are right and whose rights are in the wrong. That depends on your point of view. Someone disagreeing with you is not cause enough to attack their business and try to force them to join an organization. That is one group using their 'rights' to invalidate the 'rights' of another group. How are we going to grow as a culture and society if we cant just accept one persons view? Whose rights are wrong and whose rights are right? Does anyone know? The world says it is wrong to force your view of things on someone else. OK. If a group believes that and in turn tries to force something on the opposing group; what is that? The answer is hypocrisy. We need to just accept each other as we are. If a group is supporting equal rights, they cant destroy the rights of someone else in the process. Just accept each other as you each are and get on with your lives. No point in arguing on these types of things. JUST GET ALONG!!!
    PS chicken minis are AMAZING!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  2. Just look at yourselves

    I honestly don't know how Cathy or anyone else who participates in the disgusting cruelty that is factory farming, and sees God's creatures as merely things to reap a profit off of can consider themselves a Christian anyway. I highly doubt Jesus would approve of him or people that sit on their fat butts in a drive-thru while their cars are running and spewing contaminants into the environment as they wait for their bag of grease. Disgusting. This kind of behavior is destroying the Earth and is about as "against nature" as you can get.
    Start exercising and buying natural, whole, local foods that are produced in a humane way and get your protein from sources other than animals. It's better for you and it's better for the world.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  3. elpjackson

    Here's a pretty simple solution: If you don't agree with what a company stands for then DON'T BUY FROM THEM! Problem solved.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  4. Richy Rich

    Atheist and Gay people should die together,so when they reach hell,they could cry together.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Dan


      February 6, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • fritz43

      Hell exists only in your little uptight, brainwashed minds.

      February 6, 2011 at 6:20 am |
  5. nepawoods

    To those saying they use too much sugar, go to the web site and check nutritional info, and do the same for McDonald's chicken sandwiches. Chick-fil-A has more protein, less carbs, and less sugars – significantly.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  6. Faber McMullen

    Truett Cathy is a Baptist. He and/or his children are free to run their company in the manner that fits with their convictions. If a person disagrees with their philosophy and/or religion, one may refrain from eating there. I love their sandwiches and eat them whenever I can.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  7. Saxxon


    February 5, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  8. A

    Christian DNA? I didn't get it at first, and I still don't get it.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  9. reh

    Chick-fil-A is Southern Baptist, Mormons ARE Christians, Prop 8 is a good thing, In-N-Out burgers are delicious and I am going out to buy a BIG bag of chicken sandwiches to eat during the Super Bowl tomorrow.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  10. Dub

    Ya know what the problem is here....? The gay community is being a pain in the ***. If a company does or does not "like" gay people then who cares????? More specifically if a company doesn't "like you" or likes differing opinions from yours then DON'T GO THERE. You have no right to attempt to force them to cater to you. Get over it, stop bi***** and go to a gay friendly environment.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  11. pancakepalooza

    This is such an easy fix.

    I am gay. I don't care who supports me, God is the only opinion I care about. I only ask for the same human rights as anyone else, to live my life.

    However, having said that, if you don't like someone and how they run their business, don't go there. It's that simple.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  12. Lori

    Oh my stars!

    February 5, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  13. ChickFilAIsGreat

    I am going to "Share" this story on Facebook and tell everyone to go eat at Chick-Fil-A more this week to show their support of Chick-Fil-A's rights to run their restaurant based on good values and good food. If you want to support them then show it by eating at their restaurants.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  14. Ryan

    Ah corporate influence on politics.
    Such a charming trend it is.

    Isn't it great the supreme court allowed for unlimited anonymous donations from companies to political campaigns?
    Hooray money-based "democracy"!

    February 5, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  15. Kerry Berger

    Any American firm, private or public that openly promotes its religious values and discrimnates in hiring employees ought to face civil penalties. In this day and age the concept of "Christian" businesses versus other groups is an excuse for trying to convert others and impose one set of beliefs on others who may not think the same way, or feel insulted by said imposition. The laws of this land apply to all irrespective of the region in this country. I'm more concerned however, if this business discriminates in its hiring practices or refuses to respect that no everyone in the US celebrates the sabbath on Sunday.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  16. Sean

    I live in PA and got the whole story. This was one restaurant who donated food to a church. The church was having a speech or fundraiser. I'm not sure how that is supporting an "anti-gay agenda". Anyway, I don't understand how Christianity was turned into such a negative thing. Sure, some Christians may push an agenda, but its the same for every religion, including those who push your "theres no God" agenda. Why can't we just accept that we all have different beliefs and be happy to call this world our home, whether you think God created it or the Big Bang. Lastly, Chick-fil-A is freaking delicious, their service is awesome, and is constantly rated at the top for quick service nutritional value (according to Men's Health)

    February 5, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  17. Bo

    Christian or not Christian. It is a private company so if they want to give their money to an organization that does not support gays, what concern is that of yours. When you make your millions, you can do as you wish with it. Me for one like their food and their service. Their employees are head and shoulders above other fast food chains so as for me and my house....We choose Chic-fil-a! You gays are welcome to go to McDs.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  18. J-Smooth

    These GAY Rightz groups sicken me. Why should chic-fil-a not exercise their free rights to give food to an organization who is againsta GAY marriage. Im tired of thios.. The bible is against gay marriage therfore chick-fil-a is also.. So what its a free country. IF YOU WANT TO BE GAY YOU NEED TO LIVE WITH THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR DECISION.PERIOD. PPL DONT HAVE TO ACCEPT WHO YOU ARE IF YOU ARE A MAN DRESSED LIKE A WOMAN OR VICE VERSA.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  19. Bubba Ho-Tep

    It's interesting to see just how "tolerant" the gays really are. . . don't agree with them and see for yourself. It's a FARCE!

    February 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  20. tmom25

    It is great to see a company today standing up for their Christian beliefs in a time when it feels like so many are turning away from God. While we are not to judge others, we are supposed to share the Word and provide help to others. Way to go Chick-Fil-A! I plan on eating there more often.

    February 5, 2011 at 9:49 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.