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. Kei Yuuki

    They also refuse to hire anyone outside of the Christian Faith. Isn't that illegal?

    February 5, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  2. Rick Williams

    I Like Pie...

    February 5, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  3. Santachrist

    I bet there is as many gays in the christian community as there in the secular community. Chick-fil-gay does have great cheap food. JEsus is the next kernel sanders

    February 5, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  4. longsuffering

    Somewhere a few hours back along this thread, there was a point that got lost. And that point is, this is a privately held, family owned company. Is such a company allowed to decide its own corporate culture or not? It doesn't matter if they are a one-store shop or big enough to eat Wal-Mart, as long as they are not violating any laws or being blatantly discriminatory in their hiring practices, then it is really nobody's business. Anyone, regardless of orientation, can walk in a Chick-fil-A and buy a sandwich. And Chick-fil-A can decide to whom it wishes to make donations, as can any other company. One wouldn't ask a church supply company to make a donation to a gay-rights group–why expect a company which has never made any secret of its company stance, even if they sell sandwiches? It's not gays or gay-rights advocates whose rights are being infringed in this case; it's the Chick-fil-A company.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  5. Ryan

    My family and I enjoy eating at Chick-fil-A, especially when travelling. We ourselves are Baptist. There is another hamburger chain in North Carolina where I am statined, Cook-Out. Tjhey put Bible verses on their drink cups and fry bas. People complained about that and pepole said then don't support them by eating there. Another place that closes on "Sundays is Hobby Lobby, an art supply store in the South. They do a lot of business despinte their Christian belief. We shop there more than Michaels, the other art supply store.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Jeff B

      Good points Ryan. Hobby Lobby also gave a sizable pay raise to all of its employees last year when many companies were cutting salary. It's funny how being a devoted Christian is so counter culture these days. Maybe it will eventually become "cool" like Goth or Punk. LOL!

      February 5, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  6. Lynda

    It's amazing how a privately run company cannot run a business the way they want to anymore without people whining about something. If you dont like it, then dont go there! end of story!

    February 5, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  7. K

    I lived in UT for 2 years and Mormons are Christian....just a different sect of it and as far as if Chick-fil-a was run by Mormons it would be open on Sundays isn't true....EVERYTHING in closed on Sundays in UT.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  8. Jay

    "Chick-fil-A's Christian DNA under fire" I love headlines like this. As if people are angry about a private company's Christian roots and practices, rather than the fact that they provide support to groups who discriminate against gays. Like Chick-fil-A is the real victim here.

    Please. Most people wouldn't care if they started praying to a giant statue of Sponge Bob SquarePants, if they'd get it through their heads that their "rights" end where someone else's nose begins.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  9. RJ

    Who cares? If people are allowed to support gay marriage there also allowed to oppose it, including companies. WHO CARES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I go there to eat there Chicken.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  10. ELB

    I have never eatten at Chick-lil-a but i think I will try it sometime soon.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  11. Cat

    As someone who is "other" (as defined by biblical scholars) and thus not bound by the Judeo-Christian-Muslim strictures ... the Chik-Fil-A's I frequent actually don't have religious music playing. They provide better "toys" (usually BOOKS) in their kids' meals than the other fast food places, have great fries and make a mean salad with non-breaded chicken. They isolate their play places with sound-proofed glass and have tables for the parents just on the other side so that they can keep on eye on their kids without having to endure the ear-splitting shrieks that inevitably follow (and yes, I have a child). I eat there because I like the food. I am non-Christian, following beliefs from my own varied heritages. If Chik-Fil-A is refusing to hire people because of their religion or is firing people because of a refusal to participate in prayer, they run afoul of the EEOC. They are free to donate their food to whomever they choose ... but people are also free to decry their donations and the decisions behind those donations.

    I have been aware since first encountering them in a RIchmond, VA food court that they are a Christian organization. Those calling for the return of the Blue Laws ... well, darnit – Sunday happens to be one of the few consistent days of the week where my husband is home to go grocery shopping. So you would deny a family FOOD because of your religious beliefs? Not very CHRISTIAN of you. And yes, I know whereof I speak. I have done a LOT of comparative religious study (and why is it that Pagans tend to be better able to quote scripture than Christians?). Most of the so-called Christian religion's rules are based not on the supposed teachings of Christ but on the teachings of a man who PERSECUTED the original desciples and never actually met Christ. That would be Saul of Tsarsis – who later changed his name to PAUL after having a supposed vision. Much of the cononized Bible is based on Saul's letters to various different GENTILE communities. In fact, many of the acropryphal gospels were deemed heresy because they more closely followed the ORIGINAL teachings of the ORIGINAL Christian movement – which was a JEWISH movement. So, before you start spouting religion here in defense of a theology, know which part of your theology you're parroting. If it came from ANY of the "letters to" then you're not following JESUS, you're following SAUL who was a GENTILE. So that's NOT very CHRISTian of you, but very SAULian of you.

    By the way ... didn't JESUS say "preach not in the streets as the HYPOCRITES do for I tell you they shall have their own reward" ? And I don't think that Jesus would exactly REWARD people he called HYPOCRITES.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  12. 14401

    How about you don't go into Chick fill a. That would solve the issue, is there is one. You'd be missing something great though if you pass up the chicken salad sandwich. Yummy!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  13. phillyfan

    i would like to point out that even the president of chik fa la pointed out that they arent straight up anti-gay. They just dont support gay marriage. along with..well.. probably a majority of Americans. i think they are being singled out because they ARE a strong Christian company.... but what can you do... im sure the ACLU is going to get involved..

    February 5, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  14. Dan

    Some christian values....they slaughter millions of chickens every day!!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • Rob

      Uh, Dan...chickens were slaughtered in biblical times also. Man gotta eat!

      February 5, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  15. Brandcrown

    Lots of negative opinions coming from twitter on this controversy, see more on our site http://www.brandcrown.com/Chick-fil-A

    February 5, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  16. Eat Mor Chikin

    As a person who has been in a leadership position at Chick-Fil-A for many years, I can assure you that our company is not "anti" anything, except sin. Truett Cathy (who is definitely not Mormon, btw) based everything he did on the service of others, not money. The biblical principles that he, and now his son, structure their business around just happened to make Chick-Fil-A a billion dollar company. Chick-Fil-A gives away more food than any fast food (by the way, most Chick-Fil-A operators prefer the term "quick service") restaurant in the country. That includes many groups, organizations and individuals that have beliefs that many be different than yours. That doesn't mean that they support that organizations beliefs, but it does mean that they are trying to serve and build relationships. My store recently donated nugget trays to a gay couple for a baby shower. That doesn't mean we support their lifestyle decisions, but they have been longtime, faithful customers of Chick-Fil-A. We love them. They know as well as we do that we have some very important disagreements. But that doesn't mean we shove Christianity in their face or bash them. Chick-Fil-A is a restaurant founded to serve as Jesus serves. As a matter of fact, employees probably seem friendly because they are encouraged to put into action the biblical principle of "second mile service".

    February 5, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  17. Outrageous

    Finally a place where one can eat without seeing Gay's.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  18. PrisonerofJoy

    Sorry this is pertaining to the argument that because Mormons believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is the saviour that they are therefore Christian. The argument is false. Lest they believe also that Jesus is the only TRUE Divine Son of God the second person of the trinity who came in the flesh and lived the perfect righteous life and died on behalf of many sinners and rising again three days later showing that God was pleased in His sacrifice so that the many who believe in Him alone may also be raised from death unto life by the power and grace alone of the Holy Spirit and have His righteousness imputed to the faithful thereby have fellowship with God the Father.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  19. reACTIONary

    I ain't going to eat at this place no more, no more. Glad for the bad publicity, being informed helps support human rights.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  20. MadMonk

    The reaction from the gay community & thier PC Nazi supporters over this makes me want to go get some Chik-Fil-A. I will surely be supporting this company even more often in the future.

    February 5, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85
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.