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. you have to be kidding

    Bible Belt Baptists, Chick Fil A. Not LDS Christians. And Human Rights organization is actually Gay Rights Foundation, "my way or the highway". This is one battle they won't win (the chicken's good and God blesses their faithfulness!)

    February 6, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  2. Todd

    So forget separation of church and state, gay lobby groups are going directly after private groups now too, trying to tell them what they can and can't do. Absolutely ridiculous. Does every person and privately owned organization in the country now have to answer to these thugs? Get a life. Also, donating food to some other group that is "anti-gay" in no way, shape or form indicates an anti-gay stance by Chik-fil-A. Was anyone who donated to Bush's campaign donating to the killing of civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan? Of course not. Use your brains.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  3. The Boy's Mama

    I was raised in Hapeville Ga, the home of the original Dwarf Grill (later renamed "Dwarf House", the first restaurant to serve the Chick-fil-A). The Dwarf House was founded by Truett Cathy in 1946. I ate there and at free standing Chic-fil-A restaurants for years and years (40 +years, in fact). I have done what many posters suggested you do with a company you have a "beef with" (sorry, I couldn't help it), I have not set foot in a Chick-fil-A restaurant or eaten a Chick-fil-A product in well over 10 years.

    Per Wikipedia, "The company's official statement of corporate purpose says that the business exists "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A." "
    There is much evidence and no doubt that CFA and Truett Cathy have done wonderful things for countless people (especially young people) over the life of the company. But there are "secrets" in that company they don't want the public to know...beliefs, which known, would tarnish their glowing reputation. They hold that some "laws of the land", specifically, the ADA and multiple discrimination laws, do not "APPLY" to their business because "we are privately held and don't have to answer to anyone"...This isn't hear say, you understand, this came from the top of the company to my boy's almost deaf ears.

    I personally don't think they broke any laws regarding the "free food" incident.
    But I saw that another poster mentioned the EEOC....I believe this agency knows much CFA hopes you will never hear.
    Even PRIVATELY OWNED, CHRISTIAN based companies SHOULD obey the law...don't you think?

    February 6, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  4. Boycott Apparent

    It surely appears that if they are in public doing business they need to be very sensitive to what they do and whom they do business with or give things out to so as not to offend part of their clientele. If they do not wish to be all-inclusive, then they would appear to be back to the fifties hanging the anti-racial signs that were so pervasive.

    They surely need extra sensitivity training to insure that no group of people is offended by their actions. And the sooner they obtain that training for the bosses and the help, the better!

    Perhaps their new slogan should be: Chick-fil-A We Do Welcome Those Gay!

    February 6, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  5. grifty

    Why the are people talking about cults, Israel, the existence of god and asteroids in outer space after reading an article about pro gay marriage groups vs Chick-fil-a? Sad.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  6. Praise to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

    First the word Christian(s) was mentioned 3x in the Bible. True meaning of Christian is Disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Acts 11:26, The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
    Acts 26:28, Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
    1 Peter 4:16, However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
    John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

    Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to sum up the 10 commandments as 2.
    Matthew 22:37-40
    Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    Dear All, read the Bible not as a religious book, but read it with a fair open mind. It is fill with History. The Hebrews kept all the events to the tee. Before you become a critic please read all the available material and I challenge you to compare.
    I believe He will open your heart and mind. He promise that you will never be alone. He will love you more than your family and friends.


    "We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! "

    Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

    By the President: Abraham Lincoln

    February 5, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  7. Dr Jordan

    Any business in America needs to follow the same rules that this contry was founded on. Conservitive Christian organizations historically have discriminated agains, Women, Blacks, Jewish and others in hiring. We are One Nation under God, that means ALL are equal in America. If a buisness discriminates against any group they need to be held accountable.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  8. CFA

    I am a manager of a Chick-fil-A and I would just like to say a few things. First off, and this is the most important point to know, Chick-fil-A as a company did not make any donation. The franchise structure is such that almost all Chick-fil-A restaurants are individually owned and operated, which means out of the 1500 stores in America, there are 1500 different operators with the freedom to donate food to who they please. This was ONE store in Pennsylvania. If you feel strongly about the donation, boycott that one store. Please do not hold it against the company as a whole, or any other stores for that matter. I have members of my staff that are gay, and I know of a few owner/operators that are gay. Chick-fil-A makes it a point to be politically neutral, yet the franchise agreement prevents "corporate" from telling a sole proprietor (owner/operator) who they can and can not donate food too.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  9. Vinny

    I'm not Christian but I like their food on some rare occasions. Why does the LGBT community have to politicize everything?? If you like the food eat it. If you don't, eat somewhere else. And last time a ate there, they weren't trying to cram their religion down my throat. I like that. So stop acting like idiots. As if there weren't more important things to whine about in the world.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  10. Joeann

    This is a viable company with solid Christian beliefs who happens to be successful in their business model. I don't support the "gay" agenda, never have, never will.....Oh, I forgot, I have an opinion that other people don't like. Well....too bad! BTW, I handle corporate lunches for a major company. Once a week, we purchase 92 meals for our clients from a local Chik-Fil-A.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  11. Ks

    To bad if Ckick-Fil-A is donating food to a non- Gay suppottative group. Since when do the Gays run big business or The U.S.A??
    If the Gays are not happy here and the way people have the freedom to do what they pretty much please, without violating the law, I would suggest that they move to the middle east and do their complaing there. Every day the gays seem to be complaing about something?? When is this going to stop?? Christian or not, if the organization wants to donate food to help others, the Gays need to butt out!!

    February 5, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  12. G-Com

    I am Roman Catholic. I applaud the company's Christian foundation.

    And I love their food, too. Better than KFC. A new restaurant opened up fairly close to my home.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  13. Jeff B

    This makes me want to eat even more Chick-fil-A! Thank you for taking a biblical stand and not caving in to popular opinion. I'm sure that your long drive though lines will continue to grow with all of this "negative" publicity. Eat More Chicken!

    February 5, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  14. ijreilly

    Typical Christian...."Love the sinner, not the sin". What a cop-out. How many Christians "love" Osama Bin Laden, remember, your enemy? I can't wait until the next time I'm hungry and pass this cr-ap company right the f*** up.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  15. kakmlb445

    Who cares?!? They make some really great chicken!

    February 5, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  16. Al

    @PleezThink, The gays want equal rights. Chick-fil-a wants to prevent that. Just the Bible beaters have done for hundreds of years. The Bible is nothing more than a fictional piece of literature used to control people and to justify one's particular prejudice. Whatever that prejudice happens to be. The Bible lost in 1865 when the North won the war and slaves were freed. The Bible lost in 1920 when women were allowed to vote. It will soon lose again when gays are given equal rights.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  17. Bobo

    Yes! Let us continue to pray to the magic sky god to defend a crappy fast food place. Please God Jesus use your magic fully tuned to the Power Of Greyskull to blast away those heathens. Amen.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  18. Davidloc

    No , I was talking to cbbm

    February 5, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  19. FormerGayMarriageRightsSupporter

    This attack on Chik-fil-A is just disgusting. It is one thing to disagree with their stance, quite another to try to vilify them and demonize them systematically so as to hurt their business and reputation, simply to punish them for donating food (!!!!), simply because the recipients of that food share different political views. I support gay rights, more than most people, or at least I have done so in the past. I suppose I used to see gays more as victims of some of our society's laws, and I don't like to see anyone be a victim. These tactics by major organizations have made me rethink this. Some of these organizations are apparently out for power at any cost, and they're making victims of Chik-fil-A and apparently any other openly Christian group, which will now have to be more hesitant about being openly Christian for fear of letter-writing smear campaigns and being demonized. Shame on those organizations for their intolerance, when they pay so much lip service to tolerance of people who are different or have different views. This sort of attack is going to set back gay rights, not advance them.

    February 5, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  20. JFK

    The gay agenda is just so pathetic
    I have the right to believe that gay marriage is a loser against all natural laws
    No guy who delivers it to anogher guy will tell me otherwise
    Marriage is between a man and a woman
    Call the gay get togethers something else, but not marriage
    Thank you

    February 5, 2011 at 11:35 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.