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. BayouBoy

    Maybe that's why gay men are in such better shape than str8 folk. Because they dont eat all that fast food crap. Keep on eating at Chik-fil-a, ya fat a$$!! Haha

    February 6, 2011 at 1:02 am |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      Well, they still eat their fair share of chicken with special sauce.

      February 6, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  2. tim

    religion sucks

    February 6, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  3. ronnie

    what do you get when you cross a gay chicken with peta rights,,,i don't know but it taste great with honey mustard sause,,,

    February 6, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  4. Everard Grant

    I heard that one of the Cathy boys smuggled some heroine out of Vietnam back about 1970-1971. It was stuck behind a Polaroid color print and sent to his brother with specific instructions not to missplace the picture because it meant a great deal to him.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  5. jayemmbee

    I'm a big old 'mo and I love the Christian chicken. I will continue to love the chicken. Mmmmm, sinfully delicious.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • jayemmbee

      PS–also an atheist. <3 Still love the Christian chicken.

      February 6, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  6. Freddy

    It's interesting that Chick-Fil-A purports to be religious and suppposedly moral. Yet what do they sell? Artery-clogging fried chicken. Now isn't that special.....

    February 6, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  7. jimmie4x4x4

    Go chick-fil-a. See how successful a company is when they operate by the Good Book

    February 6, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  8. beth

    They always say,"Have a blessed day"...so annoying.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  9. shawn

    how about you just feed people, and thats it......i was going to say good food, but alas...its dog SHEET!!!

    February 6, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  10. tammy

    I support the company,Christians should have the same rights as anyone else. Who do these GLBT people think they are tring to dictate who any company can donate food to? Why should we have to be forced to agree or accept or we are called ignorant and hateful? Why do they think they are so much wiser and smarter than others? If that were the case they would not continue to be deceived by the enemy who is leading them into the pit of Hell! It is obvious with the statistics on HIV and Aids in this country who are the ignorant ones. I would think the same thing would apply here as with what the gays have to say about us, if you don't like something don't go there or don't watch it. So if you don't like their views don't go there to eat. Who caars if you go there or not? Nott me.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  11. fritz43

    They are fighting a losing battle. What people refuse to face is the fact that, slowly but surely, organized religion is dying out in the US. If you doubt that, take a look at the polls & surveys of young people regarding church attendance. They aren't going, and many if not most now refer to themselves as spiritual rather than religious. That is significant and it does not bode well for the various mainstream denominations.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Meg

      Oh my dear, this is just what these groups of minorities want you to think 🙂 Strength in numbers....no numbers? Well then, they will make up statistics to "prove" them. Please don't make up "facts" when over half of the nation is still protestant Christian.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  12. Char

    It's just sad that any gay rights group would think that providing food to a group of people is somehow wrong even POW's get feed.

    I am sure this company was doing this to help feed the hungry not to make a stand against being gay or gay marriage.
    Shame on the Gay community for not offering charity to those in need and bravo for Chick-fil-A for not letting that food go to waste and feeding those in the community regardless of what their beliefs are.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  13. Tom R

    Im sorry but giving free food to an anti-gay rights organization is not "love and respect". It is infact anti-gay.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      Maybe you should cry about it then.

      February 6, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  14. McGuffin

    I don't think Chick-Fil-A will have any trouble expanding because, simply enough, it's delicious - far better than McDonald's, etc. And it's kind of silly that a gay rights groups would be angry at Chick-Fil-A for donating food to an anti-gay marriage group; if the food had been donated to a pro-gay marriage group, they would be totally silent/happy. They're just unhappy at *who* they donated food to, and it's a personal point of view, not discriminatory. Let a private company have and express their own views; that's America. If you don't like it, don't eat there, but I challenge you to stay away from that chicken sandwich. Good luck.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Meg

      Probably the most intelligent comment on here. Kudos 🙂

      February 6, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  15. Kara


    February 6, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  16. What?

    Why are pro-gay people so militant? Why do they want to force their opinion, lifestyle and world view on everyone? True freedom implies a choice. If special interest groups take away our choice to support who we want to, to believe what we want to, and to act how we want to, then they've taken away our freedom!

    February 6, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  17. JesusFreak

    Testing...Is this thing on.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  18. anelokin

    Not being an American, I had no idea you all had Christian-specific junk food dealers. That is one of the most absurd things I've heard this week. Is anyone checking the chickens to make certain that they pray to Jesus too? Most chickens I know pray to Demeter, the goddess of grain.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • McGuffin

      It's not really that the food or service is Christian; the family just tries to run it according to their values, so they close on Sunday, try to hire smiling employees (a.k.a. "Christian" employees, as if only Christians are happy), choose to donate things to Christian organizations, etc. It's more an issue of it being a private company with its own views than an issue of America having religion-specific junk food dealers. It's good food, and their commercials are pretty darn funny, so I say let them do their thing. They're not hurting anybody.

      February 6, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  19. Marty

    Last time I checked in America you can have your own opinion. While I may not agree with them, I say who gives a rip! Let them have their opinion. Telling folks to ban the restaurant because of the owners belief is anti American. You go there because you like their processed and regurgitated chicken, not because they support or don't support gay marriage. People have way too much time on their hands.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  20. Suzie Williams

    Final point: Liberty ceases when the freedom of one group infringes on another.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:17 am |
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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.