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. Daws

    Huh... I didn't know hate was a value...

    February 6, 2011 at 1:53 am |
  2. davbost

    I'm hungry after reading all this. See ya'll at chick-fil-a. 😉

    February 6, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  3. SuperFed

    Hey if you don't like it, just change the channel. Oh wait...

    February 6, 2011 at 1:45 am |
  4. Umm Chik n

    Willywonka1 – you said it bro; sweet – not only good chik-n but now an even nicer place to eat

    February 6, 2011 at 1:44 am |
  5. Sky

    Since when is it considered politicallly incorrect to donate food, money, etc., that you have earned with your own company, to whomever you wish to donate to? Lots of restaurants in the area of Texas where I live donate to all sorts of religious organizations and secular ones as well. There is no agenda, just an act of donating at the request of the organization. And might I remind everyone that we live in America where we have the right to donate to whom we please and we have the right to our own opinions, just as the gay rights organization does. Quit blasting Chick-fil-a for exercising its rights as an American.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:42 am |
  6. Daph


    Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

    February 6, 2011 at 1:42 am |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      Which basically means that the gay community should stop discriminating against everyone else.

      February 6, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  7. Name*Landfall

    I worked for ChickFilA in my high school days and I can vouch that there's no Morman influence, just that of down-home Southern folks who love God. And maybe some franchises are different, but the one in SC where I worked most certainly didn't encourage me to pray or do any sort of religious-based thing (though Divine Intervention was almost always necessary to get through the lunchtime rush). I wasn't affiliated with any church, and neither were half the employees, but that never seemed to matter to our bosses as long as we kept the sandwiches coming. And bonus, we always knew we had Sunday off. So from my perspective, hating on them for donating food to a group known to be against gay marraige is pretty ridiculous. What was the event? A day of volunteering where lunch was donated? Unless the food was for a protest rally on the steps of the state house, I don't see the problem, and I'm a gay-marraige supporter. To me, it's like boycotting Chinese restaurants bc you're a Free Tibet advocate. My point is you'll always find something you don't agree with at any establishment if you look hard enough. I personally think InNOut Burger isn't much different in their incorporation of religion in their culture...it's right on the underside of their drink cups (or at least it was last time I ate at one)! But whatever, the food's good, so as long as they're not clubbing baby seals, I'm happy to eat there. You just have to be willing to weigh the part you don't like against everything else before you judge. Sadly, many in our society can't be bothered with this approach.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  8. minetruly

    I'm pro gay rights, but I think what the gay rights activists did here was wrong. They should have respected the company's right to support whatever views it believes in. If they want to deny Chick-fil-A the right to make a statement against gay marriage, then they are opposing the law that gives gays the right to speak FOR gay marriage. Freedom of Speech.

    I'm very disgusted with the gay rights activists after reading this article. As for Chick-fil-A, I'm not Christian, but I have no problem with them promoting a Christian image and supporting Christian agendas.

    "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

    February 6, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  9. Mark Molberg

    It is hard to have any sympathy for the gays after they stole the rainbow.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  10. Kevin

    This article is good at showing where a potential 'culture war' can occur, as is evident through the various responses so far. I think it relies too heavily on already established stereotypes that do not fit the reality of culture or an actual 'culture war.' For instance – Is the North the haven for secular, Gay friendly, and businesses that counter the "Deep South's" moral values? One would think so by the end of the article. Is the Deep South the starting point for everything that is Conservative, Christian, and anti-Gay? There is not much to counter that claim given the language of the article. I understand the size limitation of the article, but the language is very nuanced to spark a healthy and well, though out debate on the comment board. Despite my few qualms with the article, I think it is a very concrete and appropriate example of where growing businesses must face a broader American landscape than perhaps they originally anticipated.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  11. mark in nyc

    he without sin cast the first chicken nugget

    February 6, 2011 at 1:27 am |
  12. mark in nyc

    he without sin cast the first chicken nugget.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  13. martin

    Chick fil a you keep pleasing the Lord .Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Our creator God hasn't changed and the gay can stay gay if they want. Don;t let them bring their problems in your decision of running your business . Continue to please God better broke than to please the gay for their dollar. God still blesses for your faithfulness.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:21 am |
  14. An American

    Privately owned. They can do what they want. Don't like it; don't eat there. When did your beliefs as a non-Christian become more important than my beliefs as a Christian. Why is it ok for you to trample all over someones beliefs when they don't match yours but you are incapable of seeing how you are doing exactly what you accuse everyone else of doing. People are completely blinded by their own self-righteousness. And all the Mormon bashers above....be careful of those mirrors you look in, you may not like what you see.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  15. Donald Swift

    99 per cent of the above posts show an ignorance of history, religion, ethics, morality, business, laws, equality, and reason. Why would ANY company, private or public tick off potential customers for any reason....Pitting one set of customers against another set just does not make business sense unless you just don't care and want to create controversy. I bet if Chick-Fil-A gave donations of food to an anti-Christian or an atheist organization the outcry would be tremendous–It seems that it is perfectly acceptable to insult the gay community, however.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  16. tim

    religion really sucks

    February 6, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  17. Elanajoy

    I don't know if this is even the issue the media is painting it to be. The first phara they say "donating food to an anti-gay marriage group" then later they said "restaurant chain for donating free food to a Pennsylvania organization opposed to gay marriage". Which makes me wonder if this is a church group they was doing some charity event and also happen to be anti-gay...OR was it some anti gay rally/meeting they they were supporting. I think it could very well be the first, in which case this is a non-issue. There are many churches that do a lot of good community things...maybe they were even doing a lunch for the homeless... but knowing the media, they love drama!

    February 6, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  18. BayouBoy

    Could this be why gay men are in such better physical shape than the straights? Hmmm.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      Yeah, not a lot of calories in a pillow.

      February 6, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  19. JonJon

    Wow, all these posts over a place whose food is poop.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      That is why the gay community is so upset about this.

      February 6, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  20. ThirstyJon

    I hope Chick-Fil-A never bows to the pressure of groups that preach INTOLERANCE in the name of "tolerance."

    They say that they did not donate food to the group for the purpose of opposing gay marriage, but if they had I would say "more power to them."

    We need to stand up against the kind of intolerance pushed by so-called "gay rights" groups.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:03 am |
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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.