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. @magic

    they're not harming anything right? maybe a few feelings but i'm sure the gay population will live after this. those respective people I've luckily have become to know wouldn't let this trivial matter ruin their day.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  2. Me

    Chick-fil-A has CNN and all of you to thank for all this free advertisement.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:17 am |
  3. Jason

    Mmm...Chick-fil-a sounds good. This article just promoted the restaurant for free! Great! Now unbelievers can peacefully debate with fellow Christians, and some may even accept Jesus into their hearts. I've seen some crude comments on this page already. Ultimately, the burden of belief depends on the individual. The Bible says, if you truly seek God's truths, you will find them. Some of you may not believe what a Christian says simply because they are a Christian, but I implore you to do your own research. It is true there is suffering in the world, and there will be until the Lord returns. A loving God gives a choice on whether to believe or not. Just as parents let their children experiment with walking (they will get hurt sometimes), so does God handle his favorite creations. Most Christians are not trying to “push religion” on others. They are just excited about the great news that God has to offer….that suffering has a purpose, mistakes can be forgiven (many times over), and there is a plan (a GREAT plan) for your life if only you will make an effort to listen to God. To those who feel “pressured” by Christians, do you think Christians do not feel pressured by other worldly beliefs? For example, NOT praying is just as bold of a statement as is CHOOSING to pray. Yet praying (in school for example) is seen as pushy. How so? Many Christians can only provide life experiences and quote Bible verses that they have seen firsthand become ultimate truth, so if you desire more physical proof of a true biblical God, search for it. You will find it. The only moment you are guaranteed in life is right now.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:16 am |
  4. Bmore1984

    First, Chick-fila-A does not ban gays from its restaurants and no evidence exists that it discriminates against gays as to hiring policies. The only issue is that it may have indirectly contributed to an organization that opposed gay right. So what? President Obama, as well as most other Democrats, largely oppose gay rights (e.g. marriage). Chick-fila-A, if anything, is no different.

    Second, as a Christian, I patronize restaurants operated my Muslims and Jews with overt cultural and religious themes. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s American. Chick-fila-A is no different.

    Third, Chick-fila-A invented the chicken sandwich !!!

    February 6, 2011 at 4:07 am |
  5. Oh Noes!


    February 6, 2011 at 4:05 am |
  6. Aaron

    It's just a chicken joint people! Don't make it deeper than it really is....

    February 6, 2011 at 4:00 am |
  7. elo

    Geesh. Im eating at Ronald McDonald's. He's obviously with satan 😛

    February 6, 2011 at 3:48 am |
  8. Ben

    Good food or not, the world is filled with enough hate. I wont be shopping at Chik Fil a anymore and i will be spreading this information on to the rest of my networks.

    Your small view of other people and the world is closing in on you.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:31 am |
  9. jim

    Where are the gay rights activist when muslims stone gays to death overseas? Gay rights activists are hypocrites, they scream for equality but knowingly allow this to go on in other countries... I guess its ok for gay bashing to go on overseas but here in the U.S. they can't seem to have enough rights!

    February 6, 2011 at 3:23 am |
  10. lou50

    Who cares, the one in my area is backed up all the way to the street and sometimes into it most of the time. Guess more people don't care what some of you think about attacking free enterprise because they don't cater to you and are against people you hate. Now that I know more about them will do more business there, thanks for bring it to light. Also they provide more jobs in this country than you special interest groups so as they say, get over it!

    February 6, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  11. Tims

    It's a private company selling chicken. If you are gay, and hungry for chicken, instead of attacking Christianity...try KFC, Popeyes, Dixy Chicken, Boston Market, Tastee Fried Chicken, Chicken Lickin, El Pollo Loco, Chicken Man, Church's, Chicken Pluckers, Chicken World, Harlee's Chicken, Chicken House, Chicken King or Jack's Chicken & Massage.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:17 am |
  12. Tims

    It's a private company selling chicken. If you are gay, and hungry for chicken, instead of attacking Christianity...try KFC, Popeyes, Doxy Chicken, Boston Market, Tastee Fried Chicken, Chicken Lickin, El Pollo Loco, Chicken Man, Church's, Chicken Pluckers, Chicken World, Harlee's Chicken, Chicken House, Chicken King or Jack's Chicken & Massage.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:16 am |
  13. stupid christards


    February 6, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  14. stupid christards

    hey christards, god is imaginary http://www.godisimaginary.com

    February 6, 2011 at 2:06 am |
    • Al Gore's th'rapist

      Thank you for your commentary. Now get back in your closet.

      February 6, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  15. Robert

    I cited to Chik-fil-A's religious roots/policies in my law review article,
    Robert J. Friedman, Religious Discrimination in the Workplace: The Persistent Polarized Struggle, 11 Tenn. J. Bus. L. 143 (2010).
    See more at http://www.marshallfriedman.com.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:04 am |
  16. Troy

    since this has turned into a "are mormons christian" discussion.... if you have any questions or have wondered yourself just find out for yourself instead of listening to what others might say mormons believe. it's funny, a country based on religious freedoms and yet everyone hates mormons or bashes mormons. have you ever heard a mormon bash someone else and their beliefs? check out their website .... mormon . org.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:03 am |
  17. Jess

    As a believer and follower of Christ (the definition of a Christian!!) I commend Chick-fil-A for staying true to their beliefs in the teachings of the BIble. After all, we weren't put on this earth to please Man. In the end, it doesn't matter what any human being thinks about us, as long as we have lived a life that is pleasing in His sight.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  18. Daws

    I wonder if they love and respect anyone who disagrees with their definition of marriage, why would they help those making their own definition the only legal and recognized one in the country? They just acknowledged that America has a plurality of views. Let god deal with sin and government deal with legality.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  19. Zoe

    Hm, the rebuttals given by Chick-Fil-A are pretty nonsensical. How can they say "We have no agenda against anyone" when they clearly have an agenda, i.e. not supporting gay marriage. Frankly, they would be better off avoiding politics one way or the other like other fast food chains. They can hold on to their beliefs without making contributions to further political agendas on the dime of customers, many of whom don't agree. The bottom line is, not only do they have gay clientele but also family and friends of gays who eat at this restaurant and they will probably be changing their minds so this doesn't seem smart from a business standpoint. People want food, not politics or religion mixed in. If you read their packaging, the kids meal bags actually have all these messages that are supposed to open up minds and encourage positivity, not close them. I don't care what religion they want to affiliate with but I don't support this decision either. There are plenty of Christians who support gay marriage, so this isn't even a Christian issue. They are choosing a very specific opinion within a community that alienates a lot of their customers which is just plain sad. I am not gay, but I'm also not bigoted or opposed to social progress. I enjoyed Chick-Fil-A but honestly, there's a lot of other places I enjoy too who don't have agendas involving politics, I'll go support them next time. Way too much drama, it detracts from my enjoyment of the plain badness of fast food! Which, lets face it, if we're talking ethics – how can you sell THAT to customers knowing how unhealthy it is and then try to take the moral high ground? Come on now.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:58 am |
  20. TYar

    Hey, maybe those people were just hungry and Chik-Fil-A gave them some food. Who cares?
    If I give a bum a dollar does that mean I am now supporting homelessness?

    I love Chik-Fil-A. Not because of their beliefs, but because they make a damn good sandwich!

    February 6, 2011 at 1:57 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.