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. mm

    and yet they are one of the worst supporters / consumers of factory farmed chickens and the heinous conditions they are forced to endure.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  2. Tony T

    I did not knowthat this restaurant was Christian based how that ik do i will patronize them. God bless and this is still America and freedom of choice is still an option

    February 6, 2011 at 7:13 am |
  3. Gayland

    Why dont you Gay people just shut your big fat mouths and not patronize the place. You can marry each other now and kiss in the street and have babies and all of that stuff so just shut up about the chicken store.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:13 am |
  4. Kee

    Chik-Fil-A is a privately and family owned business. therefore they can conduct business anyway they choose to. if Chik-Fil-A chose to suddenly abandon their religious views i personally think that they would have REAL serious consequences. however, they chose to remain firm on the belief structure that the founder established. if the company was a publically traded company such as McDonalds, or a system like public schools where the public has a huge impact on how the business operates. but in a system that is privately owned and operated the only voice the public has is whether or not they choice to shop at that particular merchant.
    and to be perfect frank, Chik-fil-A business is thriving and i hope it continues. their food is top notch, the service and people in them are top notch. the business is run with integrity and values. which by the way, most businesses are not today. if you dont like a business, dont shop there. that is your voice. but i think that CFA's successes are speaking volumes as to what people really think.
    gay is wrong. period. no matter how you try to justify it, it has been and always will be wrong.
    Touche Chik-fil-A for taking a stand in an era where whinny people think they can manipulate someone else to accept them for being wrong. right is right, and wrong is wrong. if you think that you have so many rights – go to a country where you have no rights. ive been there! i choose to love this country (and all its faults) and believe that there is but one true God and his laws are sovereign. there is no amount of whining and crying that will change what God has established.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:11 am |
  5. abbaduke

    So, they want to support a specific group? Who cares, they have the worst sandwich on the market. But aside from that, I do not support any commercial enterprise which overtly upholds religious values. Religion is for idiots ! Faith is a serious character flaw! Chic fil A is about to open another one of it's crappy outlets here in Mebane, NC!

    February 6, 2011 at 7:04 am |
  6. ohiogb

    Organizations truly opposed to gay marriage must love the fact the Christian and anti-Christian groups keep the debate at a "morality" level. Christians aren't who keep gay marriage from being legalized. If we (yes, I'm a Christian) had that kind of power, abortion rights would have been revoked. Gay marriage would lessen tax revenue, change inheritance laws and increase insurance rates for government and private industry. Corporations would be required to offer benefits to people they currently do not have to serve.
    Christians need to realize, we do not live in a "christian" nation...nor should we. Be a light in your community. Those who are not Christian, stop using us as some kind of excuse. We're allowed to disagree in this country. While I personally have no opposition to gay marriage being legalized, I also don't believe it will be the "big win" some seem to think it will be. Love the person you are with, gay or straight, and be a good neighbor. Peace out everyone.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:54 am |
  7. dave

    THe gay agenda..the left..the liberals >>>>> are slowing taking the freedoms away...groups taht disagree with them will be subject to tremendous discrimination..very say to say what our country has come too....comdemn wholesom families who have held this country together and lift up the degenerates of society...RIMMING does anyone out there really know what that is?? yet they want to teach that in schools...what a society the left have brought to us

    February 6, 2011 at 6:46 am |
  8. cregis

    This company is not the only one that gives to groups that many people don't like. I don't buy Domino's Pizzas because I have read that that company contributes a lot to pro life organizations. The Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army have been reported as being anti-gay. Personally I think a private business should be able to contribute as they please, I just don't have to eat there. Although Chik Filet is delicious.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:46 am |
  9. Daisy Atlanta

    i think we need to learn how to respect other person, including a private own company. don't open on Sunday. just eat elsewhere. no big deal. American are spoiled. they always said this right, that right.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:40 am |
  10. river banks

    It's all very simple, you either agree with the gay rights view,and boycott Chic-Fil-A,or you disagree and eat more chicken. Wish they were open on Sunday's.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:37 am |
  11. abqTim

    who cares what 2 other people do. Just don't tell me to like it or who is right. Anyone who tells what me what makes me happy is pure wrong...100% I like their food, and it doesn't bother me that they give to anti-gay groups becuase I eat at other places that are for gays so it all evens out in the end. I don't want to tell someone else what to do because that's communist!!!!

    February 6, 2011 at 6:21 am |
  12. Jay

    I don't normally eat at Chic fil A but I think I'll start. GOOD FOR THEM! Glad to see a company not bowing to all the PC BS infesting the world.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:13 am |
  13. pat

    I don't care what their politics are, but the food sux.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:51 am |
  14. Seriously?

    Seriously, this is silly. This is not a religious issue, a marriage issue or a gay rights issue. This is a non issue!

    This is a business – a privately held business – that can do whatever it wants. It gave some food to friends. Give it up, stop trying to make everything an issue. We are very intolerant when we demand our tolerance !!

    I am gay, I am Christian, and I am married to my partner. And I LOVE Chikfila. I will continue to eat there because I think it is wonderful our country has a few principled businesses left.

    That being said, I appreciate those that support and befriend me; I understand those that don't. As long as people are not hateful (which is ugly, rude, etc) than let it go. As people, we need to focus on real issues, like poverty, death and people sleeping hallways to stay alive during freakish snowstorms.

    America, prioritize and focus .. really who cares about all this little bs? ...

    February 6, 2011 at 5:20 am |
  15. Chase PCB

    Maybe its just me but I can't find anywhere in this article or any of these comments where it says what organization Chik-fil-a gave to, and it gave food right, what wrong with free food, we all need to eat, we are all people. No matter your feelings on gay rights a restaurant giving away free food is a charitable thing. Now if it was giving to a hate group that advocated for the killing of all gays, then I could see the problem with that but as far as we know, it could have been a church it gave to. Catholic churches do not support gay marriage, and they're not the only ones, that does not mean they do not do alot of other great things for their communities, they help alot of people by giving away food and clothes and providing a sense of community. We don't all have to agree on everything but its important that you judge a group or an organization or a person on all their merits, not just one opinion.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:03 am |
  16. CJ

    I'm am Jewish like Jesus was. I practice my religion as Jesus practiced. My Sabbath is on Saturday. Will they give me a job and let me take Saturday Sabbath days off to worship as the real Jesus did? Besides that, their food is not very good.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:47 am |
  17. Diana

    My daughter lived in Salt Lake City, Utah in the military for 4 years and Utah is under the notion that the Mormons own Chick Fil A!
    And last I looked ..Christians and the rest of the world do not consider Mormons of the Christian faith.... And anyway it shouldnt matter.....I am an old fart and who gives a crap about everybody else....geez

    February 6, 2011 at 4:37 am |
  18. Jonny

    Hatred Loves Company

    February 6, 2011 at 4:32 am |
  19. NoSacredCow

    I never knew that Chik-fil-a was vehemently right wing christian.
    Good to know.
    I didn't like the food before, now I can despise their corporate stance too.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:29 am |
  20. Matt

    I absolutely support gay marriage and am always shocked at the opposition arrayed against it. HOWEVER, I acknowledge the right of a private company to do whatever the hell they want with their money/poultry, even if that companie's rights protects their ability to support groups attempting to deny the rights of others. This is America. Deal with it.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:28 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.