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. Ronnie

    Any time there is some discussion about "gay rights", some misinformed person always brings up the civil rights movement. The mistreatment blacks received in this country wasn't brought on them because of the choices they made.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  2. anna p

    does anyone know if you can be an openly gay employee and work at Chick-fil-A?

    February 6, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  3. Earth Art

    How Gay! Make your own chicken chain. Maybe sweet willies love chicken. Leave en alone. Arent there rights you want. Then why dont you feel they have some under their religous beliefs!

    February 6, 2011 at 7:56 am |
  4. Earth Art

    Blessed are the filet makers.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  5. Alan

    I support Chick-fil-A. They give to their communities, including the homeless. They do not discriminate! Many times I have stood in line for service with at least 4 races of people and not one of them were asked if they were gay, vegan, or any other bias. They only assume you are hungry and have legal tender to pay for what you order. They don't even assume you are going eat it there or get it to go (unless you are in the Driv-Thru).

    February 6, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  6. Warrior07

    Chick-fil-a espouses to Christian beliefs which doesn't discriminate against Gays, but sees the Gay activity as sinful per multiple Biblical references. The owners of Chick-fil-a would probably quote Jesus in saying "Go and Sin no more" to Gay activists. Also the Gay activists in their boycott would probably help increase Chick-fil-a's profit margin no matter what.

    I challenge some liberal, gay organization to start a competing fast food corporation that is Gay friendly, that encourages it's employees to attend Gay-rights meetings and support Gay Pride celebrations and see how long they remain open.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  7. mh

    The gay lobby and their minions should be ashamed. I believe Hitler – just like the gay lobby – did the same thing to those who did not agree with his "beliefs". Eat More Chicken!!

    February 6, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  8. Scott

    I'm glad this right wing business with its old outdated founded who has long preached his hate speech while discriminating against gays in his business is being exposed. It's also absurd they aren't open Sunday.. if you want to open a public business, keep your bigoted thoughts to yourself and stop cloaking them in a shroud of "Christianity".

    February 6, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • Johny

      Scott, what on earth are you talking about? You don't know their politics. You have assumed they are 'right-wing' because they are Christian. You Pre-judged CFA without any supporting factual knowledge. That makes you prejudiced bud.

      February 6, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  9. pumpernickel1988

    Eat more chikin!

    February 6, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  10. J.B.

    Not eating at Chick-Fil-A is easy. What about people that need a job and need to work there? I have been present for a company meeting (as waitstaff) and it was more like a cult than a company. The employees had to sit there for two hours of "Christian" propaganda. This is an integral part of their job. It was also obvious that it would be impossible to advance in that company if without drinking the Kool-Aid. One of the corporate officers gave a testimony, which included a story about how generous he had been to his church. And their idea of a generous tip to the underpaid waitstaff was Chick-Fil-A coupons. Really. By the way, not everyone interprets Christianity in their shallow, narrow-minded fashion.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  11. Eli

    I think they are doing a great job of showing Gods love. We have to give all businesses the freedom and right to have the principles of their choosing. As long as all customers are getting the same sandwich, this should not be an issue.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  12. chunkified

    I pray to God today. When I eat my chicken-wings at the Superbowl party later today, I pray they are Christian chickens.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  13. Rob M

    This whole "issue" seems a little weak to me and I can't quite understand how something like this gains headlines. Chick-Fil-A is a privately held company in America. The UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Freedom of religion. Live and let live. If you don’t like their message move on. Don’t buy from them, that’s your right. Why harass them? One second thought, Marriage is a religious term. If you don’t fit the religious criteria of the term, you can’t be married. As far as the rights for gay and lesbian couples, again, this is the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Live and let live. Give them the same rights as everyone else already. Call it a civil union to get around the religious technicality of the term and be done with it. Far too much time is wasted on things that have common sense solutions.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  14. Mack Beemer

    "my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage"

    Chapter and verse, please!

    One man, one woman?! Not in Abraham's day, or Isaac's or Jacob's or.... etc.

    Polygamy was also practiced in NT times.

    So where do you get the "Biblical definition of marriage"?!

    February 6, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  15. viaad

    Gays suck and there is no god so there you have it!

    February 6, 2011 at 7:24 am |
  16. Kee

    sorry didnt mean to post it twice.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  17. 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 don’t like a business, don’t 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.
    Touché 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. I’ve 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 7:21 am |
    • Mack Beemer

      Ho hum! It's hard to know where to start.

      How about "Gay is wrong, always has been always will be." Um... not in Athens ca 500 bce.

      Actually, what you need to understand is this: your words qualify as hate speech. Hate speech has causal consequences... whether you specifically intend them or not. Google "stochastic terrorism".

      February 6, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  18. Bill_F

    Some comments speak of discrimination, but the only real discrimination mentioned in the article is "the Indiana University South Bend went so far as to temporarily suspend Chick-fil-A service in its campus dining facilities".

    This company is not campaigning against gays. They are making donations of food to a group that happens to hold an opinion which is held by many (not myself) that marriage should be exclusively between man and women.

    If they are not free to do this how can any of us feel that are freedoms are not at risk? They are only acting there first amendment rights. It appears to me that unreasonably angry people are trying to revoke from those that don't believe the way they do.

    I wonder what would happen to Indiana Universities funding if a gay owned business was banned from doing business on their campus.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  19. Blogs! Giving idiots a Voice!

    Wow...I've always hated that Chick Fil A was closed on Sundays...as an atheist, I typically said something derogatory about their practices or choices; however, come Monday, I knew where I could get the best chicken sandwich. While I disagree with what drives Chick Fil A, hats off to a company that willingly turns down what would probably be a very valuable day of business.

    I'm pretty sure there's something VERY SHADY in every chain restaurant. I'm sure some random chain has chosen to not serve some group or another random chain didn't do adequate research before giving food to another. I hope the limp nature of this coverage doesn't hurt their business – it's still good chicken!

    February 6, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • Mack Beemer

      Something weird about your support of a company that supports anti-gay groups. Does it smell like dead fish to you? It does to me.

      February 6, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  20. Janie

    It is our right not to spend money with Chick-fil-a and my family will not. Christians just love to be exclusionary and pick on people who are different in any way. Gays and lesbians are just easy marks. It's the hoard mentality. Seems so very Christian of them, doesn't it? Christ would never treat people this way and I don't believe he'd approve of others discriminating in his name.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:14 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.