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. NOLA

    I don't see a problem. If you live near that frachise, boycott it. My brother-in-law's brother has a Chick-fil-A franchise
    and routinely donate to Democratic events and causes. It depends on the restaurant.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  2. Buckwheat

    @Jeremiah – you said "MONEY!!!!!!! its the root of all evil so what the hell are you guys saying!!!!!!!!" You are wrong BUDDY , the scripture states this – " FOR THE LOVE of money is the root to all evil".. There is a difference.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  3. Jer

    Whatever happened to our Freedom. A private company can give food to whomever they want.

    If you don't like the choices they make... DON'T eat there. It is that simple. CNN would not cover this story if they gave food to a Pro-Gay group (maybe they would highlight them as a Great company). This only shows the the true bias of the media. Punishing those that disagree and rewarding those that hold true to Liberal ideas.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • ASW

      Who's being punished? What sanctions is poor Chick-fil-A being forced to endure in retribution for their donation? Is someone with the actual authority to do so now forbidding them to donate again in the future?

      CNN is spreading this story, and it looks like some who hear it are going to boycott the company as a result. It also looks like some who hear it are going to support the company more as a result?

      So again, who is being punished? The company has acted, and now individual consumers are going to learn about what it did and act accordingly, as per their own values and free will.

      Again. Who is being punished?

      February 5, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • ASW

      And people can complain about what the private company chooses to do whenever they want.

      Freedom goes both ways.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • hahahaha

      Considering Chik Fil A can make donations and support any group they choose, I'd still eat there if I liked the food. Its not my fight, and I'm not going to get all up in arms over issues I don't support. The question is how many gays really cared about Chik Fil A before this fiasco? It seems they go looking for discrimination issues. It is getting obnoxious now, and people wonder why there is resentment and lack of support for them.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  4. Inyourimage

    But isn't gay marriage wrong? That doesn't make any since at all. A company is under fire for supporting a group that believes in what's right? What are we - in backwards world???

    February 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • RONNIE

      Who said gay marriage was wrong?

      February 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • ASW

      No, gay marriage is not wrong. Denying gays the right to marry the person they love is discrimination. And discrimination is wrong.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Inyourimage


      February 5, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  5. nsn1946

    Cooking for your family is an expression of love.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  6. Denverco

    Wow, if they donated money or chicken sandwiches to pro-gay rights, no story! The media is paid to stir the pot and is dividing our country on political as well as religious grounds and supporting activist movements. I have a very difficult time finding an uplifting article from the media these days, when there are tremendous positive stores and events happening daily.
    Let's get back to becoming a positive society in the greatest country in the world.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • ASW

      False equivalence. If they donated money to a gay rights group, AND a Christian group complained about it, organized a letter writing compaign, or called for a boycott, you can bet it would be a story. Likely a much bigger story, at that.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • hahahaha

      @ASW – How many anti-gay groups has the gay community backed lately, or at all? What, that goes against your own beliefs? What does that matter? If its wrong for people to donate to another christian group because they don't support gays, then it is wrong for gays to only support people who subscribe to their beliefs. Oh, I get it. Everyone has to back gays, whether thay agree with your lifestyle or not. So its only right to support you, whether it is done out of a sincere belief or not. Interesting. That doesn't sound very fair or democratic to me. I don't feel your need to have gay rights no matter what supports my right to have my own, separate beliefs. Gays don't want to be equal, they want to be more than equal, and above the law. Oh, and get free stuff when anyone else does.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  7. Tibeirus

    “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.” Gays are definately "anti-Christian" And they definately have anti-conservative agendas! Any one who has gays against them, I am for whole-heartedly!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • ASW

      Yeah, because wanting to have the same rights as Christians is "anti-Christian". Criticizing Christians who advocate for the denial of these rights is "anti-Christian". Daring to hold to private values different from those of Christians is "anti-Christian".

      No, anything other than complete and total agreement and staying silent and invisible is "anti-Christian".


      February 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • hahahaha

      Long story short, gays should have kept their noses out of it. Once again they are trying to force their agenda on everyone else. It looks like there are angry, self righteous radicals on both sides of the fence. Litigation heaven for all!

      February 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  8. nsn1946

    Nearly all fast food is terrible! Prepared by unskilled low cost labor, who prepare food like kids painting by numbers. You should all learn to cook and teach your kids. It would be a kindness to them.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  9. Steve (the real one)

    Thank you belief blog for this story. I will ensure I spend some of MY money at my local-Chik-Fil-A this week. Some of the friendliest and most polite fast food workers in the industry! Must be that Christian DNA! God bless the Cathy family! PS you don't like their stance, don't support them! In fact, it is a great idea to know as much as possible about the businesses we support!. I choice to support them! This is STILL America, right? Let me clear something up. To you all who believe God hates Hom-o-se-xuals . He does NOT! What He hates is the actions! Big difference! You love your child but can hate the lies they tell! BIG DIFFERENCE!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Steve

      You and the rest of your religious whackjobs are the real reason things in this country are so screwed up. You bible belters are the same idiots that proselytize how wonderful and peaceful your religion is and then vote for an idiot like Bush who starts wars for profit so his cronies can make millions while killing untold thousands, yeah, REAL CHRISTIAN VALUES. It's too bad the North won the civil war, I'd be perfectly happy to separate from all you hypocrites. I hope you and this rotten food chain stay down south with the rest of the bigoted nuts. Long Live New England

      February 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      It appears somebody woke up on the wrong side of the floor! I hope after that rant, you fell better! Now get to work, you have very high taxes to pay!

      February 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  10. SPLAT!~

    Money is God. It says so right on it, 'In God We Trust'.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  11. JH

    To everyone saying "Duh... it's their right" (and by the way, it's THEIR, not THERE)... Duh, it's ALSO the right of Gay Rights groups and others appalled by corporate America trying to buy legislation to complain, boycott, and bring attention to the issue for people who might not know, but might want to join them in boycotting a fast food chain who is funding hateful messages. Simply "not eating there" is one choice, sure, but it's not the only choice. Duh.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  12. Gme

    There is no hate speech against atheists or gays here. Only hate and denegration toward Christians and Christian organizations...

    If the one-time donation of food valued at $100 to some group that may be anti-gay or at least not pro-gay is a huge story, then I wonder what the next CNN story will be about..... "Tommy Looses Lunch Money to Bullies"

    February 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  13. Iris

    This is what people have to worry about when the whole world is at conflict! who cares who they give their food to?! Big freakin deal. If you are offended then don't eat there. People... Don't we have much more important things to worry about like terrorism, middle east conflict, development of nuclear weapons,etc.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  14. Johnny

    I don't get it. The same ones who argue vehemently about the separation of Church and State, are trying their utmost to keep it integrated. Marriage is not a government created policy. It was created in the religious environment eons ago to define a religious rite (not right). The government shouldn't be sanctioning ANY marriage whatsoever. It is absolutely hysterical to see the "gay community" (way to go segregating yourselves and then blaming everyone outside your 'community' for it) fighting so hard to keep an this government white elephant alive. You're gay? So what. There are people who make love to their cars. Should they be able to marry their cars? Who cares just don't drip your motor oil on my driveway.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  15. Tisha Straight

    Cheers to ChickFila for standing by their beliefs. Jeers to CNN for considering this newsworthy. It's okay for gay rights people to have their opinion and act on it, but it's not okay for the other side to have an opinion? That is ridiculous. I don't see ChickFila marching in rallies. They merely donated food to someone who asked for a donation. This makes me want to go eat at ChickFila in support of them.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  16. Curt

    I have not been to Chick-Fil-A in quite awhile....I will be visiting there much more now! I appreciate their right to express their beliefs just as everyone else on this site do! If you don't like their beliefs, don't eat there. Why is that so hard?

    February 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  17. Rae

    Good to hear that this business reflects the family faith values and isn't double standard to satisfy secularism. Quite interesting to read many racial statements against Christians. Quite interesting to read comments regarding to define marriage as between a man and a woman means that the person hates gays or is gay bashing.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Christianity is NOT a Race

      Please tell me what “racial” statements have been made against Christians and which race do you think Christians are?? Wow, your statement says it all, Christians are a “race’, your race no doubt.

      I am married but the ceremony was not in a Church. Does that mean it was a not a marriage? Any Church has the right to refuse a marriage for any reason but anyone should be able to go to City Hall and get married regardless of their orientation.

      Chick-fil-A has the right to donate food to anyone but I also have the right to know who they support politically and I am glad this was brought to our attention as news on CNN. Just as I have the right to boycott Chick-fil-A, you have the right to stop reading CNN. If you don’t like the content of their stories, boycott them.

      The more important question is this, do they discriminate against employees or potential employees based on their religious ideology? My guess is that they do and that is against the law.

      I don’t have anything against anyone regarding religion EXCEPT those annoying door knockers that try to convert me. They need to leave me alone and go eat at Chick-fil-A.

      February 5, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  18. Bill Kilpatrick

    This is much ado about nothing. If the owners of Chik-Fil-A want to give free food to a cause they identify with, that's their business. My decision to eat, or not to eat, a Chik-Fil-A has always hinged on whether there was a restaurant nearby selling Chinese chicken with rice. Where that happened, Chik-Fil-A lost out. I buy on taste, not politics. I'm not saying I'd buy brownies from nazis unless, of course, they were really good brownies, in which case, I'd probably have to think about it – probably over a brownie.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  19. Tim

    Chick-fil-A has firmer breasts while the Colonel's breasts sag.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  20. abnguy

    I love Chic-Fil-A. I do not have one near but eat at the one In Boardman when I'm there. With all the corprate drama out there it's nice to see a large company with values.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
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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.