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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. Mike E.

    Here is a novel idea :
    Why don't the Gays and Lesbians Put on there big boy panties and Big girl Pants... and just NOT go where they feel they are not wanted or offended. As a straight man I would NEVER walk in a GAY BAR and start bashing there beliefs or rights, and scrutinize them. Therefore seriously get over it and just don't go there to eat there are plenty of places to buy chicken.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  2. dogs rule

    Shame on this fast food chain! Now that I know they have a prejudiced, religious overtone, I will never go near one!!!!
    No wonder I've never heard of them north of the Mason Dixon line!!! How horrible!

    February 6, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  3. Triple A

    Nothing at all wrong with being straight, gay or what ever, Whether it be a choice or genetic. However there is nothing wrong with believing a marrage is between a man and a woman.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  4. T Bone

    Always one sided when it comes to gay opinions. Its ok for gays to shove their beliefs and ways into the face of others with total disregard towards how others feel, believe or chose. To relate discrimination of blacks to moral CHOICES has no parallel and is nothing more then a perversion of logic. i.e. making bad, good and good bad.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  5. BobbiJ

    I am always amazed when i hear a right-winger say gays shouldn't be "forcing their agenda" on the rest of society. If gays are allowed to marry, that doesn't affect anyone but them. It doesn't alter the marriage of anyone else in any way, shape, or form. Therefore they are not forcing anything on anyone. The religious right, in trying to enact legislation that curtails the rights of others, ARE "forcing their agenda" on the rest of society. They are saying that gays should not be allowed the same rights as straights because of Christian dogma. One other thing for all those that parrot chapter and verse: You really need to prove God exists before you can use him as an excuse to discriminate against others. The Bible doesn't prove the existence of God any more than the Harry Potter books proves the existence of Hermione Granger.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  6. dogs rule

    Where does religion have a place in fast food??? Only in the SOUTH. This would explain why I never heard of this place above the Mason Dixon line. And now that I know what a bunch of BIGOTS (like everyone else in the South) they are, I would never go near one! Shame on you.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  7. Robb

    I have always refused to eat at their restaurants. But it's only because I'm anti-chicken. It puts me in a fowl mood.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  8. BeckFastPaws

    @opinionated

    Yes, actually, they do refuse food to gays. They do limit their service (and employment) to Christians. And no, that is not their right. It's discrimination.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  9. Charlie

    It will be interesting to see if other groups who enjoy federal protection against discrimination (blacks, Asians, Jews, Muslims, etc.) stop eating there, or if it will just be the gay community that stops supporting them. Chick-fil-A is privately held which means they don't have to bend to the will of shareholders when it comes to their business practices. They still have to comply with federal and state laws, which means gays are out, but everyone else has to be considered for employment by the company (the only exceptions to the law are where your religion or other protected status are essential for the job ... for example, a Muslim couldn't sue an Episcopalian church who wouldn't hire them in an administrative role because their faith clashes with that of the church – things like that don't apply to a fast food chain).

    To anybody reading this who falls into one of those federally protected groups: Remember that if it wasn't for those laws, you could just as easily be told that you're not equal in their eyes (but I'm sure your money still would be).

    February 6, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  10. BeckFastPaws

    @Mike E.

    Seriously? They want to be treated the same as everyone else, and people like you think they want something special.

    If equality for all is beneath you, then maybe you are living in the wrong country.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  11. ThatsANoSir

    Boycott all you want... Chik-fil-A is filled with nothing but soccer Moms and their kids anyway.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  12. Alan

    People! You need to remember this is not an article about Chick-fil-A. It is an article about a Gay activist call to war and their target is Chick-fil-A. Depending on what side you decide to take you will either write a letter and boycott or you will go have a nice meal at a reasonable price (just not on a Sunday).

    February 6, 2011 at 8:16 am |
  13. NS1

    I'm not sure I accept that they actually believe in DNA.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  14. opinionated

    Chick Fil A owners have a right to be Christian. And they cook delicious fastfood in a comfortable setting while choosing to close on Sundays to give their workers needed rest and to worship God. That is their right. They have not refused food to gays. They don't limit their service to Christians. If yiou don't want to eat there, don't. Chick Fil A, you have my respect and loyalty!

    February 6, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  15. jeremy

    This is funny and shows just how one sided anti chriatian CNN is. There the only network running this bit of "NEWS" that no one cares about and has be blown out of sight by this network. if i were the rest of you i would stop using this site and watching this network they like telling there side of the story only and thats not news that Communism.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  16. KC

    I wish some would stop comparing the gay right to the issues that blacks had to endure. I'm black and will be black all the days of my life, in fact if they check my DNA 400 years from now they will know that I'm black. However, they will not be able to tell if I'm straight or gay. In other words I can't help the fact that I'm Black (African American for some), I can't stop being black. But we know of some that have stop living that LIVE STYLE. You didn't have to endure the Black or White only signs and etc,. Make your fight stand on it own and stop trying to use the experiment of 400 plus years of slavery and discrimination as part of your justification.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  17. Mike E.

    Are you serious? I mean WOW!!! What a Double standard.
    Gays whine and cry about there rights.. what makes them better than anyone else? So if all business' don't cater to them then they get sued, and or scrutinized? What has this Country turned into???
    After reading this.. I WILL BE EATING HERE 5 TO 6 TIMES A WEEK!!!!

    February 6, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  18. Matt

    Honestly who gives a $#i+... Good chance the public outcry of this "controversy", as is so many things now in this world are, wont make it past next week and everyone will go back to enjoying their morning chicken biscuits. Come on people! Let start worrying about the stuff that matters. This media trap pits us against each other for the sake of race, religion, and beliefs as a distraction from whats really going on. Start reading between the lines and look at the big picture.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:03 am |
  19. BeckFastPaws

    A lot of people are commenting that this restaurant is not prejudiced against gays. In fact, Chick-Fil-A IS prejudiced against ANYTHING that is non-Christian. Aside from witnessing gay couples thrown out of the store for holding hands, I have witnessed Muslims told that (cultural slur) are not welcome. I have seen pagans thrown out for wearing a pentacle. I have even seen families kicked out mid-meal, because their teenage daughter was asking her mother about abortion.

    Now, I do agree that everyone has the right to their beliefs. I also believe that business owners have the right to conduct business their own way, within the confines of the law. But NO ONE has the right to force their religious opinions on someone else. And that includes using your religion as an excuse to refuse service to someone.

    One last though. Chick-Fil-A says that gays are against the Biblical definition of marriage. Well, nowhere in the Bible does it say "one man, one woman." In fact, the Bible says one man, multiple women. And your sister can be one of those women. The Bible supports polygamy, and incest. Also, by today's standards, pedophilia. Remember that at that time, most girls were married at 10, and the marriage consummated at about 12. This was because the average lifespan was about 30. Even Mary, Mother of Jesus, would only have been about 12 or 13 when Jesus was born.

    Believe what you wish. But once you start trying to impose your religion on anyone else, you have crossed the line, both ethically, and with regard to the 1st Amendment.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  20. Johny

    I think this sad example illustrates once again, that we live in a society of people with widely differing view points. Chick-Fil-A is a better than average fast-food chain that has Christian beliefs that they have every right to openly advocate. The Human Rights campaign is an activist group with a specific agenda, that they have every right to pursue. I'm not sure anyone is wrong in this case, but I sure feel uncomfortable with the aggressive methods used against CFA. I'm a Christian. I do not endorse the gay 'lifestyle', having specific beliefs that Human Rights campaign would not like. I support their right to speak in support of their opinions, though. It seems they don't support mine. An attack such as this because of CFAs owners religious beliefs is heading towards hate-speech in my book.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:00 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.