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. Oats

    I wish every fast food company had a business model like Chick-Filet's. Their employees are always friendly and will go out of their way to ensure that you have what you need. Their restaurants are spotless. Their food is delicious and healthy. I have never been into one of their restaurants that is not packed at lunch or dinner time. They hand out educational toys with their children's meals that are truly useful and not just another piece of plastic junk that finds it's way into the trash. They have an insanely loyal following. Stop picking on them and start emulating them! Whatever happened to freedom of choice?

    February 6, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  2. BeckFastPaws


    And if your garbage man said that he would not pick up garbage from a house where gays lived, you'd be okay with that?

    February 6, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  3. Really?

    So if your garbage man made a similar gesture to an organization like this you'd stop letting him pick up your trash...Look, it's his company he can put his money where ever he wants; I’m sure he's not out commenting on blogs about where you're donating your money/time/talents. He is where maybe you should to be, living his life and spending time with his family.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  4. RJM-MA

    CFA has the right to donate to whomever they wish. But actions have consequences, and if they are going to contribute to an organization that is actively working to get discriminatory legislation passed, they should expect the group being discriminated against – and anyone else that opposes discrimination, whether gilded in biblical passages or not – to respond accordingly.

    For me, discrimination is a deal breaker. There's plenty of food options out there; I'll eat somewhere else.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  5. swanlee

    If your going to serve the general public but focus on a very particular segment of your customer base then you will have to deal with some backlash from those outside of that customer base.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  6. BeckFastPaws


    You don't want gays demanding that you treat them equally, yet you impose your beliefs on others.

    But since you want to bring the Bible into it: Mark 12:31 "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

    February 6, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  7. Kayla

    First off chick-fil-a have turned away gays from eating there. One couple was holding hands and they made them leave. The fact that any company is allowed to not serve people just based on there beliefs is bull crap. As far as the donating goes, if they want to donate to a church organization then that's fine but to donate to groups that stand against my right to live free and have the same rights as everyone else is this god for sacking country then that's just wrong. Sure do I think they have the right to do it fine but I also have the right to not eat there. I also have the right to yell about it. Imagine that.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  8. Steve

    If they were a tofu and sprouts chain they might have something to worry about, however the 1% crybaby fruitcakes will find out just how impotent they are on this one. I like their chicken, I don't like gays and my consumption just went up. Fly away tinkerbelles!

    February 6, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  9. tribune

    Leviticus 20, verse 13
    13: If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  10. ArtInChicago

    Christian? I thought they were Hindus with the save the cow, eat more chicken campaign.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  11. BeckFastPaws

    @Mike E.

    So blacks should do the same, and stay out of restaurants in the south? How about Muslims?

    This nation was founded on the concept that all are equal. NO business has the right to decide who they want to serve. If they are open to the public, then they MUST serve anyone who walks in the door, and is not violating the law. That's simply how it is.

    I support equality for all. If you consider that to be a "high-horse" situation, then you are clearly a dishonor to our Nation.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  12. And thr Truth comes out

    I've always wondered why they were closed on Sundays...they could at least have the drive-thru open so you could take your chicken sandwich ti church with you!!!!

    February 6, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  13. Kevin

    You want to know what I find humorous, the Chic Fil A in my town is owned by a lesbian that lives with another woman. I do not think the company is anti anything.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  14. Mike E.


    For starters lay off the name calling and most importantly... if you had actually read what i said it was stated as follows will caps it just for you since you cant see well:
    So come down off your high horse and know the facts before showing ignorance.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  15. RightCoastVA

    This story makes me want some waffle fries...nom nom nom

    February 6, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  16. BeckFastPaws

    @ Mike E.

    If you walked into a gay bar, and you were criticized for being straight, or denied service, then yes, you would have every right to attack their policies and beliefs. If someone in that bar said that all "straights" were pedophiles, then yes, you would have the right, and the obligation to attack those beliefs. Forcing your beliefs on someone else is not allowed in this country. Denying someone else EQUAL standing, is also not allowed.

    And yes, I have served this country as well. And I will say to you, as a fellow defender of our Flag, that if you do not believe in equality for all, then you are a dishonor to the Flag.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  17. Mike E.

    So your saying it would be ok and my right as a straight man to go into a gay bar and start criticizing them for there beliefs and MY RIGHTS... I think not..
    As far as living in wrong country... I served My Country this country to be exact where i was born and raised. so know the facts before you insinuate anything about living in the wrong country. Question is can you say the same?
    Either way i could care less about where you are from or if your gay or straight black white latino etc etc.. i could care less as a proud christian i love you all and will pray for everyone.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  18. Amused

    Apart from the religious discussion that I do not wish to engage in, has any stopped to consider the fact that maybe the food was given because the organization asked for it? I have had several friends and family members who worked at Chic-fil-a and I know that they have always been more than gracious in their support of their local communities. I doubt the sinister forces of evil were employed to upset the gay community and show discrimination. Things would be resolved much quicker in this country if people would realized that if you talk about things, instead of stomping your feet and crying like a pre-schooler, usually there is a simply and reasonable explination.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  19. BeckFastPaws

    @T Bone. So gays should stop demanding to be treated like everyone else, and accept being the second class peons of the 21st century?

    @Mike E. Where they are not wanted? Well what right do you think you have to decide, in America, who is not wanted somewhere? Equality for all means just that. Get with it, or move to another country that supports your bigotry.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  20. Glenn Johnson

    Intresting that CNN thinks that that this is even news worthy.I thought a private business could give money where ever it see fit.Just like someone else said if you don't like it don't eat there.

    February 6, 2011 at 8:30 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.