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. nooffensepls

    This is a private company, they can give their money to whoever they want, gay right activist has gone too far, this is not taxpayers money, this is private money.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  2. Greg

    i'll only eat there with free coupons. my money won't go to supporting hate-filled, fundamentalist agenda that denies the rights of others. i want to see a chick-on-chick-fil-A sandwich

    February 6, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  3. Paul

    I fully support Chick-fil-a. Especially for having the guts to stand up to an evil presence in our society. MAY GOD BLESS THEM for their support of decency and morality in a corrupt world.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  4. Christfollower

    If you have any kind of belief system that reflect your morals that doesnt agree with anyone else you become a target...good grief people as an American or more imortantly a human I have a right to my beliefs as does Mr. Cathy and his company! I am so sick of other goups that do not agree with Chistians creating controversy...I lived the gay lifestyle and the Lord brought me out of it years ago. I am happily married now and know you can get out of it if you want to. BTW...CNN DOES pre-screen your comments as I have tried to express my life and how its changed on the Joel Osteen story and they have censored me because they want you all to believe a lie, that you cannot get out of your lifestyle. Lets see if they censor this one too!

    February 6, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  5. listowel

    Liberals love freedom except when it applies to others.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  6. Dave

    Im of the mind that you do as you want. If you gay..Be happy and live your life as your want. IS there a straight Org that monitors
    where you spend your money? This is all about Chick Fil a being a christian org. If you dont like what one company stands for dont eat there. WE are getting to attack happy when some one does something we do not like. As Americans we have the right to choose.. Some how all these groups have lost the sense of that.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  7. Ken

    Love Chick-fil-A; Hate the liberal medial.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  8. Glenn Lesher

    So what they gave food to a group of people that oppose gay marriage. They also gave to the food bank during Christmas. I am glad to live in a free speech society. Heck I oppose smoking, we all oppose something. Thank God we are all different what kind of world would this be if we all believed the same. Have a great day and God Bless

    February 6, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  9. Harvey

    It amazes me that liberals think freedom of speech is appropriate only if their views are the one's being voiced. If anyone else has an opinion they consider it hate speech. This is a privately owned company with a publicly displayed philosophy. It has been no secret ever. I have never seen them display any malice towards anyone. The company believes that you are to love the sinner even if you disagree with the sin. Gays seem to think everyone are out to get them which is not the case. Have they been stigmatized by organized religion? In some cases yes, but there is a lot of paranoia there too. Be glad you are not in a Muslim controlled country like Iran or Saudi Arabia because you would be put to death for your lifestyle.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  10. ThePatriot20

    You know what, we wouldn't have these problems if OBAMA wasn't president! That's ok, though, Mama Grizzly is coming in 2012 and we WILL have our good Christian government like were supposed to! GOD BLESS SARAH PALIN!

    February 6, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  11. Reverend Honey Mustard

    Do you Chicken Sandwich take waffle fries in sickness and health, richer or poorer ... until death do you part?

    February 6, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  12. mightyfudge

    No one knows what happens when we die, and anyone claiming such knowledge is a liar who probably wants your money... in this case they want $1.99 for a really crappy chicken sandwich.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  13. Carl

    Chick Fill A has every right to support any group they want. They are a privately held company and have the freedom to donate money to groups that align with their views. But with that freedom comes consequences. The Human Rights Campaign has the freedom to discourage their members from eating there because they dont agree with Chick Fill A's philosophy. Both groups are right. This is the nature of the free market.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  14. Cloverdale

    I enjoy their food and their politics. I guess I'll eat there twice as often and cancel some of you boycotters out 🙂

    February 6, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  15. Abel Caine

    Civility. Jealousy. One term lacking, the other over-abundant. When the initial motivation is love, it does not presume to prejudice or resentment. We have lost eloquence and patience with each other and our God.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  16. teremist

    TO THE GAY RIGHTS folks, Kindly note that most religions, (including islam,) take an anti gay stance. Apparently your RELIGIOUS prejudice, is limited to Christians. Why is that? Chik-fil-a, has DONATED FOOD, to an organization that is opposed to the marriage of same gender people. Marriage, is a sacred rite, in all of Christianity, between a male and a female. They have every right to support their religious beliefs, as long as they do no harm. They are a FAMILY owned business. Now, if and when, a business, starts advocating criminal and violent acts against gays, or anyone else, then you can and should cry and scream. Until then, sit down and hush up. Your outrageous responses are making more enemies than friends.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  17. Mike

    This is why this country is in the state it is in....... No business can please everyone ==== If you don't agree what they are doing -- go eat somewhere else

    February 6, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  18. Jason

    Why? We are suppose to accept people for there beliefs whether they share ours or not. I have no problem with gays but I also have no problem with people who do have a problem with them. If you don't like there beliefs don't eat there but there is no need to trash them. Lack of business will hurt them more. Say what you want but don't disrespect unless you want to be disrespected back. Let people have there beliefs whether you think they are ignorant or not you can not force these things on people or businesses for that matter.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  19. Justin Observation

    So I guess the A doesn't stand for Atheism? But seriously folks... So what if their owners still believe in creationism, gods and devils, heaven and hell, magical powers, Noah's ark, people rising from the dead, angels, talking snakes, and virgin births. They just run a fast food chain.

    We have a government full of people who claim to believe the same stuff.

    February 6, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  20. Bruce

    Where is a gay restaurant of equal size and popularity that Christians can attack?

    February 6, 2011 at 9:12 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.