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. My Head Hurts

    This debate is over a restaurant donating food to a organization,SHEESH! then give the other side a sandwich so they shut up. Political correctness has destroyed this country cant anyone see that!! You want to be gay then be gay, but quit trying to force your lifestyle on everyone who disagrees with you. This is one small example of why this country has gone to hell. While everyone is debating over someones hurt feelings, the entire economy is in meltdown, soldiers are spilling blood on foreign soil in a war that no one can remember why we are there, we now have a government that is destroying practically everything this once great nation stood for. And were all arguing about somebody giving sandwiches to someone else that this someone does'nt like. God help us all !!!!

    February 6, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  2. richp

    As far as I am concerned, I'm not religious, but I am for sure getting really sick and tired of all you attacking Christians for what they believe in, if you don't like it, IGNORE it or is that too difficult for you. For those of you who don't believe in god, better hope you are right or you may have one of those 'oh no' moments when you pass LOL.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  3. Jennifer.

    I think the point of the article was to make people aware of Chick-Fil-A's discriminatory actions so they could choose for themselves whether to fund such actions by consuming their products. Based on many of your comments, it seems discriminatory actions and beliefs are important to your value systems. Although I am not Christian, I don't believe this is a Christian value. Legal recognition of gay marriage affords LEGAL protections, rights and privileges straight couples enjoy. If you aren't aware of those protections, rights and privileges, I urge you to educate yourself. State sanctioned rights must not be influenced by religious beliefs and a company which uses consumer money to donate to causes that continue to oppress and discriminate against those we "love" should be exposed. Thank you CNN.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • richp

      Might want to go after those kosher pizza parlors that don't sell sausage and peperoni on their pizza too. LOL

      February 6, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  4. Joe

    For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
    —Romans 14:17-19

    do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
    —Philippians 4:6-7

    February 6, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  5. Robin Bray

    I am sure all of you posting things like I you don't like it don't eat there. Also believe in, If you don't want an abortion don't have one. Because it's your choice. And then you are all talking about rights and freedoms of the company to do what it wants. Do you feel this way about individuals rights too? Don't think so.

    And I have seen few things more creepy than when they post on their signs outside that it is, " Daddy daughter date night." Sick and shows a lack of planning and thought process.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  6. Kathy

    I commend Chick fil A for standing up for their religious beliefs. We need to get more people in the United States to do this and not be afraid to be a Christian. We need to get some morals an values back in our lives. That goes for the politicians too.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  7. BourneBlogger

    It's just another fast food chain pumping poison into our bodies $1 at a time.... We don't need them anyways....

    February 6, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  8. ArtistNTraining

    I wonder if the individuals who benefited from the food donation are having this same conversation?

    February 6, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  9. Josh W

    I'm Jewish and I love Chic-Fil-A. Best chicken sandwich I've ever had. They have a right to their beliefs and so do I. They don't have to be the same. Who are they hurting? Nobody.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  10. Berean

    @glossolalia – read your whole bible (especially the New Testament) Christ specifically addressses "clean" and "unclean" restrictions and how that relates to the Law after His arrival on the scene (i.e. nothing passes away from the Law, but that it is fulfilled in Him).
    On Topic: Would you find Jesus today at a party thrown by a gay couple? Entirely possible (even likely). Would he love them and hate their sin? Utterly and completely (on both counts). Would He use the opportunity to slice and dice some Pharisees? I'd be surprised if he didn't.
    Read your Bible, the WHOLE Bible... now read it again, and again.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  11. Mary in Baltimore

    Do I agree with their point of view... No. However, I do respect the fact they are a privately owned business and they can do as they please. My answer to them is not to patronize their business. Although I don't eat fast food, I think its gross and wouldn't put it in my body.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  12. Nonimus

    " Why would the undue influence argument work for any close relative? Why would that not work for a man and a woman?"

    Undue influence, as I understand it, is a situation where the parties involved have unequal power. Prime example being s.exual harassment cases where the supervisor has a relationship with a subordinate. Likewise, a parent has more effective power (emotional, psychological, etc.) than a child. Less obvious, but perhaps, arguable would be older and younger siblings where the older sibling has more perceived power, however it could take many forms, and might be argued that any close familial relationship is likely to develop a hierarchy of power, or pecking order, that invalidates any equal position in which to make a valid consent.
    Much of this is of course speculation on my part, but I think it could be argued that it could be a logical distinction.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  13. Chae Hun Cho


    February 6, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  14. Charles Gannon

    So as an example of all playing on a level field, I assume that Gay Rights groups have no problem supporting and donating to the 700 Club ?

    February 6, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  15. Erin

    don't change who you are or what you do Chick fil a!

    February 6, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  16. Jason Warriton

    I worked with Chick-Fil-A for many years when I did various public service events in my community. They are one of the most generous companies which I have ever worked with. They truly care for the community and do whatever they can to help who are in need.

    Chick-Fil-A has the freedom to uphold their beliefs just like the LGBT community has the right to believe in theirs. If they stopped serving someone because of their belief, I will have an issue with that. But the issue here is blown out of proportion because Chick-Fil-A believe in something which LGBT doesn't believe in. I am understand the desire of the LGBT community to be accepted in our society. But trying to make everyone believe in what they believe in is foolish and immature.

    I support Chick-Fil-A because it supported me to make an impact in my community. For that reason, my family will eat at Chick-Fil-A everyday this week to show my support and appreciation!

    February 6, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  17. jasper

    Christians hate certain businesses because they won't allow their customers to get pestered by christian orgs panhandling for donations at the door and Gay Rights groups won't like companies like Chick-fil-A that donate according to their particular moral compass. At the end of the day neither of these things matter much. If we knew all the tax deductable contributions corportations and small units of corporations make we would have fodder for stories like this from all perspectives to infinity. There is no controversy. Just misguided college kids that need something to protest (which is fine...they'll learn to focus their energies towards the true enemies to their causes). I support Religious Marriage and Gay Marriage due to marriage being a civil legal agreement in the US and not just religious. It is necessary to afford folks the ability to create binding contracts that protect their interests. To only allow one group this ability is discriminatory and ultimately damages straight and gay families. What I've noticed about Chickfila that I respect: always clean, give back to the community by providing many people an entry level job(they always seem like they have an extra 3-4 workers that most companies that don't care about keeping tables clean and ketchup full would eliminate), and if you order correctly you can get a fairly nutritious meal while on the road.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  18. Who cares?

    As long as Chick-fil-A serves anyone who walks in, there is nothing anyone can do. As far as the company giving free food to an organization, who cares? They are a private company that is based on Christian principles and they can donate to whoever it wants and just because they give food/money to another Christian organization (that happens to oppose gay marriage) doesn't make them anti-gay. You also can't compare gays to black people or any other minority. I"m sick of hearing that from them and everyone else. You can't SEE gay, so you can't say that gays suffer the same types of discrimination as people of color who can't hide their skin color or ethnic features. What anyone chooses to do in their bedroom is their business. I'm not anti-gay, but I don't believe gay marriage should be legalized. Why? Because gay relationships are pretty darn far from straight relationships (they can't procreate and most gay relationships don't last very long – research it). It's about benefits. Gays already get benefits (insurance, etc) from domestic partnership and it irks me that they can when someone cannot add a parent to their insurance plan. Everyone just needs to suck it up. If you don't like Chick-fil-A, don't eat there. I will continue to eat there because I can't find a rat's a$$ I can give about who the company donates food/money to.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  19. Dave

    I will now go to Chick-fil-a more and more because anything that offends the HRC can't be bad. The HRC continually gets their panties in a bunch over the most ridiculous things. I'm not even considered Christian and I find it refreshing that a company can still have beliefs that conflict with wing nuts (left or right) and still keep growing.

    February 6, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  20. Pastor Evans

    In America because there are so many spiritually ignorant people, they make everything a social or political issue. This is the manifestation and evidence of the spiritual condition of many in this country. I'm going to remind all of you who are spiritually ignorant by trying to attack that which is of God. Don't do it, because whenever you attack God or God's people you will be judged to your face (openly)!! Amen!!!!

    February 6, 2011 at 10:33 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.