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. ADA

    Why are people so up in arms over THIS, yet they continue to support companies, celebrities, and even Congressmen who help fund Islamic terror groups? Why does this bother you SO much when many of you continually buy products made in sweat shops where workers (including children) labor in inhumane conditions? How many of you jump at the chance to try to make Christians look bad? Not all of us are anti-gay. If you do not like their stance, do not eat there.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  2. Jan

    No new news here. As a private company, they have a right to run it the way they wish. As a private citizen, I have a right NOT TO eat their food. I take my business else where to companies that support equality. That is my right and I exercise it.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  3. Patrick P.

    I say good for Chick-fil-A. As a private company they have every right to give to groups they wish to. If gay groups don't like it – well nothing is stopping them from not eating there and supporting chick-fil-A. In a democracy everyone has a right to their own beliefs – but, evidently according to gay rights groups you don't. It's either their way . . . or the highway.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  4. Litmus Boogliner

    Why is this suddenly an issue? Has no one noticed that they've always been closed on Sundays? Besides religion, what other reason could there be? Hobby Lobby used to do the same thing, I don't know if they still do, I never shop at either place. I figure god has enough money.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  5. Yng Exec

    Leave Chick-fil-A alone and be gay somewhere else..trouble makers.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  6. Cuso

    I am all for gay rights (I have gay family members) but this is America if Chick-fil-a wants to donate food to an anti-gay cause they are allowed. Instead of crying about it on a facebook page like a 12 year old just don't eat the food. Problem solved

    February 6, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  7. Goodgold

    Hey, if any one you don't want to eat there, feel free. It just makes the line a little bit shorter for me and my family. We love it.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  8. Gobblin

    That settles it. I'm moving. Maybe the moon. Where I don't have to listen to the most worthless debates.
    Goodness Chick-Fil-a Vs. Gay Rights? Really?

    Everyone . . . Just go outside and play.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  9. randy S

    Thank goodness I'm a Christian so that I can eat there...LOL.. By the way, Bayer used to experiment on Jews in the concentration camps. ..just saying. Besides, the Cathey's aren't trying to force anyone to eat there, they are a private company and they can give to whom ever they want.
    I have a feeling that the faith of these chick filet folks really outweighs what anyone reading this article thinks or whether or not a bunch of gay activist will buy their product. They seem to be much deeper than that. If they wanted more money they would open on Sundays and could have gone public years ago. .

    February 6, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  10. Brother Bill

    Thou shalt not kill. Does that exclude chickens? I did not see an asterisk next to that commandment in my Bible!
    Chick-Fil-A would be Christian based if they followed Genesis 1-29: Eat fruits and vegetables. Remember Eden's garden didn't have microwaves, pressure cookers, so they ate their food fresh and uncooked.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  11. Steve Foth

    I would eat at Chick Fil A every day if they came out and said they were against radical muslim's also.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  12. Chae Hun Cho

    Why did this issue have to be so controversial, when the matter of donation to anti gay marriage org. must exclusively up to the chains’ decision solely from their beliefs? I think it(the fact that this is being so controversial) reflects this society wherein we’re living and the answer can be found within also! People’re seduced in the ‘right or wrong’ and ‘black or white’ theory confined in our prison of logic.. People must not debate in ‘SECULAR’ logic to start with, to know if the chains’ charity decision was appropriate or not. If someone really want to decide the wisdom or rightfulness of its act to donate to anti gay marriage agenda, the person must either convert to Christianity belief, or accept and appreciate its decision as their belief matter!

    Now look at this debate and how foolish and pointless arguments they come to grisp with:

    1) None of your concern, and fully allowed to donate as its freedom of choice
     Freedom of charity makes huge difference with not donating upon consideration of others to be hurt consequently (AS donation to NAACP promotes rights and general acceptance of racial minority, donation to anti minority (like W supremacy org.) group will in turn encourage discrimination and violence.. therefore it’s not entirely just a matter of free choice but acts that require individual responsibility for its choice..
     No, it’s more than anything, chick fil A chains’ religious freedom to donate for its belief on marriage definition, that it should be between a man and a woman..
     It’s wrong for the public restaurant installation to assert its religious belief particularly much favorable toward Chriatian faith diners; the mood should be like acceptace of all racial, religious backgrounds, and particularly for gay people not to feel discriminated and hurt! – so that they can freely dine there..
     WE never meant to refuse to serve gay people; all backgrounds of people are welcome!
     No! that’s double standard! Non sensical!

    But still as a believer myself, the chains’ decision to donate to this particular org. wasn’t so wisely thought afterall and it’s far from promoting, encouraging acceptance of people around us as Jesus so much had tried to teach to His Disciples and spread true gospels..of love! We shouldn’t fall trap or victim of logic interpretation of defintion of bible teaching and what the truth in it really intended to convey to people like you and me!

    February 6, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  13. red

    Blah blah blah Jesus, Blah blah blah I'm right, Blah blah blah shut the H–l up already. Nobody cares.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  14. Al Gore's th'rapist

    So does this mean that Anderson Cooper won't eat at Chick Fil A anymore since his feelings are obviously hurt by this?

    February 6, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  15. therealtruth1

    once again CNN a liberal commi news organization pushes anti american news, watch FOX news

    February 6, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  16. Cliff

    Are you for real yes lets call are selfs Christians but not feed everyone, thats just what Jesus would do. STOP with the hatred where you think it is wrong or write to be guy its not up to you to. to stop eating a a restaurant because of this well you might as well be in a cult.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  17. ThomasM

    I don't go there for three reasons:
    Their food is way too expensive!
    Their food is not very good anymore, not nearly as good as it was 8 to 10 years ago.
    They are pro-religion. Anyone with 1/10 of a brain knows that all religions and gods are fictional.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  18. Rex Craigo

    There is no god.

    And now that I know this information about Chick fil A I'll never eat there again. Thanks CNN.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  19. madisone

    I thought it was odd that this article never mentioned the pro-marriage group in Pennsylvania that received the food donation. Why did CNN hold that back? I lost this thread and when I typed in Chick-fil-a in the search button to try and find it, several links that appeared to be advertisements for Chick-fil-a came up. Hmm, what's the real agenda with this article? Oh! That's right! The almighty dollar.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • madisone

      'The almighty dollar." And I didn't see a big photograph of a Chick-fil-a sign that accompanied the article either. Did I?

      February 6, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  20. Robin Bray

    Any of you remember those money changers that Jesus threw out of the temple? Different time but same thing. A business using religion to make money. Whenever I see a plumber, a roofer, a food chain sticking Jesus fishes on it's trucks and quoting the bible on it's products to attract customers and their money. I think about how — unchristian — their behavior is. Shame on them all big and small. In the end, this is nothing but a private family business making money, plain and simple and not a church or faith.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:08 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.