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. listenclose

    How about all lbg people and especially athiests just stop eating anywhere that has a history or management that is from a religious faith that means almost no grocery stores no restaurants 98% of the world believes in a religion the other 2% can just not interact with the rest of us if thats what they want no skin off our backs make the world a better place just become reclusive your already hateful ,distrustful and judgmental

    February 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Eddie

      We atheists understand that religion exists and most of us have no problem with anyone else participating in them. It's our convection that god doesn't exist. If anyone gets a feeling of confidence or comfort from thinking otherwise I have no issue with it. It's the fact that this corporation supported a hateful organization that leaves me no choice but to boycott them and encourage others to do likewise.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  2. Duela

    If you don't like it don't eat there. Simple as that.
    Me, I won't eat there because I don't believe in their stance on marriage and also where I'm from, there isn't one so I can't if I wanted to. 😛
    Just a little research on a company could go a long way. That way I refuse to buy anything from Rockstar drinks.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  3. Jeff i n IL

    Two of my very best friends are gay
    They wanna get married at Chick-fil-A
    Watch the "Eat Mor Chikin" blimp fly all day
    And eat them lots of chicken

    February 6, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  4. bird & pickle

    when my friend worked there, they had a secret sauce called 'spoimubdjeebuz' – I dont know what it was......

    February 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  5. Caleb

    I have nothing better to do with my time so I'm going to go on the internet and complain about stuff.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  6. StandUp

    I'm gay, and I'll still eat at Chic-fil-A. I'd rather see a company do what it believes than what may be better for its finances. In a world where everyone must tolerate everyone and everything else, it's refreshing to see someone standing up against the intolerance of intolerance.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  7. Dennis

    Look the man has run a very successful business for many many years. I respect anyone who disagrees with his or believed stance on in this case being anti-gay. I personally believe in the DADT policy.
    The most important message to all those whom are posting comments and for those that are just reading this article and taking the bias for or against. REMEMBER THIS please, (I am from Northern California, and I remember WHEN ALL BUSINESS' were closed on SUNDAYS !!!! ) He has held fast that anyone working for him will have the Lords day off. You take that for whatever you want it to mean.
    A retired US Army veteran, from Northern Ca

    February 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  8. lvhunterjumper

    While I think it is a sad position for Chick-Fil-A to take, they will eventually suffer by the almighty buying power of the people.
    For those of you who are unaware, Domino's Pizza is another sad example of conservative supportive. They donate lots of $$ to anti-abortion groups. Let your dollar be heard- buy elsewhere.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  9. Neal Sheppard

    What would happen if the entire world were gay? The answer is not a pleasant thought.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  10. jay

    People can't have different opinions? So now we are bigots because we stand up for what we believe in? So gay people can attack others, how funny. If you want to argue with me that a woman has to use an artificial object to get intimate with her girlfriend, and use another to get pregnant, and you want me to consider that normal I'm sorry but I'm not buying.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  11. madisone

    WHY did the writer of the article say "An anti-gay marriage group in Pennsylvania"? He left out the name of the organization. It sounds to be the bottom line is this: Chick-fil-a gave food to needy people. The end.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  12. giggity

    While I am a liberal who supports gay rights, Chick Fil-A has the right to donate to whomever they wish. Free speech means the right to express yourself even if others disagree with your views. As long as the owners understand that their actions could negatively impact their business, then they should not be ashamed to express their faith.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  13. WhoCares

    Really? Is that all you got on ChickFilA? Wow.. they must be the most moral company in the USA.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  14. Fric

    Some people just are not happy unless you see it "their" way, not respecting personal standards or opinions of others. I think if people worried more about their own ill-deeds instead of the ones of others, this world would be a much better place.

    "Please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, give me the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

    February 6, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  15. Tonyb

    who cares- it's a restaurant. Don't like it or their beliefs- don't buy their product. Live and let live- instead of trying to jam your beliefs down everybody's throats.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  16. Carefully

    Amazingly, my comments from two hours ago in response to another post were deleted. The fact I did not agree with the pro-gay marriage aspect must have offended someone. Basically, three observations:

    1. The pro-gay marriage side suggests anyone that does not agree with their side of this controversial issue is bigoted, biased, uneducated, and anti-diversity. Yes, their response is the same we have witnessed by the Taliban and are witnessing in Iran today. Discredit the PEOPLE who hold a different view rather than address the issues. Typical approach of thought terrorists and actual terrorists.

    2. Christianity should not be allowed on the campus of American universities. Why, because Christians are ignorant, biased, and anti-diversity. People of other religions (Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, etc.) are welcome, regardless of their view of the gay lifestyle because that is diversity. Simply put, this is a narrow minded, biased, bigoted approach that does NOT value diversity but instead values only allegence to certain politically accepted thought processes and positions. Again, separate from and deny access to Christians unless they agree with you or are unwilling to express their position in an open forum.

    3. Clearly Christianity is anti-education, but a problem exists and history has to be revised. 9 of the first 10 American universities started out as Bible colleges with chapels, the exception being the Univeristy of Virginia – which later built a chapel. The first public education law in the United States was the "Old Deluder Satin Act" often now referred to as the "Old Deluder Act" to make it sound less "religious" and theyby reduce the influence of Christianity in the establishment of the United States.

    Summary, those who pride themselves on their openness and diversity typically are blind to their own narrow-mindedness, bigoted bias, and lack of willingness to consider true diversity – respect of people who differ from your opinion, particularly on controversial issues.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  17. Peter

    There is no controversy. The controversy has been created by CNN so they can make more money throwing people against each other and creating conflicts that doesn't exist. I rememeber a neighbour that was always gossiping and putting people against each other. That is the kind of news that don't build anything but causes hate and conflict. The media is very irresponsible sometimes creating problems where there is no problem.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  18. Joe

    Following the logic of many of the posters here, wouldn't anyone who donated to or voted for Obama be a hate-filled bigot? Considering he stated he is against gay marriage, I would think that is a logical assumption.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • pat

      sure whatever gay marriage isn't something most people will ever like we tolerate it just like other things! gays should know the majority of Americans don't hate them they just find it nasty and don't need to support crap just tolerate!

      February 6, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  19. Nana

    The banter here is evidence that we should all feel fortunate to be living in the United States of America where we have freedom of religion and freedom of speech!

    February 6, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  20. Thomas

    I have to agree with what others have said here. It's a free country folks, free market, free enterprise. There's no evidence that the chain is discriminating against gays when hiring or serving in any way. What the company does with it's money and resources within legal bounds is their decision. Don't like what they contribute to? Don't eat there. But trying to silence and remove them because you don't agree with them is intolerance.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Darthlawsuit

      After reading this I now want to eat at chick-fil-a since they are donating their profits to a good cause

      February 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
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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.