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. Jesus Cristo

    They have the right to do what ever they want with their evil money. I for one knowing they are a kkkristian operation have never ever spent a dime at the place. That is my choice and my right... Pollo loco is 100 times better and healthier...

    February 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  2. Brent Jatko

    II just like their food. Their religion is entirely irrelevant to me (although it would be nice to get a chicken sandwich on a Sunday afternoon).
    It is nice that all their employees have a day off too!

    February 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  3. Noregretsjustlove

    As long as they treat their patrons with equal and due respect, why can't they hold whatever religious views they want? Agree to disagree. If you can't handle it, don't eat there. Period. Stop hatin'. Gay have the right to stand up for what they believe...so does Chick fil A...so you might as well just drop it. I'M still going to eat there! *Peace in the streets, homes and schools*

    February 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  4. frem

    What do gay horses eat?........ aaaa
    Haa / \ aay.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  5. Jennie

    Oh, for Pete's sake! If people don't like it, you don't have to buy their flippin' food! Businesses should be allowed to stand for something without receiving flipping flak. How stupid!!

    February 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  6. raggedhand

    I'm Jewish and I think that a company, especially a privately held one, should be able to donate to whom they like. If the customers object, then they can take their patronage elsewhere. I don't agree with Chick-fil-a's religion... or with Domino's Pizza or Overstock.com... but I use them all. If they started donating to the Nazi party, I'll get my chicken and pizzas elsewhere.

    If gay rights groups don't like Chick-fil-a's philosophy, go to KFC for their chicken sandwiches.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Jennie

      Well said! And much more kindly than I said it, too!

      February 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  7. SFValues

    The author of this article has committed several basic journalistic sins that should be avoided by anyone covering religion. First, he often uses the generic term "Christian" when what he really means is a very specific conservative branch of Christianity, Fundamentalism. The use of the generic term renders some of his statements false, misleading or nonsensical. For example, a "Christian culture" means something very different to a liberal Christian than a conservative Christian. Journalists should always, always use the most precise term available - even "conservative Christian" doesn't tell me much. Are they Mormon? Assemblies of God? Baptist? Second, he fails to provide a balanced view from liberal Christians who disagree with the company. When covering religion, the journalistic standard is to balance one religious view with another religious view. When journalists frame the story as rightwing Christians on one side and secular gays on the other side, they create a a false impression and contribute to the polarization of society. As a liberal Christian, I support marriage equality for LGBT people and so does my church. In the future, I hope the author will be more precise and balanced.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  8. HotDogInBuns

    I can imagine some Roman soldier putting a Chick-Filet sandwhich on the end of a spear and raising it to Jesus mouth for one last nibble. Such as it is written in the bible...

    February 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  9. Smegley

    Thanks for the article – knowing how much it bothers those involved in the "culture war", I'm heading to one of their restaurants right now. They have a customer for life.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  10. sickandtired

    Once again the desires of the few are determined to influence the many. Get a life. If you dont like Chick Fil A then don't go there. Stop trying to force everyone to consider the gay position (or any other issue of the day) on every issue. It just takes too much energy. Not to offend this group but It would hurt your feelings if you knew how little most of us think about such things. Most of us don't hate you but were getting pretty tired of the whining.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  11. Wes

    Don't like Chick-Fil-A? Don't have one. Oh wait, that only applies to left-wingers killing babies...

    February 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • guitom

      Killing babies rocks. I've done 4 today already.....don't knock it if you haven't tried it!

      February 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  12. Trying-Chick-Fil-A

    I am a burgers and pizza kind of guy, but I believe I will give them a try now. Any organization with the balls to stand up to the gay rights groups has my respect.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • EGrant

      I felt the need to respond to this post – totally in agreement. They are privately held and have to only answer to God, not any of us. Amen.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  13. Herb (12th Apostle)

    Religion is for suckers.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • pat

      I'm atheist but not a religion hater like you who makes religious people think were just bitter! also that's a opinion and what does this have to do with anything?

      February 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Mike

      haha you wanna cookie

      February 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  14. Mac

    I disagree with this controversy. It is not a law that a company must support gay rights. As long as a company does not engage in hiring practices that are discriminatory then it doesn't matter what the company does. It is a private family-owned company. They are not beholden to stockholders. They answer to their customers regardless of their affiliations and beliefs. If someone disagrees with the company then don't buy their products. Whether or not I agree with their Christian principles, I like some of their food and the service has always been exemplary. I will continue to be a customer. That applies to In N Out Burger in California, Nevada, and Arizona too.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  15. Buddy

    I'm anti-religion, but respect other people's rights to observe whatever beliefs they may have. I'm also pro-whatever marriage – it's none of my business and who the hell really cares who someone marries?

    However, if a company, private or public, wants to follow a particular corporate culture, let them be. Either they will succeed or fail, naturally. Donating to a cause contrary to your own beliefs doesn't necessarily equate to the down fall of your cause. Seems to me that the HRC is just wailing for attention and sympathy.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  16. Dave

    All i have to say is that i Support Chick Fil A - I walk in , treated with respect .....served by mostly kids with seem to be morals and work ethic ....... Whats the problem .......... Breathe of fresh air and what we need more of ..........

    February 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  17. ATL_Guy

    I don't go to church, but I do believe in God. I admire an positive reference to God in any business culture. Chick-fil-a food tastes great and I like the fact that they give their employees Sunday off. I wish they purchased organic humanely raised chicken.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  18. vsheehan

    Dear Lord please teach these lost christians that you teach love not hate. God does not make trash and wants you to honor all people whether they are on your path or a different one. Please learn to become true Christians, to love all people not just those who are like you and most of all may they find the true heart of Christianity. May you also learn to not act like victims when your errors of hate are not appreciated by others.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Ginamero

      I haven't read ANYWHERE that Chik-Falet is promoting hate. But you and yours are. They have rights as well...not just you!

      February 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  19. pat

    Get over yourself people! blah blah blah finding reasons to complain about a chicken place! who cares what they do with their business its not your business! Dont eat it and shut up, dont work there and let a family owned business do what that family wants! people are just angry that they make bomb enough food to hate on people and get away with it! boo hoo go cry a river with your gay buddy!

    February 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  20. Babs

    Hmmmm... I thought we lived in a pluralistic society....I thought people were supposed to be able to donate money to whom they saw fit....not to only whom left-wingers saw fit (and by the way, I'm a democrat). Freedom of expression and all that. I respect people right to act on their own beliefs, as long as those beliefs do not harm others. Explain to me again how Chick-fil-A's actions are 'horrible'? They are only putting their beliefs in action...something I thought we were still allowed to do in America.

    February 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Mike

      Companies should have the right to use its money anyway it likes (as long as its legal).

      February 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Ginamero

      Well said. This is a privately held company. I hope they stick to their guns. And by the way...I'm for gay marriage, birth control over abortion but it's the woman's right to choose, and I'm an atheist. Also, I'm all for freedom of speech/expression/not letting some panty waste group tell me what I can and can't do...I'm staunchly American!

      February 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • charlie

      Yep, I am a Libertarian and certainly no conservation by any means. But, what is wrong with a private company donating money to any cause as the see fit. I support gays but I also support Chick Filet doing as they wish. This is one of America's finest business stories who make a great product.

      February 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • talis

      They are free to donate to anyone and say what they want. The public is free to oppose them and to say what they want.
      Please post links to those who want to take away their speech or donation rights?

      February 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Cara

      I agree. You stated it perfectly.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Andy Anderson

      Yes, companies do in fact have the right to donate money to whatever organization they please; as people have the right to take their business elsewhere if they disagree with the company's actions. Boycotting a company in protest of their actions is not suppressing that company's right to act. They're not vandalizing stores and beating the staff and customers, they're just choosing to give their patronage to companies that don't act as Chick-fil-A chose to. Why do YOU have a problem with these individuals freely expressing their disagreement with Chick-fil-A's actions?

      And as for the "respect" you claim to show, and the explanation you demand: why don't YOU explain to US what is not harmful about actively working to deny civil rights to a group of people because you believe that a bloodthirsty bronze-age deity told people it was wrong, and they wrote a book full of stories that you use as a guide for imposing laws over everybody, including the people who don't believe as you?

      If you want to believe that nonsense, fine - that's your right as an American. If you want to act upon those beliefs and financially support others who do the same, go for it - you have the right to do so, even if what they're doing is fundamentally odious. You even have the right to hide behind your "religious freedom" and your "faith tradition", as if you're magically absolved of responsibility by virtue of holding irrational beliefs.

      Just don't forget that the rest of us have the right to have nothing to do with you because we think you're a jerk.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Matt

      I think people who are saying this is Chick-Fil-A's right to support whatever cause they wish, are looking at this wrong. If they were giving money to a group that was pro-segregation of whites and blacks, no one would be on their side, yet it's essentially the same type of situation, just with gays.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Scott

      Funny is the society we live in where those that are a minority complain about others using the same freedoms they themselves enjoy in being able to openly able to live a gay lifestyle. Perhaps we should all get over ourselves and realize we are a country in which definitions are made to suite whomever is using them. I for one those that think marriage is between any two persons should get over themselves and realize that it is between and man and a woman. Am I going to get chastised for this? It is my belief after all.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:30 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.