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. tlym

    So disgusted about this protest, can't even think of anything to say.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  2. he

    thank God or sombody this hasent turned into a descussion on big companys helping the needy in this country.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  3. 'BamaGrandma

    They have tasty sandwiches although the waffle fries aren't very good. Who cares if they identify as Christian? Decent food at reasonable prices should be all that matters to the consumer.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  4. Walter n Mary

    Soooo.......you have a religion founded by a guy who hung out with 12 other guys and who singled one out as the "one whom Jesus loved" and you have a problem with gays???????? Hmmmmm.....that seems pretty inconsistent.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  5. SpinnyLiberal

    Whatever they do with their own money is their business. Those of us who support gay rights don't have to eat there. We can protest and boycott. If you want to hit them where it really hurts, aim for their wallet.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  6. Al

    the gay issue is so funny. people get SO polarized. Think of it like this: why do you hate gays? Because the thought of two guys doing it makes you ill? Well, the thought of my parents making a beast with two backs isn't pleasing to me- but that doesn't make it immoral or 'wrong'. I just need to mind my own business...and stop thinking about my parents like that. Eww. Now I can't get it out of my head...Better go watch Brokeback Mountain.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • kckaaos

      During the Target boycott, I was asked to wear a rainbow sticker in support of the gay activists. I refused, so one of them peeled the sticker and started to stick it on me. I warned him that he would be better off to NOT do that...and I walked off. The next think I know, he ran up behind me and slapped me sticking the sticker on my back anyway. I of course felt assaulted and beat the living $#!t out of him. Of course I was arrested for a hate crime and he was not arrested at all even though he assaulted me. Of course charges were thrown out but the lawsuits continue.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  7. Nonimus

    I am amazed that this posting on Belief Blog has gotten so many responses, compared to it's other postings.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  8. Name


    February 6, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  9. kckaaos

    I don't understand the gay movement. It is simple. If you don't like someplace like Target, Chik-fil-A, wal-Mart etc. just don't go there. Don't give them your business. But instead, gays think they have a right to be everywhere. Guess what, you don't. no one does.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  10. P-Dizzle

    Good for them, stand by the Church and Lord and speak up on your believe. The country has become too sensitive, afraid to offend anyone. This is a free country with the ability to speak up. In my opinion, being gay is wrong in the eyes of Jesus and I am not afraid to say so. If you are offended, I don't care

    February 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  11. Kevin

    Chick-Fil-A is a privately owned coporation, and it can do what it's money and product what is damn well pleases. If people whi disagree with its politics or beliefs have a problem, then they need to not patronize the chain. It's that simple.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  12. Jerry

    Let's just all grab our guns and go at it.

    Why wait?

    February 6, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • JakeBass

      We haven't picked colors yet. How will we know who to shoot?

      February 9, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  13. Pacito

    I think this group just wants them to open on Sundays. I think they can donate to whomever they want. I can't have their chicken because one sandwich has all the salt I'm allowed for a week.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Miguelito

      Real hombres eat all the damn salt they like, amigo! 😉

      February 9, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  14. PH

    I think it is wonderful a company will actually stand up for their right to choose their mission statement and defend it instead of changing at first sign of opposition! This is what America used to be about. Diversity, the freedom to each have our own opinion, these are important rights we are compromising with political correctness! Bravo chick-fil-a! More companies and individuals could learn from this example or we may all lose our freedom to express ourselves. We shouldn't be forced to conform to someone elses ideals, this is one of the best things about America; let's keep it this way!!!

    February 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  15. GetReal

    1. Any "restaurant" with a name like that probably serves hormone-stuffed, gross-tasting chicken, not real meat.

    2. Anybody with the name Lambert immediately reminds me of gay icon Adam Lambert, who has a lot more influence over our society than these schmucks.

    3. It's very un-Christlike to bully minority groups like that. Very immoral!

    February 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • John D.

      Get Real – How exactly are they "bullying" a minority group?

      February 6, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • kckaaos

      Once you learn to read, you should probably read the article. Then once you have accomplished that, you should work on thinking for your self.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  16. Gil

    It's sad to see that we (as a nation) are still crawling out of the dark ages. Religion is divisive and intolerant and society would be much better off without it.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  17. Al

    nobody can see past the end of their noses here....Don't like people who don't like Christians? Deal with it. Everyone express their opinion and stop telling other people to shut up.

    But when did Jesus promise you that you wouldn't have to face criticism for your beliefs? Be an adult, say – I' think you're wrong – and move on. There is no giant gay tyranny holding you people back from anything. There are just a bunch of gay people you wish you didn't have to hear about so much. Grow up.

    Would you be cheering their God fearing culture if they were a Wahhabi Muslim chain? be honest.

    Also, I love the "we don't agree with you but we love you as people" b.s... You are saying "we get to decide who loves another person enough to call it something special". I don't see how you can say you love someone and in the same breath tell them not to marry the person they love. Same thing as banning interracial marriage because people were uncomfortable with the idea of mixing blood. be honest at least, say "you make us sick, we're better humans than you are."

    February 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • talithakoum

      no one is forcing you to eat there or like their values. go to kfc. it's a free country – for us christians too. stop trying to force your gay agenda down our throats. we don't HAVE to agree. the usa is not a gay communist country.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Dennis

      Al you stated "Be an adult, say – I' think you're wrong – and move on." but that is exactly what the gay community doesn't do. They continue to barrage people and organizations until they get what they want and then move on. If you don't like Chik-fil-A's beliefs don't eat there, I am sure there is another fast food chain that will be willing to make you fat.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  18. Marco Budgyk

    BOYCOTT CHICK-FIL-A! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

    It tastes like crap anyway.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • B

      Chick-Fil-A is my new favorite restaurant.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Chaz

      tastes like crap or not, the restaurants are always packed. I think by boycotting and lashing out against them, gays and lesbians are doing the very thing they claim to be victims of, which means their behavior is no better than those they oppose.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • kckaaos

      I will definatley eat there more now...just to support their right to donate to who they wish.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  19. Rachel W.

    I work for a Christian company Thirty-One and we too are experiencing tremendous growth. While some things have changed the CEO still is focused on our Christian values. When you are a privately owned company you are allowed to live your life and perform your job in sync with your faith. By giving food to one company does not mean they don't pray for and love all men and women. We have a right to spend money as we choose.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Chuck C

      I basically agree with you Rachel. But suppose a company is donating food to an anti-gay group, then refuses to donate food to a pro-gay group... Customers have a right to know about this choice, and to boycot the company if they want.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • kckaaos

      I agree Chuck, and I also think the Rainbow Push coalition should represent straight people and the NAACP should represent whites.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • ruatool2

      You also have the right to lose business.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Al

      you absolutely have a right to spend money as you choose. And people who disagree with your actions have to right to protest. So what's the problem? everyone gets to be self righteous!

      Or is it that most of you can't stand the mere existence of people who aren't like you, and Democracy is an extremely thin veneer on an otherwise very human society. A society that says – you're free....to be like me....or be different, but just do it somewhere far away....and don't remind us of it...and if you do, we'll come after you and demonize you.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • kckaaos

      So what you are saying AL is that the gays should just accept this and say that privately owned businesses have a right to do what they want with their money and donations. I agree totally.

      February 6, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  20. Manmakahnas

    That's what happens when you have people with too much time on their hands.

    I am surprised the ACLU is not jumpingin the wagon with this group.

    I would like chick-fil-a on Sundays too but cannot have it. You don't see anybody complaining.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • I like chicken

      I am complaining. It is stupid to think that you canot be Christian and enjoy chicken on Sundays.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:03 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.