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. David

    I was born gay and have heard both sides of this problem my entire life and at the end of the day I'm still gay. Nothing anyone has ever said has changed me or made a difference in my life. You can continue to hash it over all you want and it's not going to make a difference. I don't care how you feel about me. I have to be true to who i am. I can't live for you, nor shall I try. As a human being i deserve the same rights as everyone else. Straight people do not have a patent on life. To think you have the answer to this problem is absurd. You're all waisting your time trying to change anything. We are all on this planet with more important issues of the day to try and solve. Hate is so last decade. I ate at Chic once and it was a greasy awful tasting sandwich. That is the reason i will never go back. What pagan gods they believe in makes no difference to me.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  2. Dan

    It's the companies right to donate to whomever it is they desire. It's not like they were trumpeting their religion and trying to convert people, they were merely gifting others with food. People get too sensitive today with things that go on in this world, and they feel if they are bored they may as well start some drama and feel like they are doing something productive, better yet, lets get our friends involved and some lawyers!

    Really? When did the maturity level of this country disappear? I learned in 1st grade that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all. Your opinions and idealisms mean absolutely nothing to others, unless they are open-minded and willing to listen. In this case, try preaching to a rock or a tree, you might have an easier time.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  3. Not Cool

    I believe the owner's defense was, "this is a private business". My response is that now we don't have to blame everyone in your business, now we can just blame you. And if that is his stance on it, then fine. He just shouldn't expect very good business in the Northeast. It's going to be hard going up there now that he has bad press.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  4. george perkins

    There is no god...get over yourselves and your self-righteous beliefs...

    February 6, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  5. charles

    Last time I checked, Gays have the same rights I have. I think they just want more rights.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  6. BK

    Chick-fil-A's food sucks. Doesn't matter what they believe. If they want to give away their sucky food to an anti-gay group, well, I don't care. As long as I don't have to eat it.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  7. Irisinthe Ozarks

    As an A-theist who also loves Chick-fil-A food and service, I believe that, as a Private company, they should have the right to donate their food to whomever they see fit, make known their requirements (or "encouraged policies) to potential employees the branches I have been to have balways been kid/old people and pocketbook- friendly, the service great and the food way above most fast-food establishments. If they were publicly held, I would see it differently.
    BTW I do believe in gay marriage, am pro-choice etc. , and gay members of my extended family also eat at Chick-fil-A!.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  8. blf83

    I believe that each of us has a right to worship an to believe as we wish and accepting the responsibility for our choices , but while any commercial organization also has those rights, they, too, must accept those responsibilities. I disagree with Chick-a-fila's policies and views, and will choose to not purchase from

    February 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  9. Enitan

    I am getting so very sick and tired of these gay right issue. I came to this country almost 33 years ago, believing there is really freedom of speech and the right to do whatever you wanted and practice whatever you believed in as long as its not criminal, but now all of a sudden, the gays, they do not believe in the biblical sense of what marriage is between a man and a woman, yet they are trying so very desperately to shove their believe down our throat.
    Unless you accept them, you are anti gay.

    I very rarely eat at Chic fila, but i agree whole heartedly for sticking to their believes

    A marriage is indeed between a man and a woman.

    As for now only a woman can conceive and carry a child.

    Thank God almighty for that

    Let open the closet back

    February 6, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  10. Mojo Electro

    Say what you will, apparently Jesus makes some pretty good chicken sandwiches

    February 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  11. Eat mo chicken

    Just because they are for something does not mean they hate the rest of the world, they have their values and stick to them.

    The people that try to tear down this place have an agenda, as do the news agencies that keep bringing this up.

    If you want to look a a company that is "anti": look at Edible Arrangements the guy behind the company discriminates against Christian owned stores and has another set of rules for the Muslim owned stores.

    For my part while I don't normally go to Chi-Fil-A: I'll be going there twice in the next week.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  12. coldinmich

    As a gay man, I could care less about gay marriage. I would not want to walk down the aisle with another man. Only to have him divorce me and take half my money I worked hard for. People need to lay off this subject and let everyone live their lives. All these gay rights and gay marriage groups give the rest of us a bad name. If I met you in person, I doubt you would think I was gay. Also, I've had Chick f'ilet when I lived in the south and was not real impressed.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  13. Elaine Bessette

    This whole controversy would go away if so called "Christians" did some scholarly research. This anti-gay business is based on a cultural norm of early Judaism that says that a man may not take a passive role (the role assigned to women). The interpreters who have mistranslated the word 'yadah' – "to know" incorrectly, such as Moffatt and Weymouth, have set up a culture that projects the error into future versions such as the ASV, RSV, JB, and coined words for their purpose, such as "sodomite" – all telescoping the mediocre translations from inferior manuscripts. At the same time, these bigots call the collected works of the bible "The Word" as if it were God himself; Jesus is "The Word."

    It certainly is not "Christianity" that a group makes it their benchmark to perpetuate hate campaigns.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  14. woolfland

    If we truly have freedom in this country....then there should be places where gays can exist as they wish AND Christians can exist AS THEY WISH.....that's freedom. Chick-Fil-A is a wonderful restaurant chain with fantastic food and service. I sincerely hope that each of Truett Cathy's children hold dear to their faith. If the gays don't like Chick-Fil_A's position on marriage, then go somewhere else and leave Chick-Fil-A alone. Just as Christians will never be able to draw everyone to Christ, gays will NOT be able to get everyone to accept their lifestyle....so stop trying to force it on those of us who believe the Bible is the absolute word of God and that real marriage is between a man and a woman. Start a gay chicken chain! Have your own place so that we can all live as we wish without offending anyone.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  15. Jerry

    I'm a devout Christian. Because of that I no longer attend any Church run by humans. Inevitably, dogma leads to behavior that Jesus Christ would have condemned.

    Go ahead and eat your sandwich anywhere you want and marry anyone you want.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • blsseattle

      Are the churches you attend run by pumas? Or aliens? I'm confused.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Denise

      Okay, Jerry. I am a believer in doing your own religious thing. When I go to Chik-fil-A, I'm not ordering religion on a bun – I'm ordering a chicken sandwich. And in the summer, a peach shake.
      Honestly, Chik-fil-A employees don't preach to me and I don't preach my beliefs to them either. We just share good chicken.
      I'm pro rights for everyone. Let's stop the hate and accept those who are different. Enough with the foolishness of insisting everyone agree with us – those days are over. Grow up.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  16. Anthony

    Gays and others have the right to boycott Chick-Fil-A if they feel their ownership providing resources to groups opposed to their agenda is social injustice. The reason we're seeing noise from the gay lobby about it is the fact that it's not going to make a difference. Boycotts only work when it causes financial harm to the targeted company. Chick-Fil-A will probably generate more business from Christians–and others–who agree with their stance.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  17. Renee

    TMy problem is that they are labeling themselves as a Christian company to the world, when what they are doing is completely Un-Christ like.

    If they want to hate gay marriage, that is their right. Just don’t call yourself something you are not. Christians represent a mass of people who are concerned about loving their fellow man as Christ did, not judging and excluding those you don’t agree with.

    Chick-Fil-A would exemplify Christ better by shifting their resources and energy by promoting compassion and love to those who really need it, like the poor or homeless. Let the anti-gay movement buy their own lunch. 1 Corinthians 13.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • blsseattle

      Who said they "hate" gay marriage? Idiots throw that word, hate, around too much these days. Disagreeance does not equate to hatred. Idiot.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Joe

      Renee, please read the article again and explain where it states that Chick-Fil-A says they "hate" gay marriages. All they did was donate food to an organization that is against gay marriage. And I'll repeat myself from an earlier post, has anyone from one of the many gay and lesbian groups approached Chick-Fil-A for a food donation for one of their own rallies or events? Seems to me the only "hating" going on is from the gay community. They jumped right on Chick-Fil-A instead of talking first. Nice way to be tolerant of anothers rights.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • TJ

      Renee – please provide supported facts when you said Chick-Fil-A hate gay marriage. Ignorance lends no credibility. You want to publish a statement in a public forum here. you better know your facts or you are an idiot. There are plenty of idiots quick to quote baseless facts, adding their own opinion and presenting them as a fact. Get your act together before you point a finger with inflammatory judgement as you will be judged.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Joenc

      Renee – I wonder if Joe, TJ and the others would think it was ok if say, Starbucks wanted to start supporting an organization that was fighting to prevent Christians from getting married? Funny how people are blind to discrimination until it happens to them!

      February 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  18. PRISM 1234

    Yeah! The gays love to classify their demands as "human rights" issues. But the issues they are fighting for are NOT human rights issues, and will never be.

    Plainly said , they want their behavior being accepted as normal, but it'll never be, because it's not! However, they should not be trieated different as enyone else, nor mistreated.

    I totaly agree with Chick-fil-A about holding to their principles, and am sick and tired of gays whining for their "rights" !

    February 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Proud Atheist

      Tell Santa, or the easter bunny, or whoever it is you mumble your magic words to that I said hi!

      February 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  19. Troy

    Praise God that there is a place you can go to and eat, knowing the company is glorifying God in all they do. Why is it there is no big deal made someone gives to pro-gay group? We Christians have the right to support whatever we want, whether gays like it or not. Why don't gays just quit trying to shove their ungodly lifestyles on others?

    February 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      troy, I say the same! Why not?

      February 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Tom

      And we gays have the right to protest about whatever we want. Think about that one next time you are wasting an hour of your life at church.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • David

      Why don't you stop trying to push your beliefs on other ? Who's fairy tales are we supposed to believe in anyway ? ... yours ?

      February 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Trey

      I'm sorry, David, but I'm confused as to who you're accusing of pushing their beliefs on someone else. You must be referring to the people who are protesting Chick-fil-A, because all the restaurant chain founders have done is continue to be open and honest about their family's beliefs. How are they forcing religion on anyone by being religious themselves and donating their money to organizations in alignment with that? Judging from Chick-fil-A's public statement, it seems that the only ones who have a problem with viewpoints different from their own are the protesters.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • listenclose

      thats right david stop trying to force your lifestyle and lack of morals or values on everyone else god athiests and gays can be sooooooo pushy preachy and hateful

      February 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • John

      So why are they whining about it? If they don't want the business of gays, why be so upset that gays don't want to patronize a company which works to deny them basic human rights?

      I am sure they can get business plenty of other places. the KKK and the Army of God immediately come to mind, and I am sure there are plenty of others.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Spawned

      Troy Boy – God did not create religion – people did. God did not create Christians – people did. God did not write the Bible – people did. God did not make Gay people bad – YOU did!

      February 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  20. Liz

    The upcoming BULLIES of AMERICA will be The Muslim Brotherhood AND Gays. You don't do what THEY want and they will make your life miserable. They all make me sick! Idiots.

    February 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • David

      You self righteous people make me sick. I went in for a sandwich not a sermon. Please join us in the 21st century and stop praying to pagan gods. Get used to gays wanting to be equal. We wont strop until we are.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • SensibleAmerican

      Could you elaborate? Do you have any reputable sources to justify your position?

      February 6, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • RonDo

      @David Funny, I went in to get a sandwich and...I got a sandwich. In fact, of the numerous times I've gone in there, I've never gotten a sermon. Which Chick-Fil-A did you go to? Are you sure you didn't mistakenly wander into a church?

      February 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Spawned

      LIZ my dear you are brilliant and very perceptive! Remember when Black People were bullying America for equality. Now look, we have a Black President. Remember when women were bullying America for equality and the right to vote, OH MY! Remember Nazi Germany and World War 2 when the Jews did not want to be exterminated, they really thought it was okay to be a Jew. How come Gay people don't understand that they are defective and immoral? LIZ you are a living history of Ignorance!

      February 6, 2011 at 2:55 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.