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. Thought

    In this country, you're going to offend someone at one time or other. The gay groups as well as all groups who feel discriminated have to have something to complain about or they will lose their jobs. If all they want is some free chicken, just ask politely and I'm sure they would be glad to provide you some Chik on Chik Fil-A's.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  2. cunfuzzed

    You don't like what they're doing? Then don't give them business. Seriously. It's not as though you're required to go there.

    Oh, and as an added bonus of not giving them business, you'll be adding years to your life (through avoiding heart disease).

    February 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  3. huxley

    Even national corporations often make controversial donations. I recall a few years ago American Express was targeted for a boycott and letter writing campaign due to its donations to Planned Parenthood. Sometimes you just have to examine your corporate values and decide if a donation is appropriate regardless of the flap.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  4. :)

    It's ohkay this Christian establishment won't make it long in the Northern states. Jack-In-The-Box will kick thier butts. Religion just doesn't always have a place in certian things, and this is one of them. Yes, they made it in the bible-belt. Uhm duh, and as long as they move north they may as well get used to the fight.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  5. John

    Jesus that's good Chicken!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  6. John

    I really think the use of "faith-based" to describe these organizations is incorrect. There are millions of people who believe in God and do not share the bigotry of anti-gay groups. The so called Christian groups are more about promoting their own interpretation of Christianity often under the direction of a Demi-god (i.e. Ted Haggard). Frankly, God is all powerful, all knowing and probably isn't a hillbilly.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  7. crucified

    Their chicken is like Manna from Heaven..

    February 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  8. leogetz

    This publicity will cause the company's business to skyrocket. Stick to your guns Mr. Cathy, God bless you and your organization

    February 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  9. Kenny

    I like their food. I found their establishments to be exceptionally clean and their employees to be very friendly and professional. I also do not expect to go there to eat on Sunday because I know they are closed and it doesn't bother me. They can give, sell or donate their own food to anyone they choose and it is fine with me because they are a privatly held company. If one finds cause to not like this company then they should not give them their business. Nuf said.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  10. fadeinlight

    I had no idea Chic-Fil-A was a Christian company. I'll make sure to frequent them more often, now 🙂

    February 5, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  11. nmills

    Are we forgetting some basics about business and economics? If they have a popular product at a good price they'll stay in business no matter who pickets them.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  12. KD

    I think I may go get some Chick-fil-a today just because of this silly "non"-issue.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  13. Jo

    Kudos to Chic-Fil-A for keeping their promise to stay Christian based. Not many restaurants or businesses can say that. I hope this whole stupid mess does not cost them their conservative beliefs.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  14. Joe

    It's a privately held company, the owners have the right to their beliefs. If you don't agree with them, don't eat there.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  15. RichG

    Gay people, I know this makes you want to choke their chicken!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  16. Mr. T. Bag

    * BEWARE - the Christian Taliban is growing in America...

    These domestic Sammy Ben Ladens will not rest until every last non-believer is converted ... or punished.

    We will never eat there again!!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Inyourimage

      This is about Love of what's Right. God is pretty clear about this one, whether you want to believe or not. What are we...in backwards world???

      February 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  17. Vince

    Christ loves everyone. He does not love sin. If you do what God states is sin, then it is sin. IF you choose to do this, then it is on you. If you dont believe in the Bible it is on you. The church is a place for sinners, everyone is sinners. Sinners change their ways, away from sin, after accepting Christ as their Savior. If you dont beleive this fine. IF I am wrong, then no harm, I have lived my life to Gods standard. IF you are wrong..well..I guess you will find out.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  18. popeye1128

    Freedom of speech, freedom to have your private business take a religious tone. Both have consequences those exercising the freedoms must take into account.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  19. crucified

    Jude 1:7

    February 5, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  20. Mike

    Seriously. They are a private business that has the right to donate to whoever they want to. That's like telling your neighbor they cant donate to a group you are against. If you dont like it, dont eat there. It's as simple as that. Dont attack a busisness that just stands up for its beliefs.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:18 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.