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. Raymond

    I love the hypocrisy of this country because it is ok for someone to corporately sponsor an Anti-Christian group but it cannot be the other way around? This is not discrimination this is a corporation that sponsors something that they believe in. The problem is we have a society that doesn’t believe in any absolute. It is a platonic society. I believe that any corporation that will stand by its ideal whether I agree with them or not (in this case I do) is all right by me. As a conservative Christian I define marriage as between one man and one woman, but I will not be outraged by a corporation that sponsors a pro-gay marriage group. I think it is time for my brothers and sisters in Christ who will be reading this to start praying for our country more fervently.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  2. J.R. Graff

    I will never support Chik-Fil-A and don't understand why people do. The food is not good at all but people jam their drive thru like it's gourmet fast food. Please, it's disgusting. And playing Christian music in their stores. Not cool. You're a public restaurant you don't play that stuff – period. That and being closed on Sunday? Talk about a terrible business model. Asking employees to attend prayer services? I would GLADLY shove those prayer services where the sun don't shine – because that's where ALL religions belong anyway. Bunch of ludicrous beliefs. I'm Agnostic and have to say I've never been happier!

    February 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Michael Diviesti

      Honestly, it's the fries that I used to go for. Of course, I won't be spending another dime there. My gay dollar will be spent on companies that only give to causes to promote equal rights for all Americans.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • John D.

      Interesting, I have never noticed the music when in picking up an order. I will continue to patronize as I find the service good and am not offended by this particular donation of food.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  3. Cody

    I'm all for gay rights but seriously, it's chicken. Let it go.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  4. Steve

    I wonder how these Christians feel about being descended from an entire human history of unwed mothers – who were "married" before there was a Bible?

    February 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  5. Ted

    Hi people, could polygamy then be considered a civil right issue? Can the governement tell a man he can only have on wife if the man desires more than one and can afford it?

    February 6, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • TJ

      Bring all your wires to C.F. For the best chicken in town!!!!!!!!

      February 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • MikeBell

      How many are there that don't believe in marriage that have multiple partners. Shouldn't the polygamy standard apply to them also? Apparently it's only a problem if the behavior is associated wit a 'religion'.
      The government already cares for multiple unwed mothers that have children fathered by the same man. They'll take away benefits if the man move in with any one of them.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  6. Soporifix

    The Christians here love everyone, like Jesus said. Well, except anyone who isn't Christian. And of course that means even other people who call themselves Christian but have a slightly different system of believing it. So it ends up that these loving, merciful evangelical Christians are only tolerant of the 1.5% of the population that thinks exactly as they do about everything.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • MikeBell

      So, you are rationalizing your own hatred and excusing yourself from taking a higher road?

      February 6, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  7. Michael

    I go to Chick-fil-a because the food is good, the service is the absolute best of any "fast food" chain around.

    I have no issues with their donations. They arent kiling kittens.

    How about tracking down the donations the middle eastern company who supplied the oil to make your gas? I'm sure they were anti-gay, anti-womens rights, anti-free speech, anti-democracy. Boycott them too, Boycott the cheap Chinese items you buy and use every day, the Chinese government is anti-gay, anti-womens rights, anti-free speech, anti-democracy.

    Buncha hyppos

    February 6, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • John D.


      February 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  8. Scott

    I think as long as Chik Fil A keeps doing a good job, the gays won't succeed in hurting them. I mean really, there are so many groups out there protesting so much different stuff that you can't keep up anymore. Do a good job with your work and don't worry about the divisive and hateful gay agenda.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  9. MikeBell

    I see it is still pick on the Christians day.
    Go pick on a group that isn't such an easy push-over; like secular elitist with their social doctrine and Muslims with their oppression of women. No? It must be the chicken in you.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  10. Jennifer

    I guess I am confused by this....does the gay community want to change the hearts and minds of the public and gain acceptance under the law or cry because they did not get free chicken????

    February 6, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • MikeBell

      They really need to worry more about the Muslim Brotherhood demanding their conformity.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Michael Diviesti

      No, we don't want the money that we spend at a business to be spent on funding (be it monetarily or in goods or services provided) our own inequality. I'm also not going to be giving money to any business that is providing chicken to the KKK, it's just that simple.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Steve Lyons

      To Michael below. If you don't want them to spend their money on something you disagree with I propose YOU stop spending YOUR money on things I disagree with. Either that or go play with your boyfriend in the closet again a STFU.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  11. rebecca s.

    This is a little ridiculous. Maybe people should focus on the fact that a company is trying to feed hungry people instead of picking every good act apart. I am a supporter of gay marriage, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate actions that help society as a whole. You can't criticize someone just because they have a different opinion than you about something. It makes you just the same as the people you are criticizing.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Soporifix

      Is that a fact? So Jews who hate Nazis are just like the Nazis because they're intolerant of the Nazis' "right" to want to kill them?

      February 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  12. Sand

    What I don't understand is if I (a Christian) disagree with someone it is considered hate, intolerance, and bigotry. But if someone disagrees with me it is noble and in fact en vogue to bash my beliefs. I think that the gays need to practice what THEY preach: tolerance and acceptance...even to the Christians who don't share their viewpoint. I find these types of issues rank with hypocrisy. I can disagree with something, and that doesn't automatically translate to hatred. So I ask: In this inquisition, which side is the victim?

    February 6, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Soporifix

      A Christian disagreeing with someone is not hate. A Christian trying to make discrimination against a certain minority legal - that is hate. Gays don't hate and fear Christians - many gays are Christian. Gays hate and fear people who use religion to justify hating, oppressing, and discriminating against gays. Tolerance doesn't mean accepting people's prejudice and hatred and ignorance.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  13. Deb

    What ever happened to freedom of religion? If this was a muslim or hindu company everyone who be saying that they have a right to run their business the way they want. That is the freedom we fight for and the free market that runs this country. Many companies support or give free items to groups that disagree with someone some where. If we stopped buying from companies that don't hold our specific beliefs... Can you imagine? Let's be real. This only happens when Christians stand up for their beliefs. Disney gave benefits to partners. Christians boycotted for a short time. Chick-fil-A gives food to anti-gay group. Gays boycott Chick-fil-A. That's democracy... freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to choose. Thank God we have those rights. I am a Christian and the mother of a gay son. Neither situation offends me. Christ did not always hang out with those he always agreed with... quite the opposite! Every situation is not a battle. Relax! Personally I don't go to Chick-fil-A because I don't like the food. It reminds me of school cafe food. That's my freedom to choose! 🙂

    February 6, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Soporifix

      No one is taking away the owners' freedom of religion. The owners have thew right to donate company profits to whomever they wish. Customers have the right to stop giving the company money if they don't like what the company does with it. Period. That's the only issue. Freedom or religion or speech doesn't mean freedom from criticism by other people.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Rick in chicago

      Soporifix – apparently you don't like anything said here. no one knew about this issue until the group Human Rights Campaign started on it. hey if you don't like Chik-Fil-A or what they believe dont' go there simple as that. are you going to rip on Hobby Lobby too..??????? they are a christain based company that has expanded all over the place. let it go i bet you hate walmart too? oh let me see which companies are good to gays that's what matters. its time to get rid of special laws because it has created a segregated society – rights for those who think they are oppressed and those who follow the rules. I am a minority and guess what if i felt the way most of these idiots feel then i wouldn't have an education. I'm grateful for those who did fight for the real rights not these idiots going after a private company that is providing employment and jobs to people.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  14. Greg

    Here's an Idea, if you don't like the philosophies or food of chick-fil-a the don't eat there. Me, I'm going to eat there more.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • M

      That's actually what people are doing. I sent them a letter saying 'I find your business practices to be contrary to may values, as such I choose not to frequent your store'. Asking someone not to do something doesn't mean you have the power to make them stop it. If someone is kicking the back of your seat at the movies, turning around and asking them to stop isn't an unreasonable thing.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Jayson

      I now respect them even more and my family and I will now patron Chick -f- la when I want quality fast food which I believe they serve. Go figure, an American restaurant with Christian values, just when I thought our country had no hope. I have even more faith in our country's future.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Dee


      February 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  15. Denise

    There are all kinds of people in this world. That's what makes it GREAT! Celebrate the diversity and stop spreading hate and ultimatums. RESPECT FOLKS FOR WHO THEY ARE!

    February 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • TJ

      I'll be eating there more now!

      February 6, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  16. SamF

    Simply because I donate to group A does NOT imply that I hate groups B thru Z. Those who cry intolerance the loudest are the ones who practice intolerance the most.
    Just my humble Christian opinion.

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

      So if I donate to an atheist organization that wants to prevent Christianity you would be fine with that? Your logic makes absolutely no sense!

      February 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Soporifix

      "Just because I donate to a "kick-out-the-Mexicans" group doesn't mean I don't like Mexicans." That makes sense.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • CMack8177

      Agreed. Excellent way to express that. I donate money to pro-life organizations, but I don't hate those who have or perform abortions. I hate abortion.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • just me

      I am not a Christian and am not gay either. But I have NO PROBLEM with anyone donating to whatever group they want to support. I agree that seemingly the MOST INTOLERANT people around now are the ones supporting gay and others who are anti-Christian. While I don't care one way or the other, listening to a prayer at a ball game or school activity has never hurt me. It may have even helped! I think Liberal Activists should preach TOLERANCE for a change!

      February 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  17. BlackSheep

    Christians? Bwa ha ha. In the first place, the concept of Christianity arose out of the Middle East, as did Jesus Christ, not the United States, or Europe. And just like a badly worn thong on a fat, unfeeling ass, the concept has been twisted the world over ever since. Jesus, get off of your septic thrones, and over yourselves already.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  18. all you idiots are retarded

    these damn HETEROPHOBES are trying to ruin everything for everyone. their organizations need to be destroyed once and for all.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • SarahLV

      Hello Pot, meet Kettle.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • M

      BTW, those who are idiots and are retarded take great offense at your screen name. Bigot.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  19. jason

    It's a free country. Stores are allowed to open with a religious affiliation, and people that are offended by it are allowed to protest the beliefs behind it – and not patron those stores. If it is offensive enough, the market will decide and the company won't get far. Personally, I like their chicken, and I'm not offended enough just because they gave some free chicken to somebody gays do not like to stop my buying habits. It just seems a little overblown..how much time do people have to be so outraged all the time?

    February 6, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Soporifix

      People who are being actively discriminated against are going to be outraged when a company uses money those people gave them to promote the discrimination they are suffering under. It seems petty to you because you're not one of the ones who has to suffer. Newsflash: there are other people in the world besides you.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Me

      Jason, Right on. No one has the right to dictate where a private individual or company's donations go to. No one has the right to enforce where money is spent, unless it is their own money (which is why we can complain about government spending). I may not agree with people who financially support a particular group, and have the right not to patronize them, but no right to tell them what to do with their money. This is not about prejudice against gays, it is prejudice against peoples religious beliefs. Gays want their rights, but want to curb religious rights. If people want tolerance, be tolerant.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  20. NoDoubt

    I believe people should marry who they want. However, how is donating food to a charity being anti-gay? So what if its a Christian-run business. There are lots of businesses run by Mormons, and I don't believe in their beliefs but I'm not going to stop frequenting those businesses because of it.
    I think people need to get a grip.

    February 6, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • NoDoubt

      I don't consider Mormons being Christian. I consider them a cult. But to each their own. >_>

      February 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Soporifix

      Since you don't understand the article, here's what it says: the controversy has nothing to do with the religious or moral beliefs of the owners. It has to do with the COMPANY - when the company donates money or food to a discriminatory charity, people can say they won't give the company more money if that's what the company's going to do with it. The owners can give their own money to anyone they want - when they give THE COMPANY'S money (cash or food, same thing) to a discriminatory organization, the customers have a right to complain or not as they wish.

      February 6, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Ted

      If people can marry whomever they want, then can I have three wives?

      February 6, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Daveywavey

      Agreed, there are groups that have as a mission to condemn anybody who doesn't agree with THEIR beliefs as bigoted or worse. Isn't that a form of bigotry in itself?

      February 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Another Rachel

      I support NoDoubts' contention–people need to get a grip. I don't see how it's being discriminatory. There are lots of organizations that support causes I don't, but that doesn't mean I'm going to boycott them. It's not as though Chick-fil-A refuses to serve gays. But to not serve 'anti-gays' is discrimination too. ( the GLBT's should think about THAT for a while.) Let the few folks who think it's an atrocity to sell food to a person or organization that goes against their ideals boycott– it only means shorter lines for the rest of us who believe in free enterprise.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • tara

      That's just it, it doesn't matter, however, that's not going to sell papers and keep everyone's opinion that beliving in God is bad, going to church is bad, and just having general faith makes you either retarded or a hypocrite... they are simply looking for something to say bad things. and you are right, they seriously need to get a grip.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • martin j. hens

      I am decidedly not anti-gay, however I do not believe that you can not force your beliefs on anyone else (I thought thats what the war in the Middle East was about, or did I miss something)? If you do not like their policies don't patronize them, and don't work for them if it makes you feel uncomfortable ! Disagreeing or having a difference of opinion does not make you a"hate-monger", you cannot beat down people and things because they don't share your world-view. when you try and beat someone or their beliefs down you don't get get a compatriot, you get a bunch of lemmings ! There is room for a difference of opinion. The way to gain allies is to open your ears and close your mouth !

      February 6, 2011 at 3:39 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.