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. Glorious!

    Christian faith is something that can't be taken from anyone. If you wan't to believe that 2+2 =3, or 5, or yellow, that's your biz. But human right have been taken away from people who believe different from you. Gay people aren't trying to make people believe the way they do. They simple want the same rights afforded to them, that have been afforded to you. You aren't afforded those rights because you are christian, but because you are human, and American. And gay people are also Human, and American. So why shouldn't they have the same rights? people can believe however they want (I prefer logic).

    February 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  2. Chris Noble

    Chick-Fil-A uses MSG to season their chicken!

    February 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  3. Brian

    Instead of worrying about what one company in America does, why don't these activist worry about actual crimes committed against the LGBT community in countries where not only being LGBT is a crime, but is punishable by death (I'm talking to you Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen)... Stop going after these "soft targets" and make a real difference.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  4. Chris Noble

    Christian values or no christian values, I don't eat Chick-Fil-A because they use MSG to season their chicken!

    February 6, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  5. chz

    I love this country! A PRIVATE business can be operated by the owner's vision and philosophy, and gays can protest and choose not to conduct business with businesses that operate under certain visions and philosophies.

    I am not a religious person but if a private company chooses to operate under religious philosophies... It's America and they have that right! People can choose not to support that company by not being a patron of it.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  6. SpinnyLiberal

    Whatever they do with their money is their business, as they are a private company. I've only heard references to this restaurants. I'm in CA. Bottom line, if you don't like where the money you spend there is going, don't spend your money there.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  7. Smith

    I eat there all the time!!! Love C.F.!

    February 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  8. Mac

    Chkn iz serioz biznez.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  9. mom2girls

    Customers have the right to patronize or not patronize any business for any reason or no reason at all. And provided Chick Fil A didn't do anything illegal (eg divert funds or company property through embezzlement or fraud) they have the right to donate what they want to whomever they want. BUT, I do think the buying public deserves a certain amount of transparency and full disclosure about the company's activities so they can make informed decisions about who to do business with. And this is true whether a company is donating money or goods to conservative, liberal, religious or secular groups.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  10. Walter n Mary

    Actually Vera – I don't think gays have any problems with Christians believing whatever they want to as long as they don't try to impose their beliefs on the "law of the land." Those Christian faiths that believe marriage should be between a man and a woman (which, by the way, is not a universal belief of all Christian denominations) can maintain that belief in their denomination....just don't force it on secular society or on those denominations that believe marriage can be between two loving men or two loving women, or a loving man and a woman.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • mom2girls

      You're absolutely right. The Catholic Church doesn't allow Catholic marriage rites to divorced persons unless they received an annullment first. But this doesn't prevent a divorced person from obtaining a civil marriage.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  11. Robert

    I believe that the company has a right to do what they want with the money it earns. If a group comes across something that they don't like being done with that money, they have the right to tell people. But the compnay can only be made to stop it if the people who eat there are so disgusted that they don't want to eat there anymore and the company loses profits. The people who eat there did not give the comapny that money, they paid for a service that was given and thats the end of their say about whats being done with the money other then not eating there anymore. Plus I'm sure that they knew people would be against what they are doing. (This was a response to posts I cant find anymore)

    February 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  12. M

    I'm amused (horrified) at how many people are missing the point.

    A business can conduct itself in a large number of ways. If a store really wants to they have the right to call everyone who walks in the door a 'fat jerk'. Its perfectly legal but its a bad business practice. That doesn't mean the people who choose not to shop there are infringing on the businesses rights. They are exorcising their own rights as customers.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Mike

      This is the best post period.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  13. Hawkeye1012

    Haven't we learned that food and religion don't mix?

    I mean, doesn't anyone remember when thousands were unjustly burned at the stake for their professed love of Devil Dogs?

    February 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  14. Straight Talk

    They should be supporting anti-gay groups and promoting healthy family values (that is, one man and one woman). Anything outside of one man and one woman is severely distorted. Simply put, you can't get light from two light bulbs (or two light sockets). Think about it people.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Mike

      People can simply think how they won't. It really is too bad if something doesn't make sense to you. It's not really your problem. You are nobody's controller and I'm sure you can get over it and move along and worry about your own life.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Glorious!

      Okay, I've thought about it! And you are so very wrong! If your a man and don't believe in gay marriage, then don't marry a man. but it is not your job or duty to tell others how to live their lives. And I love the "light & socket" analogy... Because every socket in my home has it's own Light Bulb. and I often will turn others out and leave one on for reading.. Or I can turn them all on, and they all light my home up with UNITY! No 1 light fussing that it's brighter than the other, they just all seem to work together. so the light you should be worrying about lighting up is the one above your head that lit up when you thought you had the right idea... Cuz it's very "DIM" witted.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  15. Steve Lyons

    We need laws to protect Christians from the onslaught of anti-Christian activists. This sort of belligerence against a privately held company is nothing short of a hate crime. Those activists withing GLAD and NAMBLA need to be prosecuted for racketeering and extortion. Because this is nothing but financial blackmail against a successful company that doesn't promote the GLAD and NAMBLA agenda.

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

      So speaking against or picketing Christ (or Satan for that matter) is a hate crime? In our country we have freedom of speech. Chick-fil-A can fund whoever they like and I can simply make a conscious choice to eat elsewhere, I don't see a problem.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  16. Hawkeye1012

    Haven't we learned that food and religion don't mix.

    I mean, doesn't anyone remember when thousands of heretics were burned at the stake for their love of Devil Dogs?

    February 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  17. Walter n Mary

    Hmmmm....an organization founded by a guy who hung out with 12 other guys – one of which was singled out "as the one Jesus loved" (Did he hate the rest?) – can't figure out why they would discriminate against gays. Seems like they should be holding them up as their ideal.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  18. filunia1987

    What does Clay Aiken say about it? He is a Southern Baptist, said many times Chick-fil-A was his favorite, was seen having their food delivered backstage. At the same time he is gay. Now there is a dilemma!!! What is he going to do? Denounce Chick-fil-A on the cover of People???

    February 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  19. Deb in New Jersey

    I am grateful we are still a FREE country. Therefore, if a company wants to donate food or money to a charity, I believe that is their business, not mine. I do not picket companies that donate to gay charities, because I respect them. But the way the gays are acting, it sounds like the only people they think deserve respect is them!! We are all supposed to change our beliefs for them. To tell you the truth I am tired of all their stomping and complaining. By the way, who has time for all this? AS A MATTER OF FACT, I WILL PROBABLY DO MORE BUSINESS WITH CHICK-FIL-A BECAUSE OF THIS!! Think of it as FREE advertising!?

    February 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • 2 Dads & 3 Kids

      and then there are those of us who will never set foot in one again, and we'll tell our friends and family.

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

      gay = wrong

      February 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Glorious!

      Christian faith is something that can't be taken from anyone. If you wan't to believe that 2+2 =3, or 5, or yellow, that's your biz. But human right have been taken away from people who believe different from you. Gay people aren't trying to make people believe the way they do. They simple want the same rights afforded to them, that have been afforded to you. You aren't afforded those rights because you are christian, but because you are human, and American. And gay people are also Human, and American. So why shouldn't they have the same rights? people can believe however they want (I prefer logic).

      February 6, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • AndrewK

      So if they were to donate to the KKK that would also be okay and black people would be wrong to be upset?

      February 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • nheckt

      I couldn't agree with you more. If they want to donate to whoever they choose, it is there company. I would tell every person that does not agree with that, beep you. If you don't like it, don't go. Everybody thinks they know what is best for everyone else. My advice to you all is mind your own dang business. I will eat there more now!!!!!!

      February 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Adam and Eve nicknamed Steve

      2 dad's and 3 kids...you should really not go to Chic Fil A because Mcdolands has a much better dollar menu. Run and tell that to all your friends and family!

      February 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Roger

      If they are providing food to an organization that is trying to encourage discrimination against a segment of US society, how can Chick-fil-A say they love and respect everyone. They are helping an organization that wants to allow legal discrimination against a group of people, who, besides doing what "they do" in the privacy of their own bedrooms, pay taxes and work and spend money that helps the community, including Chick-fil-A!! I'd be frickin' mad too. Funny how your idea of 'free' is the right to discriminate, yet those who try to protect themselves against it are the problem.....and that's a free country????. You Americans really have to look around you to see how out-dated you are in your thinking. Good luck!

      February 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  20. Percy

    Watch out In-n-Out burger... you're next!

    February 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Ginamero

      I do not normally eat out. I'm pro gay marriage, pro birth control or a woman's right to choose, and an atheist, yet I will be at Chick fill....whatever....to eat or at least spend my money their. I'm tired of special interest groups being bullies. If they were not closed on Sundays I'd go right now. They are privately held company and can donate food as they see fit. I'm also pro Civil Liberties and the gays aren't the only ones who have rights.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Glorious!

      Gay's don't have rights, dude! that's the whole problem. And Christian's are the biggest "special interest" group in the country... Know what you are talking about! no-one knows how ignorant you are until you open your mouth and spew your uneducated thoughts. Be a good boy and maybe santa will bring you a big x-mas gift... or jesus will give you a nice home in the pearly gated community, on Golden Rd.

      February 6, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • boom

      Oh who cares, just keep those awesome chicken sandwiches coming, I want one now!!!! Oh it's Sunday....happens every week

      February 6, 2011 at 3:57 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.