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. Patrick

    The company is not under fire for its "Christian DNA" whatever that means. Nobody is protesting their prayers at store openings, nobody is protesting their choice to stay closed on Sundays, nor is anybody protesting their encouragement of their staff to attend church services. They are under fire for promoting bigotry by lending support to groups which work to deny civil rights to gay people. Putting a cross on bigotry doesn't turn it into Christianity any more than putting an Evian label on a bottle of sewer waste turns it into premium spring water. Chick-fil-A needs to choose its friends more wisely learn to discern a Christan group from a hate group.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  2. john

    Gay is a sickness so we need to pray to God to heal their hearts. Whatever they do, they seem right in thier eyes. This is the generation we live and they never learn how to live a life. The righteous person faces many troubles, bu the Lord comes to the rescue each time. For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken. Clamity will surely overtake the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be punished. (Psalm 34: 19-21) Keep praying!

    February 6, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Patrick

      I think you're the one who's sick. Your beliefs sound more like mental illness than faith.

      February 6, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  3. Mac

    I don't see why thees gay people are so Mad! I mean real'y its one thing. GET OVER IT YOU SON OF A ______ES

    February 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  4. Jack McCune

    It is unforturnate that a Christian based business, such as Chic-fil-A, has the right to donate food to people of their own choosing and get bashed. It is also sad that gays are bashing Christians for their beliefs. I believe gays feel they have to push an agenda that no one really cares about except for those gay. If you don't like the restaurant or the policies, don't do business with them. No one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to eat any of their products. Many people in our country don't like companies who are pro-gay, but you don't see or hear any of those group doing a letter writing campign. I know for a fact that Proctor & Gambles is a pro-gay company. It's been shown by their policies in the past. So, if anyone doesn't like a companies stand on gay rights, you don't have to buy their products. Its called, CHOICE! Ever heard of it? God gave us all something called, "Free Will". Everyones God given right, whether you believe in God or not, you have the right to choose what you want in your life. It's those choices that you make which dictact the direction of your life. So, if I choose to eat at Chic-fil-A it's my choice, and if I choose not to buy P&G products that's my choice as well. It's a shame that so much effort is put into gay or anti-gay. It is nobody's place to judge, that belongs to only one and hH will have His day. Here's an idea...how about taking all this energy and focus it on bringing our educational level up to the same level as the rest of the world. Or how about ending our homeless situation, or the lack of care for the elderly, who because of their economic situation, cannot afford proper care. I'll open an offer to anyone who wishes to come and view the slum conditions our elderly must endure because of no fault of their own. If you want to fight about something, fight about kids and the elderly going hungry, or the state of our educational system. Now there is something to fight for! Not because a Christian based company gives food to some organization who is anitgay. SO WHAT! Get over it! Why should anyone fight over a deep fried chicken sandwich? I mean really people, fighting, arguing, or disagreeing over a chicken sandwich that was given to a group who doesn't believe in your lifestyle. How about fighting to save our children from predators instead of one report on MSNBC.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  5. John D.

    Oh well – my last post did not post as a reply and now I cannot find the one having a tantrum that I was replying to. 🙁

    February 6, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  6. Henry Kleber

    No data is available to indicate, how many Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc, are currently working for this corporation.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  7. Sam

    Stay open on Sunday to ease the tension .... actually it's a great idea.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  8. DRand

    "How Pathetic", your parents must have been seers....you are very aptly named. So this group has the right to disagree with the company you say, but apparently they do not have the right to tell other people about it? Thats your thesis here? That the civil rights group is wrong for publicizing this? I was unaware chik-fill-a was a christian restaurant...I don't google fast food chains too much. What is wrong with a group who disagrees telling people that this exists? I had no idea.

    Also, anything "God tells you" comes from a book that was written by humans. You would do just as well to get your messages and guidelines for life from the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. If Star Wars was written in a book and you were told it was the word of God you would be looking forward to the second coming of Skywalker right now. Stop sitting on your brain and try thinking with it.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  9. DRand

    Patricia, Claus....who cares? They're no different to a person who chooses to think outside of a dogma when making decisions. Plus, they both encourage discrimination of gay people. I guess being Mormon would be worse though since they have a long history of discriminating against all minorities.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  10. DRand

    If the restaurant wants to have proud morals and ethics they should stand up against the church's long history of discrimination, and the more recently brought to light proud tradition of child molestation.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  11. David M.

    Sounds like some from the gay community have an agenda they are pushing. Don't like how Chic-fil-a spends their money? Go somewhere else. What makes anyone they can "force" someone else to bow to their demands? They are a great company and their customer service is second to none. I wish more companies were like them.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • DRand

      That is a pretty silly statement. They have an agenda against being discriminated against? Is that odd? The restaurant supported a group that is against gay marirage....and for discrimination. So I'm not sure how the civil rights group is in the wrong for voicing their opinion. I've never been to a chick-fill-a....I had never heard of it before. But now I know I will never give them my money, so what is wrong with a group publicizing the issue? The restaurant is so proud of their values that it is acceptable as long as no one knows? Anyone who gets upset and says gays should be quiet because the restaurant is just expressing their own opinion just as the gay rights group would do, is an idiot. How is promoting discrimination akin to fighting it? The restaurant has the right to donate the food to whoever they want, but why don't people have the right to let everyone know about it? Is that hurting the restaurant? or preventing them from their morning prayer meetings or evening child molestation?

      February 6, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  12. marym

    Get over it. They gave food to hungry people. If it's that big of a deal, eat somewhere else.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • kckaaos

      But you don't understand, those were not gay hungry people. No one deserves to get free stuff unless they are gay.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  13. How Pathetic

    If you don't like the stand of a particular business, you are free to not patronize that business. If you disagree with a philosophy, you are free to discard that philosophy. If God tells you that something is true, you do not have the right to discard that word without consequences.

    Chik-fil-A makes a good product. To choose to avoid that product only punishes yourself. But, you have that right. I will continue to enjoy Chik-fil-A. And, they will stay in business and expand because they do what they believe to be correct even when vocal people oppose them. If we could teach politicians to have such a conscience, the country would be in much better shape.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  14. misha

    I'm now inspired to go support an organization that I, personally, believe in (like planned parenthood). They are a private company so yes, they can support what they want just like you or I can. You know how you can best show your feelings? Patronize another business than Chick-Fil-A.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • notmeagain

      Planned Parenthood get money from the US Government, not so privite.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  15. That Guy

    Chik fil a= overpriced lame fast food. Zaxby's is far better.
    Chik fil a didn't invent the chicken just the high dollar chicken chit.

    February 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • B

      Zaxbys gives me the trots.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  16. Day Cross

    I was raised Southern Baptist, and then my parents for some reason began attending the Assembly of God Church. Having those two church foundations, I think I am fairly intelligent about what defines "Christian". I converted to Mormonism as an adult, and can honestly say that I am a Christian. We believe in the same Jesus Christ that the Baptists and AG's and others believe in, we believe in the same Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and the primary difference is that we believe them (as is explained in the New Testament) to be three separate beings. I never could figure out how they were supposed to be one (even having been raised with that teaching) being since it clearly explains differently in the New Testament. So, for those who are simply parroting what others tell them, I ask you to prayerfully consider the question yourselves. As a member of the LDS Church, we are counseled to seek God's help when we don't understand something. If you want to know, pray for an answer. Don't take mine or theirs or a well-meaning family member's answers-pray for God's answer to this and other questions you have about our faith and our lives!

    How this article about Chick-Fil-A, a very Christian and Southern Baptist company became a cult-bashing "Mormons aren't Christian" blog amazes me. The sad thing is, it doesn't seem to be the gays or the atheists doing this, it's the sadly misinformed Christians who are simply repeating what they have been told.

    I personally love Chick-Fil-A. They have great chicken, GREAT ads, and they are closed on Sunday, in keeping with the commandment to Keep the Sabbath Day Holy. They are also privately owned, so to say they can't donate to whom they please is unfair. However, as most of you know, the end times are here and we see the influence of Satan clearly at work. That is what we all ought to be concerned about, in my opinion, not whether or not our brothers or sisters are Christian. If "Christians" spent as much money on helping starving children, helping homeless families, etc. as they do on writing books about my faith in an attempt to persuade them that I'm not a Christian, then maybe we would see a change. However, that's not the case. We can only pray for them!

    Have a blessed day!

    February 6, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Jack

      Although this continues to have nothing to do with the article, Mormons are not Christian's because they do not believe in the Holy Trinity among other beliefs like modern revelation, evolving scripture, 2 heavens and outer darkness, spirit children, baptism of the dead etc. Using similar words and names and having a background in protestant churches does not make mormanism or any part of the LDS church, a part of Christianity.
      This same logic applies to members of the mainstream LDS church refusing to call members of the Fundamentalist LDS church Mormons, because it confuses beliefs and causes misinformation. The LDS church has nothing to do with polygamy anymore, but the FLDS church most certainly practices it (i.e. Warren Jeffs and company).

      February 6, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • kckaaos

      Except the Sabbath was on Saturday..not Sunday...just sayin'

      February 6, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  17. Jake


    February 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Brett

      Ha ha! Couldn't have put it better and I completely agree.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • kckaaos

      No one really cares, the gays just need something to make them feel persecuted when in reality they are not.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  18. truthinrock

    Who cares about their contributions. They have a garbage product that is so over priced, I'm amazed they are still in business!

    February 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  19. CNN's norrow left wing point of view

    Let's not forget , every youth athletic, boy scouts, cub scouts, girl scouts, high school drama, music and all the other things Chick Fila donates to that out of there own goodness. Yes as the songs goes no Good Deed goes unpunished. Typically left wing agenda destroy everything and always point fingers at other people because of there own pathetic lives. It's time to man up, woman up, for you other types gay up.

    February 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Ken

      While this fast food chain may support Boy Scouts, they are a far right religious group as well.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Kieran

      You know I bet a murderer bought chicken there before. That means they support murderers! oh wait, it gets worse, cops buy chicken there too.

      That means they are feeding both sides, they are trying to keep murderers alive and cops alive, so that cops and murderers will always come back for more, and it forces the cops and murderers to continue to fight each other. Its a horrible situation, to think they are controlling the very fabric of our society!

      I sure hope someone puts a stop to this.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • goat

      So if I am racist against black people, doing favors towards other people means I'm forgiven for being racist? You have horrible logic.

      Not to mention, conservatism stands for the status quo. If it wasnt for the "left wing agenda", we would not have women voters, rights for blacks, or their freedom from slavery, and just about everything else we had in the 18th century when our country was founded. You sir, need a history lesson, and a few slaps to the face. Not necessarily in that order.

      February 6, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  20. Alyssa Robin

    Your right they do use MSG to season their chicken!

    February 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • brock

      Regardless of my beliefs, I respect whatever lifestyle someone wants to lead. But it's getting out of hand now. A gay rights group who wants nothing more than to have people respect their choice of lifestyle, to have an open mind, for people to understand that THEIR point of view matters too, and that they're not wrong just because some don't agree with them – is doing exactly what they supposedly stand for. They are trying to shame a company for that company's point of view, just because it differs from theirs. Sorry, if you're the group standing for an open mind, standing for respect for points of view, you can't go on the attack and shame someone for theirs.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Paul B

      I am a Christian and do my best to honor God, Jesus Christ, and every person on this planet. I do that despite the mean things said and written all around the world. I do it because I believe in respect and forgiveness. I don't care if this article is posted by CNN or any other media outlet. It's here and so we can all discuss how we feel about it. The biggest problem as I see it is not who posts the article, or what the feelings necessarily are, but rather the way in which some choose to post their comments. The amount of mean spirited comments being posted is increasing more every day. That is sad because there's no need for it, and it's senseless because vitriolic comments won't convince anyone to change their view. It only angers them and drives them to respond in kind. In the end we don't move forward, nor do we stand still. We only regress. As far as Chick-Fil-A, it is the only fast food chain I will patronize. They are friendly, courteous, respectful and efficient. That pleases me and only encourages me to visit again. I'll take that every day, despite the higher price, compared to the other chains that display the exact opposite type of behavior. I work hard for my money and refuse to give it to anyone that doesn't understand and respect that.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • bb

      I love chik-fil-a and dont care who they did or did not donate food to. People in this country have gone way too far in trying to hurt businesses that do not share their own personal beliefs. If you dont want to give them your business, then dont. In the midwest and the south this might increase their business. I admire a company that stands true to their belifs in this day and age.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • DRand

      Brock...you are confused. The civil rights group is exercising their right of freedom of speech, it is up to people to decide which side they agree with. But by calling out someone for perhaps supporting a group that encourages discrimination, is not exactly the same as encouraging the discrimination. Were all the people who boycotted buses in montgomery being unfair to the bus company? After all the bus company has a right to express itself by making black people sit in the back of the bus, thats the same thing according to you right?

      February 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • kckaaos

      Drand, the bus company was gov't ran. there is a difference.

      February 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • John

      I loved chickfila. not sure if i do now

      February 6, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Jami

      Brock you couldn't have said it better! I believe in equal rights and opportunities for EVERYONE. But that goes both ways. This is one of the few fast food establishments that I will actually go to. Although rare we go when traveling, but it is always very clean and the staff is over the top nice and accommodating. They have a right to donate to who they want.

      February 6, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Justin

      DRand said, "...After all the bus company has a right to express itself by making black people sit in the back of the bus, thats the same thing according to you right?" No, actually that's not the same. If the bus company were giving free bus passes to another company that supported putting blacks at the back of the bus, then it would be the same. Chic-fils-A isn't stopping gay marriage (like the bus companies were making blacks sit in the back of the bus), just sending free food to a group that opposes gay marriage.

      February 6, 2011 at 5:01 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.