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. Jesse

    For everybody who says that they have a right to give to whomever they wish, you're correct. As a privately-held company, they have 'the right' to donate as they see fit. Nobody is trying file a suit against them, or claiming that they've broken any laws.

    The real question is, does it bother us, the customer? Ask yourself this: What if they were donating food to the Ku Klux Klan? Or Fred Phelps and his funeral-protest a**holes?

    I'm not necessarily against this "pro-family" group, but I do think that who you choose to support means just as much as who you choose to condemn.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  2. Bill B.

    Pam J.: "I am so tired of being called "wrong" because I don't believe in gay marriage."

    That's not why you're wrong. You're wrong because you want to deny gay people the same civil right to get married as straight people. You can believe anything you want, but when your belief translates to taking away someone's civil rights, that's where you go wrong.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • forallpeople

      Same se-x marriage or ho-mo-se-xuality is not a civil right.

      U. S. Supreme court justice Scalia made it clear in a January 2011 Washington Post article that the U.S. cons-t-itution 14th amendment does not provide equal protection of the law for ho-mo-se-xuality.

      Ho-mo-se-xuals want protection for the ho-mo-se-xual lifestyle that harms society. I have every right to discourage ho-mo-se-xuality and anything that encourages ho-mo-se-xuality like same se-x marriage.

      Ho-mo-se-xuals take no responsibility for the harm to society from the ho-mo-se-xual lifestyle.

      February 6, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • HotAirAce


      Please itemize exactly how ho-mos3xuality harms society? Any harm you can imagine pales compared to the real and fully doc-umented harm caused by religion and racism.

      February 6, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • HotAirAce


      Scalia seems to have argued that the 14th amendment does not provide equal protection to women either. I assume you are OK with that view as well.

      February 6, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • forallpeople

      Please see my earlier post for the harm to society from ho-mo-se-xuality.

      Scalia meant if women and gays want special treatment look to your legislators, not a judge. The court should preserve the cons-t-itution, not find meanings to it that never existed.

      February 6, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  3. phdwannabe

    They are not refusing services to gays, but are sure as hell implying that they are not the type of patron they want by supporting a group that strikes at their core as a cultural/ethnic group. Although, they have the right to support whomever they want, they can also enjoy the social and with that economic consequences. Important part of chain restaurants, is their public image, and they seriously tarnished theirs. Bellow, is a link you all should take a look at.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  4. Holly

    They are a privately owned family Christian company. Of course they donate to groups that support their Christian family beliefs. I applaud your company and will continue to patronize it. More people/companies need to stand up for what they believe in. If you won't stand up for something, you will fall for anything!

    February 6, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  5. Sara

    Here's what I'm worried about - that sponors of Chik-Fil-A (Chik-Fil-A bowl, for example) will start coming under fire by anti-liberty gay groups who will scream like banshees, manipulate, and exercise their own brand of bigotry over anybody who won't march into step behind them.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  6. jimmie4x4x4

    cnn sucks dick

    February 6, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  7. Brandon

    Gay people have a right to boycott CFA if they want. That's the beauty of capitalism. Just don't expect the company to change the core of its being because it's not going to happen.

    People are missing the fact that it wasn't a corporate decision to donate to the family foundation in PA; it was one franchise owner.

    Private companies can (or at least should be able to) "discriminate" against whoever they want PRECISELY because of the threat of boycotts and other economic action. It's their lost business, and it only hurts them–even more so if they are a public company.

    Honestly, I wouldn't care if a company gave ONLY to causes that were pro-gay rights (or even anti-white rights, if they existed)... If they make a great product that I enjoy, I'll give them my cash. As long as what they're supporting isn't something that threatens my life directly (ex. militant groups, radical Islam groups, etc.), I'm fine with their private decisions.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  8. linmer

    Its hard to believe that this is the same country I was born into 70 years ago.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  9. Liz D-M

    I certainly will exercise my right to not eat there.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Francois of Allentown, PA

      I will begin to eat at this restaurant to compensate for your loss.

      February 6, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  10. EvilJ

    I'm a gay male and am so sick of the gay VS Christian crap. "The Gays" need to understand that they are not helping a thing with this kind of childish rhetoric. This company has EVERY right to support what they want, whom they want and in whatever means they want. "The Gays" have every right NOT to eat there. Period. I for one like this company and have friends in management positions that are gay. Guess what? They are treated equally and are very happy with this company.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Katie86

      Well said. I'm Christian and have a lot of gay friends. Several attend my Church. The younger generation tends to understand that being Christ-like is being accepting, respectful and non-judgemental. We also understand that God loves his gay children as much as anyone else. It would be really nice if CNN and Fox would stop reminding us that we don't love or respect each other because, most of the time, I just forget because I love spending time with my gay and black friends and neighbors. It's really nice that we're not all the same. No reason to hate this establishment – their food is awesome! All the best.

      February 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Gator89

      Well said. I live in a college town with three Chick-fil-A restaurants. There are at least two gay employees at the Chick-fil- A we frequent the most. I always get great service, great food, and all the employees are wonderful.. Other businesses should be as customer service oriented as Chick-fil-A.
      Maybe it's a southern thing....... called hospitality.

      February 6, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  11. jimmie4x4x4

    I support any organization that is pro family. I'll buy an extra 100 nuggets this week and say thanks to them every time

    February 6, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  12. tm

    they donated food to a group that needed it. At least they are doing something for someone. It is their right to donate to whoever they want to.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  13. mick432

    it's amazing to me the number of people that consume fast food crap! and to boot, they are christian crazies.....

    February 6, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  14. nonantigay

    Here's more proof. Liberals don't let you be free unless you play their game, unless you agree with their way of thinking...
    The proprietors of this establishment cannot donate to a Christian organization, why? Because the gay rights people WON'T LET THEM! That's NOT freedom, and that's NOT right! However, that IS the gay rights people for you. They are acting the same as the Islamofascist. This is what we can take away from this unfortunate event, The Gay Rights Orgs. HATE FREEDOM! THIS IS THE PROOF!

    February 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  15. LHS

    This is just another shot across the bow in the war on Christianity. We as Christian have come under attack more and more in this country that was founder on the belief of religious freedom. Over the last few years the battles have been fought over everything from the 10 commandments, to the right to wish someone a Merry Christmas. We as Christians feel attacked everyday and wonder just how far this country will sink.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Sara

      Jesus said it'd be like this.

      February 6, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • D

      this countary was not found on religious freedom, it was found of Freedom of Religion as in we have the right to have nothing to do with religon. the founding fathers were mostly atheists because they were far too intelligent to believe in a supertious book, more blood has been spilled in the name of "god" than any other cause, awfully hypocritical

      February 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • D

      country*... religion*

      February 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  16. Tax

    Way to go Chick Fil-A! Too bad the rest of the business community doesnt stand up for morals and decency.

    Sorry perv's, but most of us will never accept or support your bad choices.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  17. Emil

    Gotta stop in real soon.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  18. PaulinVA

    Why is it that people who demand tolerance from everyone else are the least tolerant people on the planet?

    February 6, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • CommonSense

      Well put. That says it all.

      February 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • nobikiniatoll

      If there's one thing I can't stand, it's intolerance!

      February 6, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Gator89

      Well put! A corporation can donate their money or free food as they see fit. If the free food was given to a homeless shelter would these gay rights people care? Just because the food was donated to an organization that opposes gay marriage doesn't mean Chick-fil-A does too. They are not connected. I donate to the March of Dimes, but I do not support stem cell research or abortion. Should I stop donating to the March of Dimes? Who do these people think they are to tell Chick-fil-A that they should participate in the Corporate Equality Index? This is a free country, not a dictatorship or communist block country. They should mind their own business, worry about themselves, leave others alone ......and don't eat there. Period!

      February 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  19. Brian

    Is this where CNN and abe foxman step in to label them a hate group

    February 6, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  20. Jonathan Franklin Jr.

    I support chic fila as I do Christianity. If other corporations can donate and support things they believe, why can't chic fila? It is always amazing in how we can be so supportive of other's feelings except when related to christianity or the right. No corporation is obligated to support or not support any issues. If yo do not agree with them then boy cot their product. America was suppose to be built on coexisting yet excepting our differences and not on forcing us all to be the same.

    February 6, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • grist

      They are clearly free to be bigots but those of us who act ethically towards others are free to refuse to patronize them.

      February 6, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Grist, supporting one group does not make them bigots. Jeez, if everyone would get over the "it's all about my agenda!" mentality, these issues would be easier to solve.

      February 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • macdonnall

      CHICK-FIL-A is an honorable vendor who has the right to donate as their convictions dictate. For ANYONE to say otherwise is a rebuke of our American freedoms. Those individuals who condemn should go live in a Communist state and then see what you say. BE TOLERATE AND ENJOY YOUR FREEDOM

      February 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • KennyG

      I think that will start eating there. I like their ethics. I'll bet that their food is just as good.

      February 6, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • DebsRalp

      What is the problem with this world anyhow..there ARE all kinds of ANTI things...not only anti gay.....we all have the right to give food or money to whom we want to ..not everyone believes in gay marriage so what....why does the world or shall I say the Gay community think everyone should be for them...Christian or not....I don't agree with gays let alone gay marriage....but that is my right and I don't need to be attacked by gays because I don't. Home Depot donates money to t he gay rights program...I don't see us with pickets and attacking them...they have their rights....Gay ppl give it a rest and accept the fact that not everyone believes in what you believe...so go hang out with ppl that do and leave the ones that don't believe the way you do ALONE...DO YOUR THING WILL DO OURS........

      February 6, 2011 at 5:28 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.