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. brystel

    Crappy food with fake values. They're not open on Sundays to the public (thelordsday-ugh) BUT, they make their own employees work on Sunday.

    February 7, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Reality


      Every Chick-Fil-A store I have driven by on a Sunday has an empty parking lot so the employees are walking to these stores on Sunday?

      February 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  2. SpaceCowboy

    Finally, a company willing to take a stand and not capitulateo a group of people who feel they need to force their agenda down everybody else's throat even though they represent a very small minority of the American public. This is exactly why I will continue to spend a ton of money at Chik-Fil-A, including family meals and company funds for corporate gatherings. Good food, good service, good old American traditional values. As a business professional, I applaud Chik-Fil-A's business model. As a Christian, I applaud their corporate culture, the image they project and the family's faith in God.

    February 7, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  3. ProfessorX

    It goes to show you that some people will never be happy. Atheism and the spirit of anti-christ within people compels them to vent their rage and misery because everyday they are confronted with the reality of God' existence and His divine power in the face of Jesus Christ. Their inner turmoil is based on the desire to live a life all on their own terms without being accountable to the one and only Holy God that created them. They will never be satisfied. Even the religious people who demand to have relationship with God on their own terms according to their own schedules, and based on their own desires are no different than a pagan and an atheist. They both serve the very same "god of self" and they need to repent (turnaround ) and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord (the Owner) and Savior.


    The Collapse of Mormonism

    February 7, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  4. Dcolbert

    As you reap, so shall you sow. The truth is that Christian organizations have been organizing boycotts and pickets of various organizations and business operations they disagree with for years, from abortion clinics to radio stations to DisneyLand. The Christian community, by attacking companies like Protctor and Gamble, set early precedents for this kind of response. In effect, they wrote the playbook on how to engage with and terrorize a company that holds values they do not agree with.
    Now, Chick-Fil-A may have never engaged in these kind of practices, but Christian communities as a whole, by not speaking up *against* this kind of behavior, have implicitly endorsed it. Had there been a large voice among the Christian community saying, "It isn't our place to try to cause a negative impact on the profits of a secular company like P&G, or to block abortion clinics and cause more trauma to women already in a horribly traumatic situation, or to try and remove DJs and radio programming that we don't agree with from the airwaves – we can choose for ourselves on these issues, but we do not need to force our spirituality on the larger world" – then targeting Chick-Fil-A would be *wrong*. But Chick-Fil-A is guilty by association. The Christian community has been a poor example of "turning the other cheek" for the last 40 years. They've been a poor example of "removing the plank from their own eye before removing the mote from the eye of their neighbor". If Christians intend to continue to ban, boycott and picket secular businesses, then Christian businesses should expect the same. Remember, secular society isn't who preaches to turn the other cheek. Secular society embraces having a taste of your own medicine.
    Personally, I think Chick-Fil-A is an unfortunate victim, and I like their food and environment. But I also think that Muslims who do not speak up louder about Islamic extremists are partially responsible for the backlash that they are feeling against their religion and culture, in the U.K. and France, for example. Religions that implicitly condone intolerance, hate and oppression will eventually surely meet the same from any secular society they must co-exist with.

    February 7, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  5. Sean

    This is not the first time that the company has been in trouble and won't be the last, I'm sure. Reading the comments, I find it funny that so many want Chick-fil-A to be left alone for their Christian beliefs without knowing or sharing the true facts. Chick-fil-A was sued in the past (and settled) because they discriminate against those who are not "Christian". A Muslim employee was fired for not participating in a Christian prayer AT THE WORKPLACE. The company seems to feel they are above the law.

    February 7, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  6. Matt

    Christians are vile, disgusting people and their religion is both anti-American and anti-progress. They should be herded up and put into camps.

    February 7, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  7. Jim

    "Chick-fil-A Controversy"? "The ongoing Chick-fil-A flap"? Why has CNN placed Chick-fil-A as the center of this story? Why isn't the headline "Gay Rights Groups attack a legitimate business for doing something perfectly legal and within their rights"? Or how about "Gay Rights Groups attempt to limit Freedoms"?

    And why did the Indiana University South Bend go so far as to temporarily suspend Chick-fil-A service in its campus dining facilities? Was it because they are pro-gay? Or was it because they feared pro-gay activists were going to do something violent and endanger their students?

    February 7, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  8. Austin

    So la blank
    You must be one of those who pray to the big killer in the heavens
    So how that going for ya, drank any blood lately or and your god out lololl

    February 7, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  9. T. Bulkeley

    Those that seek and fight for "tolerance" need to learn and show tolerance by tolerating Chick-Fil-A's pro-family and pro-Christain practices. Thank you Chick-Fil-A for being you.

    February 7, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  10. Reality

    Why the owners of Chick-fil-A are the way they are:

    "John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident of birth.

    The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

    The Situation Today

    Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed." J. Somerville

    February 7, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  11. DanW

    I'm hungry. I just want a sandwich. I don't want a sandwich and Jesus. If I can't get just a sandwich I'll go down the street to McDonalds. There's no Church of Kroc.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  12. beeper

    As long as Chick-fil-A serves anyone who walks in, there is nothing anyone can do. As far as the company giving free food to an organization, who cares? They are a private company that is based on Christian principles and they can donate to whoever it wants and just because they give food/money to another Christian organization (that happens to oppose gay marriage) doesn't make them anti-gay. You also can't compare gays to black people or any other minority. I"m sick of hearing that from them and everyone else. You can't SEE gay, so you can't say that gays suffer the same types of discrimination as people of color who can't hide their skin color or ethnic features. What anyone chooses to do in their bedroom is their business. I'm not anti-gay, but I don't believe gay marriage should be legalized. Why? Because gay relationships are pretty darn far from straight relationships (they can't procreate and most gay relationships don't last very long – research it). It's about benefits. Gays already get benefits (insurance, etc) from domestic partnership and it irks me that they can when someone cannot add a parent to their insurance plan. Everyone just needs to suck it up. If you don't like Chick-fil-A, don't eat there. I will continue to eat there because I can't find a rat's a$$ I can give about who the company donates food/money to.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • tink

      I completely agree with every word you said.

      February 7, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  13. Paul LeBlanc

    Anti-anti-gay activists are starting to sound remarkably like Nazis, at the very least, fascist.
    Liberals are never tolerant of anyone else's point of view/opinion. They have an agenda, so get out of their way.

    February 6, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • ChicagoAnthro

      wait, so the church does not have an agenda? I grew up in the church and every single time they got together it was ALL about their agenda to xtianize the world. I mean serious agenda...budgets, spreadsheets, marketing materials, etc = an agenda.

      February 7, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  14. spyke

    I'd also like to point out that most people who tote gay rights believe in evolution, survival of the fittest. So what does that say about gay people being unable to breed with their desired mates.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  15. spyke

    Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.

    February 6, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • ChicagoAnthro

      back atchya

      February 7, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  16. Name*Guest

    Chick fil a is a racist company.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • FoM

      Hey, if it fits their business model...

      February 7, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • MissDaisy

      Racist??? I go to the one in Annapolis, MD...African Americans working all over the place! Biggoted, maybe...but thats their right...racist, definately not.

      February 7, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  17. faithwon

    The LBGT community has the right to every civil liberty that anyone else in America does, including the responsibility to allow others to disagree with their beliefs. Chick-fil-A has the right to operate their business as they see fit. Would someone from the LBGT community who owned a business want any type religious organization (not just Christian) to boycott them and villainize them in the media for donating to a cause they, as a business, supported? The answer is of course "No". Therefore, they should afford Chick-fil-A the same courtesy they would want themselves. None of us has the right to force our beliefs on anyone including those in the LBGT community. Equal rights are a two way street.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Tom

      NUH UHHHH if you're gay it should ONLY benefit you. Don't you know you should agree with everything gay people say and if you don't you're afraid of them?

      February 6, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • CloverGirl

      So you're saying people who disagree with their ideals shouldn't boycott? I

      February 7, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  18. James Jackson

    Brave thinkers of the Renaissance period, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, prevented religious excesses of Christianity that would have led to Sharia-like law. Had it the power, xtians would dictate their will to the rest of the people "for their own good." Religion is a fantasy-based contagion of the mind to be cured by Reason and has no part in government–a good reason for separation of church and state. The US still suffers the consequences of the last presidential religious bigot. Christians fanatics ever lurk in the shadows to step out and take control of the USA just as the Muslim Brotherhood does so now in Egypt for Islam.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • faithwon

      Mr. Jackson, please do not paint all Christians with the same broad brush. I have no desire to impose my beliefs on you because I would like to have the same right not to have your beliefs forced on me. I believe we should all be free to choose what we want to believe in. I know there are many in various forms of religion who are militant about their beliefs, but there are also many people within those religions who are living out a life of their beliefs without forcing it on others.

      February 6, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Melissa Pelton

      your comment has absolutely nothing to do with Chick-fil-A's choices, perhaps you should post your comment on a political site...our country suffers from the sins of our for-fathers, not George Bush. The challenge for you would be to open a Bible-preferably NIV version, read it and study it...

      February 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  19. Jmh181

    Welcome to America, folks.

    Chick-fila is free to donate to whatever cause they feel is appropriate, as is any business.

    I, as a consumer, can choose not to spend my money there if I don't agree with them.

    I think Chick-Fila is very foolish for taking sides on such a controversial issue, especially one that is certain to end in equal rights for gays. Not only are they isolating customers in growing markets, but heir history will have a big black mark on it 50 years from now. Shame on them.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Paul LeBlanc

      Self- righteous crap. You and three other people think there is a stain on Chick-Fil-A. The rest of the country will continue saving cows for years to come. Stand for what you want but don't spread your hate and intolerance.

      February 6, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • CloverGirl

      Paul, three people on this board does not equate to three people in the country.

      February 7, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Another Rachel

      I don't see how donating food is "taking sides". I think you and so many other people are blowing this out of proportion. But by all means, if it makes you feel better to boycott Chick-fil-A, do it! It only means shorter lines and better service for the rest of us who don't don't care about your "cause".

      February 7, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • THX

      The only black mark I see is a big black cow spot on their sign. Mmm. Love me some Chik-Fil-A. Eat more chik'n!

      February 7, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  20. Andrew

    Chick Fil-A. Good values. Good food. Freedom of choice and conscience. If you don't like them don't eat there. But, don't try to force your values on them. Period.

    February 6, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Logic

      I have to wonder if a pro gay marriage group even asked for a food donation or better yet denied one because of their beliefs? As usual too much to do about nothing!!!

      February 7, 2011 at 9:42 am |
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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.