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. Anon

    I absolutely refuse to eat at chick fil a because of their religious fanaticism. Religion has NO place in business! I am NOT a christian and don't want their stupid religion shoved in my face. Also the people that work there are obnoxiously happy and nice, just give me my stuff and keep you religious views to yourself!

    February 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Benjamin

      So you're telling us that you're angry because Christians are happy?

      That's ironic.

      February 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  2. Walking Bear

    Chick-fil-a should be able to donate to whomever they like. That being said, as a business, why would you donate to anyone/anything? It's only going to anger some segment of your customer base. Don't donate at all. It saves money, and doesn't isolate customers.

    February 7, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  3. Cynic

    Good to know that there is another reason for not patronizing Chik a Fil.

    February 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  4. forallpeople

    The ho-mo-se-xual lifestyle is dangerous and should be discouraged.

    Ho-mo-se-xuals spread HIV and other se-xually transmitted diseases at a transmission
    rate 100 times greater than non-ho-mo-se-xuals and 20% of ho-mo-se-xuals have HIV.
    Life expectancy with HIV is 10 years.

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

    Preventing HIV and se-xually transmitted diseases among gay and bi-se-xual men is a
    top CDC(centers for disease control) priority. Visit the CDC website for more proof.

    Encouragement of the ho-mo-se-xual lifestyle must stop. Everytime another child is
    encouraged to be a ho-mo-se-xual another life is exposed to HIV and other se-xually
    transmitted diseases.

    Same se-x marriage encourages the ho-mo-se-xual lifestyle and therefore harms
    society. Promiscuity and infidelity are an integral part of the ho-mo-se-xual
    lifestyle. Same se-x marriage will increase the promiscuity and infidelity in
    marriage and harm marriage as the building block of society and facilitate
    legalization of polygamy and other relationships harmful to society. Same se-x
    marriage provides an unhealthy environment and unhealthy parental influence due
    to ho-mo-se-xuality for raising and influencing children to become ho-mo-se-xuals.

    Ho-mo-se-xuality is not proven to be genetic. Ho-mo-se-xuals want protection for the
    ho-mo-se-xual lifestyle that harms society. The u.s. cons-t-itution 14th amendment
    does not provide equal protection of the law for ho-mo-se-xuality or any other
    vices known to man.

    February 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  5. food

    there food is so good!!!!!!!!!!

    February 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  6. dragonwife

    I'm sure if people did some research, they'd find many cases where a restaurant, fast food chain, or any other kind of company donated or supplied food, goods, or services to a group whose agenda would upset another group. This one just happened to get publicized because Chick-Fil-A makes no secret of its owners' feelings and principles. I am by no means a religious person, nor am I either gay or anti-gay. However, I feel that as long as a business itself is not actually discriminating against a class or group of people (whether overtly or covertly), they should be able to run their business as they see fit. Does Chick-Fil-A preach to gay customers, or exclude them from their stores, or even care whether a person is gay or not as long as he or she spends money in their restaurant? I sincerely doubt it. Like most businesses, they're in it for the money. I will continue to enjoy their food whenever I get a chance (sadly, not often, because there are none in Nebraska). I will also continue to enjoy the company of my gay friends, and, like them, leave my indignation for more obvious examples of injustice.

    February 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  7. BernieD

    Why do these gay group people have to demand that everyone should believe the way they believe. If they are true believers of freedom and respect then they should start exercising these beliefs themselves by respecting the beliefs and opinion of other people that are differrent from them. The problem with these people are they are shouting double standard when they themselves are exactly doing these. How can other people respect them then!!!!

    February 7, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • LP

      Why do these Christian group people have to demand that everyone should believe the way they believe. If they are true believers of freedom and respect, then they should start exercising these beliefs themselves by respecting the beliefs and opinions of other people that are differrent from them. The problem with these people is that they are shouting "double standard" when they themselves are applying them. How can other people respect them then?

      February 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  8. Adam

    I'm so tired of this garbage...why does everyone try to tie everything into politics and propaganda. I will continue to shop at Target and I will continue to eat at Chick-fil-A (even though I don't eat much fast food anymore). I don't care of Chick-fil-A beat hobos in back alleys so long as their keep the quality of their products up.

    February 7, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  9. jsa

    Good for Chick-fil-A! I am so sick of every minority and special interest group thinking every corporation should change to accommodate them. CFA has great food and always been one of our favorites. Seeing them not bow to these idiots makes me want to go even more often. We need more companies like them!

    February 7, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  10. Rev. Joseph Reeder

    Thank your Chick-Fil-A for standing up for what is right and supporting others that do the same. I will make it a point to eat at your restaurant today. God bless.

    February 7, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • David, CA

      Maybe you can pray that your arteries won't clog with all that grease from their food. May God bless your new super-sized form. Pray for reinforced pews at your church.

      February 7, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Peter Wiggin

      @David, CA – Troll of the day.

      February 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  11. Missing Chick-Fil-A

    I just want a Chick Fil A in Connecticut darn it. I really don't care that they are conservative Christians. A black man and woman can't be a married couple in a commercial but a gay couple can but car insurance together – that seems unfair to me and my husband, but I still purchase car insurance.

    February 7, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  12. Loopman

    I'm a firm believer in the saying that you can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but when you try to please all the people all the time, you've just crossed over into uncharted territory, because it can't be done. As every business owner finds out soon enough, there are going to be people that like your product and the way you do business and there will be people that don't. To those that don't, I would say that they can just keep on walking down the street until they find something that is to their liking. And if they come to my business telling me how I should or should not run it, my response would be to not let big door hit you where the good lord split you on your way out.

    February 7, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  13. Glenn

    Chick-fil-a makes the best sandwich of any fast food place . I would hate to be a gay man who loves fried chicken on a bun . You would have to use your closet skills to enjoy really tasty chicken .

    February 7, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • David, CA

      Or we can just choose to eat healthier foods- one's not soaked in fatty grease and live longer. Probably a good thing NOT to eat their food.

      February 7, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Benjamin

      ah, your ignorance is shining brightly today...

      February 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  14. Onedayyouwillcrybecauseyoumissedout

    if the same story has been wrote about the same meanings, don't you think it might be true?

    February 7, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  15. Onedayyouwillcrybecauseyoumissedout

    if the same story has been writing alot with the same meanings, don't you think it might be true?

    February 7, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  16. Matt

    I SUPPORT Chick-Fil-A!!! It is wonderful to have a family restaurant where Godly and family values are evident, and NO ONE ELSE is excluded for believing or living any differently. Since when did wholesome love and strong character become values that this country no longer feel it needs?

    February 7, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • David, CA

      @MATT- it's when that "wholesome love and strong character " is hypocritical, false, and reserved for only a portion of the population that it becomes an issue. Is it strong character to single out a group for discrimination an hatred because they're made different? Is it wholesome love to single out a group and preach false thins about them to spread that fear and hate?
      No it's sickening and hypocritical.

      February 7, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • LWH Here

      Matt asks when strong character became a bad thing. When did strong character mean you wither into a hate-filled pillbug at the sight of a gay person? I'd love to put you in a room with a group of gay youth who are just starting out life so you could scream at them for hours and hours until you lost your voice how they would all burn and burn and burn forevermore. Yep, you're godly all right! Enjoy a life of judgment of others and denial of basic human equivalency. IT'S YOURS!

      February 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Benjamin

      Matt didn't say any of those things in the above post. Knowing that a lifestyle choice is morally wrong and treating it as such is not the same as hating the person who made the choice. Loving the sinner does not equate to supporting the sin,

      Thats what strong moral chatacter is about.

      February 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  17. LL

    I went to a college where Truett Cathy established a flagship scholarship program and was a big financial contributor the the college. When I was in the school there during the late 90s, a group of students tried to establish an official, school-recognized organization called GLAS (Gay and Lesbian Awareness Society) with the same rights and acknowledgement of any other social club/organization (e.g. the Chess Club). It went before the board and was denied, and it was said at the time that Truett Cathy's sway was in large part the reason why the charter didn't pass. It was said that he threatened to pull funding from the college if this organization became school-sanctioned. So when I see Dan Cathy's official statement that "While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage, we love and respect anyone who disagrees,” I scoff. As a former employee of Chick-Fil-A and alumna of the above referenced college, my experience demonstrates otherwise. That's not respect or love.

    February 7, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Peter Wiggin

      That statement is all well and good but where are you getting your "facts". Do you have any links that prove this? If not then it's just conjecture at this point.

      February 7, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  18. Tdogg

    Chick-fil-A can take whatever stance they want – it's a free country after all. If the owners want to spend their profits supporting anti-gay organizations, so be it. Just don't be surprised if gay people don't want to frequent their establishment, and have their money go towards the anti-gay cause. That's a product of a free country as well – it goes both ways. It's not "PC" it's just what it is. My choice is to not eat at Chick-fil-A, and therefore, not have my hard earned money go to organizations who do not believe I'm an equal citizen. Pretty simple actually. All that and their food isn't all that great anyway.

    February 7, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Anita

      Actually, their food is that good, and most people will continue to eat there because of the quality of the food and service, gay or not.

      February 7, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Benjamin

      Sounds like you haven't ever actually eaten at Chick-Fil-A
      Their food is really good.

      February 7, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  19. Dcolbert

    Let me clear up this question, "Are Mormon's Christians".

    If you're a Christian, then Mormons are *not* Christians. Neither are Catholics, or Protestants, or you know, anyone else that believes in the same doctrine but doesn't go to YOUR Church. The Catholics and the Protestants even have the same prayers, with tiny little changes, so you can tell which Church you're in. For fun, go to a Catholic Mass and do the Protestant version of the Lord's prayer and watch the heads turn.

    If you're not a Christian of any sort – they're all pretty much the same. What did someone call it above, "A potentially dangerous cult".

    So what we have here is a debate that is a matter of perspective and semantics. If you are not a Christian, and you find yourself having an argument with someone over if a group IS or ISN'T Christian, and he disagrees with you, what he is really saying is, "Those people are not in MY Church, and therefore, NOT Christian" – where what you mean is, "you're all part of the same potentially dangerous cult".

    There. I fixed it.

    February 7, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • forwardroll

      This is factually incorrect. Catholics, at least ones under the age of 80, think that all churches that use the bibile as their 'good book' and believes Jesus is the son of God and their savior are christian.

      I think Mormons are not because they have another book that was added to the bible.

      February 7, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Eatmorchikin

      @forwardroll– The Book of Mormon contains the writings of prophets that lived in North America from 600 BC to 400 AD. The point of the book is to testify that Jesus is the Christ, that He died for our sins, and that He was ressurrected after being crucified. In fact, the Book of Mormon stands as a powerful witness that the writings contained in the Holy Bible are true and that Christ really did perform all the miracles contained in the New Testament. Mormons believe in the Bible and that Jesus is the literal Son of God.

      February 7, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Beth

      Sorry, dude. You are completely incorrect. I am not religious, so don't go trying to call me a bible thumper or anything, but Mormons are Christian. They believe in CHRIST, who is not only in the new testament, but also in the Mormon book. Anyone who believes in Christ is a CHRISTian. Now, whether a group believes another group is going to hell is a totally different story. Most protestants believe that anyone who accepts Christ is going to heaven, but Mormons believe there are limited seats (less than there are Mormons, actually) and of course Catholics think everyone is going to hell – including most Catholics.

      February 7, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Benjamin

      Beth, you're confusing your religions there in the end of your post. Jehovah's Witnesses believe in the limited seats, not Mormons.

      February 7, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • ESN

      Hey just a little clarification about Catholics and Protestants not being Christians...Any religion, denomination or movement that is based on Christ is Christian. I met a guy in Kuwait who is muslim. He grew up near Catholic and Baptist missionary schools and said that these people are Christian. I explained that in the U.S. we have many flavors of Christianity like Baskin Robbins. So if it based on Christ it is Christian.

      February 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  20. JS in Northeast

    I am so sick and tired of political correctness and people/companies being villified for the choices they make. We live in the United States where people/companies have a freedom choose who their firends/business partners are. If someone or some group gets offended because of this tough. Get over it and move on. We have freedoms here in the US to do as we want.

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

      Yes, we have the freedom to make those choices. After making those choices you have to deal with the other free people who can make choices that include boycotting you, writing letters and protesting. I guess you are sick of some of the freedom the US provides. I'm not.

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

      I am so tired of the media/hollywood/civil right orgs. telling us that we have to except the lifestyles of the lesb/trans/gay/bi groups as a public display or that we have to support their cause. Do what you do but don't expect your way to be my way. If chick -fil chooses not to donate to your cause-why force them. Why should your belief system be more important than anyone else? The media should stop forcing their distrubing stories on us. Chick-fil is private and the last I knew we were upset because the laws were changing our country to socialism but this is okay? Christians need to stand up and take this country back from all the darkness. What are you doing about this- all of you Mega churches with mega money? Whaaaaaaaat?? Speak louder I can't hear you! O you said NOTHING! That what I thought........

      February 7, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • David, CA

      Dear Lord, please bless all the obese greasy chicken chugging supporters of your favorite fast food chain. Please reinforce the pews of their churches with the holiest of steel to accommodate their sagging girth! Let not their arteries be clogged with the fatty residue of their gluttonous holiest of fried chicken consumed in extra wide booths and properly sanitized environs of your fast food temple! Let the health heathens cry and gnash their celery sticks in anguish at the flabby, waddling hulks of your self-righteous horde! Super-size my gullet and my soul o Lard!
      And yes- I'll have a diet coke with that.

      February 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Tired, if you write your post the opposite way then you answered your own questions and provided your own counterarguments. JS, I agree political correctness is getting out of hand. However, I have to point out as has already been done so, that just because you can say something doesn't mean you should. Freedom of speech doesn't mean people can't react negatively to what you said, that's their own freedom of speech in action.

      February 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • LWH Here

      Of course companies should have such freedoms! How else can we know not to frequent businesses like Chick-Fil-Hate? I would love to see companies like Chik-Fil-Hate given carte blanch to post signs on their doors saying IF YOU ARE GAY YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE. NO SHIRT NO SHOES NO SOUL NO SERVICE! Then intelligent gay custumers, such as myself, could know NEVER – EVER – to frequent such establishments. I wish I knew if "jS IN NORTHEAST" was a business-owner, so I could not only refuse to patronize his/her businesses, but could also urge all my friends not to frequent such businesses, could picket such businesses and could let the world know not to frequent such businesses. I wish, JS, that you could espouse your hatred of gay people on every single billboard in the country, so that your hatred could be put on statues in your honor in city parks. I think your words deserve to be placed on banners as high as they eye can see and worn by the elderly snarl-faced mob at Tea Party rallies! YOU GO GIRL!

      February 7, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • JonQ

      Of course the liberal left has a right to oppose Chick-fil-a just as Chick-fil-a has the right to give their money to whomever they wish. The problem I see is that the left screams tolerance but at the same time cannot seem to tolerate Christians or their way of thinking. Also, it seems as though Mr. Cathy loves and respects gay folks, as Christ did/does, he just opposes their behavior. As a Christian, I can say that no matter who you are or what you do, Jesus loves you and is hoping you will follow him and his commands. If a Christian is truly following the teachings of Christ, they would love and respect all people, even though they may not agree with their decisions. Good job Chick-fil-a.

      February 7, 2011 at 1:19 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.