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. Jay In Florida

    FIrst of all, WHAT CONTROVERSY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT CNN? The controversy you're intent on creating by simply pointing out that these people are christians and they chose to donate food? Is that a terrible thing CNN? Is that reason for the rest of us to believe there's a controversy? CNN HATES anything christian in America.

    February 8, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  2. JPopNC

    Hold fast to your faith Mr. Cathy and don't let anyone pressure you to change your stance just because you chose to provide food to someone who opposed someone else's views. So, if Chick-fil-A provided food to a gay organization and the anti-gay group protested, would there be this uproar?

    February 8, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  3. EM

    Free enterprise. You wanted it, you got it. This is a private business functioning in a freely operating marketplace. If you don't like that, you should not have supported Ronald Reagan in his world-wide destruction of communism in the 1980s.

    Don't like their policy? Don't buy their food. It's your freedom to not purchase, and it's their freedom to sell. It's also your freedom to complain about them, and it's also their freedom to run their business any way they wish.

    Free enterprise.

    February 8, 2011 at 1:24 am |
  4. Aaron

    Better than average food,clean facilities, consistantly polite employees; sounds like a recipe for a successful business. If you do not like it then do not give them your hard earned money...

    February 7, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  5. ralph

    I am an athiest. I think all religions are pretty useless. BUT i am tolerant. As long as you are not crazy I am fine with it. I think some humans NEED religion as it gives them hope. I don't need it. I like my lazy Sundays. I like knowing when I'm dead I'm dead. I am not afraid of death in any way. I have friends from all different religions. I eat at Chick Fil A because it's damn good. The customer service is fantastic. Everytime you go through the drive through someone says, "My pleasure" and seem to mean it. Hella better than Walmart's customer service. I wish they were open on Sundays but it's their right.

    February 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  6. LL

    All you people need to get a life. Really!

    February 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  7. 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 4:58 pm |
    • No god? God no!

      To this day I am amazed that seemingly intelligent people from all walks of life can still earnestly believe that some ethereal space god started everything. From creating light to making a woman out of a man's rib to the idea that the Earth is 6000 years old. No wonder people are called sheep in the Bible.

      Oh yeah, and all other religions with their stories are all wrong too! Whatever religion you are, yours is the right one.

      Dream on

      February 7, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Dalek

      As an atheist, I can say that a private company can give money to whomever they wish. Being atheist doesn't preclude one from being sensible just as being religious doesn't. If people don't like who a company supports then don't spend your money there. I'd like for someone to tell me how you believer types would have reacted if CFA had given food to a pro-choice group or an LGBT group....I think you would have reacted the same way.

      And I prefer to see the wonder of the universe without it being obscured by looking through glasses tinted by a supernatural being.

      February 8, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • NeutralHUMAN

      You state that all people that are not religious or choose to believe on their terms are going to hell for all eternity? It seems to me that you are the one filled with anger. If you have ever spoken to a true athiest you would see that most of them don't care about a person's religious affiliation, but yet most "christians" seem to base their opinion, or better yet, thier judgement on if and how much a person is religious and if that religion is the same as thiers. Why should that matter if the person is honestly a good person? Why do people like you like to speak down to those that aren't as religious as you? Do you get some satisfaction from saying that they will be damned for all eternity unless they repent??? Last time I checked, the "Catholic, Christian, and other denominations of the Catholic faith's bible says to "Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself". So if you do follow the bible like it is the law (which it is not, because this country was not founded on the basis of religion. Hence Freedom of Religion) then you would not spew hate at your bretheren and accept them as they are.

      February 8, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  8. Kelly

    They use MSG in all their chicken so your tounge thinks it tastes great.

    February 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  9. What the??

    So does this mean these gay rights activists feel companies, private or public, should only donate food, or any other kind of help, only to companies who support the gay community? People who live an alternative lifestyle then thiers (gay community) doesn't disqualify those people from getting help, regardless of whom it comes from. Put your pride aside and take solace in knowing there are companies out there who are willing to help those in need. Not many companies can say that. The gay community is always quick they are quick to be descriminated on, but look at how many times gay groups; activists, try to bring down anyone who doesn't share the same views as their own. Lawsuits, protests, boycotts..........how many times have you heard of anyone who's not gay filing a lawsuit against anyone who does support gay rights? Bottom line, get over it, if you're not being harmed, and people are being helped, what's the problem? There are many other companies that will help, no need to try and bring down a company who won't.

    February 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  10. Nick

    Once again the Left shows its true colors. Why does it matter what a private company does with its charity dollars? Feed the poor, clothe the naked, help the downtrodden... unless they don't agree with us? The TBLG community needs to grow up.

    February 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      In the immortal words of a noted twentieth century philosopher:

      If you want money for people with minds that hate
      All I can tell you is brother you'll have to wait

      Giving money to people who hate isn't charity. It's subsidizing hate and bigotry.

      February 8, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  11. Andy

    Someone get this god out of my chicken.

    February 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • DaveinSC

      oh please your an idiot

      February 8, 2011 at 4:31 am |
  12. TomPaine

    Hmm... So now fast food joints too are engaging in controversial political causes? Can't they just peddle cheap, bland, mass-produced, obesity-friendly fried food like all the other chains?

    February 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • David

      Isn't this a free speech issue? Imagine the outrage if a college suspended a company from doing business on campus if they donated food to a gay marriage rights group? Wouldn't you be up in arms and screaming for blood? What is really odd is that Indiana where the university is has a marrage law on the books that defines marrage as between a man and a woman!!
      So a college bans a company for supporting a stand that is the law in their state?
      I mean really? That seems just wrong as far as free speech is concerned.

      February 8, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  13. Tina

    I don't think Chik-Fil-A is going to go out of business any time soon. At the mall in my neighborhood it is always the most crowded place in the food court. I personally love the food and respect the owners' rights to make donations of free food to whomever they want. I have to add that I have never been treated with anything but respect and dignity by the employees there, and I can't say that about any other establishment!

    February 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  14. MSH

    @ME – Very well said. It's unfortunate that those who attack a company like Chick-fil-A (privately owned) don't understand that they are expediting their own compromise to personal freedom. I guarantee that if someone slandered them (private citizen) and their character in a newspaper about the clothes they "buy" because that clothing company employs underage sweatshops, they would be outraged and scream, "unfair". It seems that so many people don't think beyond today. Their stomach is their god and they bend to whims of their cravings at that moment. Whatever is best for me right NOW! Very sad for them.

    February 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  15. Jim Sherman

    Baptists are not Christians.

    February 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • MudulaOblongotta

      I agree whole-heartedly.

      February 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • To Jim

      So Jim are all Muslims terrorists? By your impressive skills of deduction I would imagine you'd agree with that sentiment. I am a Baptist and a Christian, please do not try to tell me otherwise. I'm sure you don't believe it, but it’s worth saying: The Bible tells us to not put our faith in humans, because humans let us down. Not all Baptists are great I'm sure, but that's not the point. There are however plenty of Christians who are Baptist (make a choice to get baptized as a consenting individual as opposed to as a baby).

      February 7, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Kate

      Excuse me but you have absolutely no right to say that! We are Christians! We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he died for our sins! And before you go bashing us why don't you try actually going to a service, you'll find that we are very committed to the Lord!

      February 7, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Priss

      So, what denomination do you claim? Because as I last checked, people who believe in and follow the Christ are Christians.

      Mormon? They like old men with arranged marriages to little girls, right?
      Catholic? Do we need to go there?
      Lutheran? Can you say works-based faith? Legalists.

      Shall we go down the list and see if we can dig up a few more?

      February 7, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • jm318

      I have to agree on that one !!!

      February 8, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  16. chuck

    Funny how Christians are attacked for not supporting a perverse life style but Muslims are never attacked for supporting the killing of the same perverts.

    February 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • ralph

      Really? You are going to bring Muslims into this? Moron

      February 7, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  17. dan

    I fully support Chick-fil-A and all others that support them and there beliefs, for the gays and lesbians, if you don't like it don't patronize it and hush if you can.

    February 7, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Texas Pete

      Shoot, there is nothing anti-gay about CFA. They can give free food to whoever they want, and if a group want's to whine that they don't like who got the free food, then they can beg for food from someone else.

      February 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  18. JD

    But have the chickens been baptised? That's what I want to know.

    February 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Alan

      Now this is funny:


      But have the chickens been baptised? That's what I want to know.

      February 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • bp

      Yes. In oil.

      February 8, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • Religions are a scam

      To make them tender, the chickens got s panked for sure! 🙂

      February 8, 2011 at 3:37 am |
  19. Belinda

    Major kudos to an excellent company standing behind what they believe it. Excellent food, excellent moral compass!!

    February 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Ungayman

      My girl is from Tampa and loves chic, I think the food is crap.

      February 7, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • rabidmob

      There isn't anything Christian about oppressing people.

      February 8, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • Michael Lauer

      Belinda, you're so right in your opinion. I support all Christian based companies and events. I did not know the Chich-fil-a restaurant was a christian owned business. I can't wait to share this information with others. Michael

      February 8, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Religions are a scam

      god existence is as relevant as your touching yourself – I.e. keep the personal crap to yourself!

      All religions are the subjugation of self AND others – no more; no less. Don't fool yourself, there is nothing humbling about religions.

      February 8, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  20. SpiderMan

    well.............now at least i know which chicken place NOT to visit anymore.....
    (not that i ever did....i always felt a 'weird' ........"this isn't right" kind of feeling when i heard of or was given their food.)

    when i want to eat, i want to eat......no need for cultist, lemming created gods.

    February 7, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Batman

      Nobody cares if you don't eat at chick-fil-a. Instead, you can bring your big mac back to your mom's basement.

      And as for you trash-talking other people's beliefs; really? There is no need to assail persons who have done nothing to you. Keep your antagonistic, disrespectful comments to yourself.

      February 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Karl

      I wish there was a Chick Fil A near me. I love their food and think they are a great business. Go back to Taco Bell SpiderMan. You aren't even a real superhero like superman.

      February 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Jaime

      Well, I am a regular. So much a regular then when I go in, Stephi (who usually works at the counter) knows I want a chicken egg and cheese bagel with hash browns, but no coffee, and my total is $4.50. As of now I plan to stop going to Chick-Fil-A. Trust me, they will notice that I stop showing up. I was out of town on business for a month and they asked where I was when I got back. Somethings are more important than my comfort level.

      It is the Christian thing to do.

      February 8, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Henry Plantagenet

      I guess Batman and Karl believe that free speech is only for people who agree with them.

      And I am positive that they supported the Dixie Chicks boycott a few years ago.

      February 8, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • CatWoman

      I'm with Batman. Arrogance and ignorance are your downfall, SpiderMan.

      February 8, 2011 at 12:09 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.