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. Whocares

    As I said. Who gives a crap. If you don't like it, don't eat there..it's just so complicated isn't it?! You look up see Chik-Fil-A, and simply keep on driving. One less person at the drive thru Is fine with me.

    February 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  2. Justin

    Jesus did say to not be surprised if the world hates you. Looks like He was right. Imagine that.

    February 15, 2011 at 9:16 am |


    February 14, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  4. carlinism

    If the doors of perception were cleansed;
    Everything would appear to man as it is;

    February 11, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  5. Mark

    Don't back down now Mr.T @ Chick-fil-A.....Ac 4:18 And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
    19 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.

    February 10, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  6. Pro-ALL-Life

    GOOGLE: Is grilled chicken a carcinogen?

    Got Cancer?

    February 9, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  7. Jane

    Wow, a company that shows morals without regard to political correctness and are "crucified" for it. I salute Chick-fil-a and will make sure I eat there this weekend (but not Sunday)!

    February 9, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  8. TomTom

    They donate to the anti gay marriage group not because they have Christian values.

    They donate because that will be seen in a positive light by those who are also opposed. Primarily those in their geographical target market.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  9. Wayne

    I am thankful that we still have company's like Chick-fil-a, they have the courage to practice their believes without worrying as to whither it is politically correct or not. We are politically correcting ourselves into a country that I don't recognize anymore. You can be sure my family and I will be patronizing Chick-fil-a even more in the future.

    February 9, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  10. Rachel

    I know for a fact 1st hand that Chick fila is not anti-gay. I have a very good friend who is gay and has had a significant other in her life for over 15 years. My friend is the store manager of a Chick fila. Her girlfriend has always been welcomed at Chick fila family events and parties. This is "news report" is just someone being bored by all the snow we have been having and is tired of being cooped up but still trying to make a paycheck.. How inventive.

    February 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  11. George

    Why do people love Chick-fil-A's food so much? I live in Texas and have never thought it was really anything that special. It still looks and tastes like fast food.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  12. Flip J.

    I enjoyed a delicious Chick-fil-a sandwich today in honor of this article. With fries to boot.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  13. Truth Speaker

    We can all do as we choose and this is not new news at all with that said GOD loves us 'all' so much so that he will never impede on our choice of 'Free Will'. The undeniable truth is – GOD is 'working' us all at this very moment as we spit out our perspectives. One day, at his choosing, we will all see his will. The moral of this story – choose well as your going to live with it for eternity!

    February 9, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • David

      Before the universe existed there was nothing. Universe means everything including god. So before the universe existed there was no god. The universe manifests and dissolves automatically, and cyclically. The concept of nothing contains within it the concept of the potential for something. It is the potential for something that causes the universe to manifest, and once manifested it is the potential for nothing that ultimately causes it to dissolve. There is no role for a creator. He would serve no purpose. As Stephen Hawking put it, "god is not necessary."

      February 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  14. Tony

    Its funny how gay people are critisizing this company for not accepting them for who they are and what they believe. Why don't they practice what they preach and accept this company for who they are and what they believe.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Nik

      Well said, Tony!

      February 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Keith

      Judge not that ye be not judged. We as a gay community are not asking you to join us. We are boycotting because of our beliefs, just as Chick-fil-a is not asking you to believe their way. Quit critiquing each other and start looking at the ways you feell your freedoms are being affected. We have chosen our battles you choose yours and don't be so critical of those you don't agree with

      February 17, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  15. Pro-ALL-Life

    Does doing Gods work including giving people cancer?

    Gays go not give people cancer.

    A decent percentage of Animals are Gay in the animal kingdom. They do not have religion and beliefs to judge them.

    Therefor People eat gay chickens.

    Google- grilled chicken carcinogen?

    Reincarnation and Karma gets us all sooner or later.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Frank Lee

      You really should quit inhaling paint thinner.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  16. Danita

    Funny how people can only define tolerance and acceptance in terms THEY agree with. This country has long been a Christian-based society (@ 85% last time I checked) yet the majority have to justify themselves to the minority who share the exact same roots. Remember: You don't have to HATE to DISAGREE. I love Charles Barkley, but I don't want him as my Governor. In kind, I love ALL PEOPLE, but that doesn't mean I agree with gay marriage. Chick-fil-a has long been a Christian company and everyone knows it because EVERYONE has asked why they are not open on Sunday. This is just a ploy from a group that has been waiting for something to report on this company.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  17. tdr

    So now Chick-Fil-A is baaaddddd because they have their own beliefs? Whatever happen to freedom of choice, freedom of speech, the pursuit of happiness? Well, obviiously it doesn't apply to the folks at Chick-fil-A. Obviously they have to check with the gay community before they can say or do anything. They have to get the gay community's approval before they can support whom they want to. Another example of the gay community trying to strong arm another group into doing what they want. B*S* on them.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Megan

      You're being hypocritical. Surely chick-fil-a has the right, but the gay people just as much have the right to boycott them. It's not "strong arming", it's using the capitalist system to get their point across.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • David

      People are free to believe any stupid thing they want. I'm free to boycott businesses that support stupid things, so I want to know. I never shop Target. My phone company is Credo because they support progressive causes. I don't shop anywhere that plays Rush Limbaugh or any conservative talk show. I don't shop any place that plays Christian or country music. Where you shop determines the world you live in.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Berribrand

      Surely you are not suggesting that gays do not have a right to free speech and a right to protest against corporations that donate to anti-gay and anti-civil rights political organizations? After all, corporations are people, according to ruling by the conservative members of the Supreme Court. And if a person who votes for an anti-gay legislation can be protested against, then a corporation can be protested against just the same. Corporations are people after all, and should be held accountable for their actions.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  18. Jeremy

    Am I missing it? Does the article say who exactly the food was donated to? It could have been donated to the a homeless shelter run by a conservative church for all we know.

    I wish reporters could learn to report complete stories so the reader can make up thier own mind.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  19. alamodefender

    i am sure the pennsylvania company has more of an agenda than simply opposing gay marriage. i oppose foul odors but that isn't my mission in life. being politicaly correct is a full time job,live and let live,beware of the slippery slope.

    February 9, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  20. Mike

    This article has almost nothing truly do with Christianity but more with the fact that the gay community refuses to accept that there are still people, Christian and Non-Christian, that do not feel the need to openly embrace how they chose to live. Tolerance means understanding there are things you cannot change and accepting it without feeling the need to force your views on another. Chick-fil-a did nothing wrong. The gay community needs to live their lives understanding that the same friction they face is what is mention in the article. Going against the flow you learn to accept not all will like it, but you keep pressing on and doing your thing.

    February 9, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • eddie

      Funny you should use the word tolerance in your comment as what Chick-fil-a was supporting was a group that preaches intolerance.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • PCisridiculous

      Private company. Don't like their policy, don't eat there. I don't care what their philosophy is they make the best chicken sandwich on the planet and I go for the food not the ideology.

      Political correctness is ridiculous and people have gone way past the deep end.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Angela

      If I want to donate to a specific cause and pull money out of my own pocket to do so, what / why should it matter to anyone else whom I deem worthy of my hard earned dollar? God loves all his children gay, bi, straight, cross dressers, black, white, hispanic, asian, muslim, indian, etc.... If I donate to the NAACP or the Black College Fund, and I am white ... does that mean that I hate whites or hispanc cultures? If I am a baptist and I donate to a Catholic Church that assists hispanic families that are newly relocated to the USA, does that mean that I hate Native Americans or asian cultures? Remember folks, we are all in this world together. Toleration and acceptance is often HARDER than hate, perhaps hate is the easy way out for some..... but the rewards of toleration and acceptance are much greater than the ugliness that hate brings out in even the "nicest" people. I'm not preaching ... I am certainly not qualified in that department ......I'm just sayin'........

      February 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Kirk

      I am generally intolerant of people who end their opinions with "I'm just sayin'." Clearly, you have just said it, so why announce that fact? -Kirk out.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Steve

      Simple answer: IF you don't like what Chick A Fil A stands for and if you don't like the organizations they support...then don't eat there! Who would want to eat most of the crap on their menu anyway!

      February 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Ditch

      I agree with what you said Mike. As for Eddie you make it sound as though a person can't donate anything to a group that is against gay marriage without donating the same thing to a group that is for gay marriage. I also agree with PCisridiculous. Political correctness has gone way off the deep end. Let people donate to whoever or whatever organizations they want to without fear of repercussions.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Alan

      I ate at a Chick-Fil-A for the first time, yesterday. The most notable items were a very clean restauant, fresh flowers on the table and in the bathrooms, many extra emplyees to serve, refill my drink and keep the dining area clean, free Cheerios cups for any babies, Christian music piped in, and a pretty good sandwich. The sandwich was priced a little higher than KFC, but the overall experience was worth it. There were no posters defaming gays or promoting Christianity. It was obvious that management cares about its employees and its customers. I will go back. I guess that's what running a business is all about.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Berribrand

      Excuse me but gay organizations and gay individuals have a right to free speech and a right to protest their grievances against corporations that fund or donate to political organizations. In this case, we have a business donating food to an organization that is actively seeking to deny and prohibit a certain group of citizens from getting equal civil rights: the right to marry a person of their choice in a civil marriage sanctioned by the government with all of the civil rights, benefits, and responsibilities.

      No one is asking for churches to sanction gay marriages. The ONLY issue on the table is the government granting EQUAL access to the civil rights and civil benefits that every straight American citizen has access to.If a corporation wants to donate to a political organization that is seeking to deny civil rights to American citizens, then that corporation should expect to have their actions called out and protested against. Don't you dare try to deny the right of free speech to gays....

      February 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Tim

      Oh, kind of how black people should have understood that not all non-black people are going to like them and therefore they shouldn't have been so pushy about things like equal rights.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:54 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.