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. Heyhey

    I'm an atheist and I don't care if Chick-fil-A is a Christian organization and wants to live by their Christian rules.

    My only qualm with them is this: why can't they just hire Jews to work the Sunday shift, and give them Saturday off instead? It's a win win for EVERYONE.

    So.. I'm guess this means they're not going to open a CFA in San Francisco then, eh?

    February 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Grey, Atlanta

      Hire Jews to work in Chic-Fil-A on Sundays? What a novel idea! Except that you will not find many Jews willing to work for a Baptist owned business requiring that employees pray to Jesus before they open the store. Moreover, you will not find many Jews (if any) willing to work for a minimum wage. Find yourself some Seventh Day Adventists.

      February 5, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  2. John L

    All the libs say we must be tolerant, but champion something that they don't agree with and watch the hate!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  3. Dan

    Words such as discrimination and hatred are bandied about a little too shrilly in our message boarding culture warring world. One can be opposed to gay marriage without hating or discriminating. That opposition has consequences, and will limit Chick-fil-A's business in some areas while enhancing it in others. As a Christian I am tired of being defined by the extremes of both sides. I would encourgage anyone to dig a little deeper into mainline Christian theology before painting everyone with the conservative evangelical culture warriour brush. I would also suggest that tolerance is a two way street.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  4. JeLa

    Are you kidding?? Chick-fil-A? Their food is absolutely awful, their service not much better, and they made news?? Come on CNN. You are really stooping to new lows now. I don't subscribe to ANY religious zealot-cult-organization and I don't appreciate it where I might choose to eat. Fortunately, their food is so bad, I'll never feel I'm missing anything if I never have another meal there again. Call me snooty if you want because I'm a chef and I prefer good food.....but seriously, KFC does a better job and doesn't shove religion down your throat with your purchase!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  5. Jake

    Guess it's off to McDonald's for Chicken Sandwiches from now on. I really hate when a company's idiotic policies sully their product for me.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • @Jake

      Whew, thanks Jake. One less person ahead of me in line at CFA. Stay strong, Mr. Cathy!!

      February 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  6. yeti37

    If you are going to boycott CF, then stop buying Fords because Henry Ford was anti-Semitic. And don't stop there. Boycott any company that does something someone believes to be un-PC.

    If you don't like the company's policy, then don't buy it. Simple as that.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  7. kidbyte

    Pardon my "non-Christian" statement, but Chik-fil-a kicks ass! After reading this article, I am going there for lunch! I really like their food, but especially their politeness and great service! I have no qualms with the gay community, I just recognize great food and great service when I see it. Rock on CFA!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • H

      you obviously don't recognize great food since chick-fil-a is laughably one of the most disgusting fast-food venues HAHAHA


      oh man you must be really poor...

      February 5, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • @H

      I disagree with, but support, your opinion about their food. You have every right to your opinion and to express it publicly.....and CFA has the same right to their opinions.

      February 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  8. Kathleen

    I personally will not choose to eat there, but they can do as they please.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  9. NT Vegas

    There are a lot of faithful Christians as well as other faithful religions in Las Vegas, NV. But they won't open one here. Not all of the people here are sinners.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  10. Debbie

    I honestly don't care what religion they're based on, they make a damn good chicken sandwich (minus the pickle on mine, thank you). I hate that they're closed on Sundays, cause that's usually when I may eat some fast food. But, if I'm craving one of their sandwiches, and they're open, I drive right thru.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  11. Confused

    Wait, wait, Wait...

    This is a corporation who donated to a group or organization in which they believe. So if they would have donated to Perez Hilton's favorite Pro-Gay group they would have been held up by the media as a paragon of tollerance and sophistication...

    Yeah, THAT'S not biased in ANY way.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • H

      confused you truly are what your name says

      any company can donate to what they believe in.

      if your company believes in the KKK they can certainly donate. However the public will judge that company's values. In this case much of the public is disgusted since the majority of people are not anti-gay and the numbers of anti-gay are declining as average education level rises.

      don't be bitter just because the country is fed up with fundamentalist christians and their invisible sky-daddy stories

      February 5, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • hahahaha

      Confused, I agree with you 100%. It is only right when it supports gay issues. Anything else is considered wrong. But, I am sure the gay community will start backing anti-gay groups any time now, in the name of unbiased fairness. It flies in the face of what THEY stand for and live by, but it is only fair.

      February 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  12. dcdave2011

    liberals will ruin everything to make sure everyone is as unhappy as them. mind your own business and either eat at chic fil a or shut up.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • H

      dcdave I take it you never finished any sort of education past the level of GED

      hillbillies are ruining this country

      February 5, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  13. Sean

    ghs, what is huge about this story? This story is on a blog hidden at the bottom of cnn's website. Whats sad is that some people are able to justify denying civil rights to others based on an unprovable belief.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  14. Steve (the real one)


    You mean someone other than God? Oh, I dunno, maybe those who truly believe in Him?

    February 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  15. DanO

    While this establishment has every right to be christian based, they seem to be using the old right wing wordage.... "hate the sin, love the sinner" They will gladly take who they believe to be the sinners money and use it against them to take away peoples rights!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • PleezThink

      What rights are they taking away Dan?

      February 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • hahahaha

      They are ignoring the unspoken right gays feel they have to force everyone to agree with them and follow their agenda, no matter what.

      February 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  16. Trevor, Austin, TX

    They may be a Christian oriented restaurant, but the only way the average customer would have any inkling of that is because they are closed on Sundays. Their food is delicious, I happily scarf it down even though I am an atheist.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  17. RONNIE

    How stupid ! So I assume they do not hire gays or non-christians ? Like muslims or mormons ?

    February 5, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  18. Sal

    Businesses should not be promoting religion of any kind period!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  19. Christina

    Chick-fil-a is Church of Christ affiliated, not Southern Baptist.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • OK mom

      The Cathey family are Southern Baptist. Not, Church of Christ, and not Mormon, for the several other references to same that I'm finding on the internet. The business holds a Christian value base, but are not "affiliated" with any specific church group.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  20. AEK

    Personally I could care less what they do with their food. But I wonder if they still sell food to gays? Do they turn down gay business? Otherwise they would be, uh, hypocrites. I am not Christian, but it seems to me that you folks are so defensive. If you truly believe, what are you so worried about. G-d loves us all and He will judge us in the end. What was that about casting the first stone? What was that about loving your neighbor? What was that about turning the other cheek? Just words I guess.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • PleezThink

      What does that have to do with giving away some food? Is it hypocritical to feed somebody that you agree with? You would rather the pro marriage group nt be able to say what they believe? So you are for censorship?

      February 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • ASW

      It is not hypocritical to feed those you agree with.

      But if the one you are feeding as an active advocate that speaks out on a politically charged issue, it is hypocritical to insist that you should not be criticized for it.

      February 5, 2011 at 1:55 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.