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)

    I really don't care whether they are Christian, Jew, or Muslim. As long as they keep handing out free smoked honey barbeque sauce I'm a happy camper

    March 3, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  2. jj

    The ONLY prejudice here is by those that hate Christians and Christianity. All that this company did was donate food to a group. It is those with hate in their hearts that twist that gracious donation into some sort of prejudice and thereby show their total bias and supposedly social agenda. Too many people forget, that this company has the right to freedom of religion, and they didn't even exercise that, all they did was donate food.

    March 3, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  3. TK

    What I do not get is that people are making a fuss about Chick-fil-A giving food to a non-gay group, and if Chick-fil-A did give food to the gay group, you would have the non-gay group complaining. It is a no win situation for Chick-fil-A because they cannot please everybody. Sure you can say they can do both groups, but then the extremist from both groups will be at Chick-Fil-A for serving their "enemy," therefore Chick-fil-A cannot please everyone. How about you go where you want to go without complaining their views because if you do not like their views, why did you go there in the first place?
    One thing that Chick-fil-A has and no other fast food place (that I have found) is that they value customer service, where they have host and hostess going around the place and making sure you have everything, kind of a like a waiter at a higher place restaurant, AND they always tell you to have a good day with a smile.

    March 2, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  4. Darwin

    SURPRISE! There is NO "biblical definition of marriage", unless you want to count the numerous references in the OT to polygamy. Jesus NEVER defines marriage as between "ONE man and ONE woman", because Jewish law allowed for taking of more than one wife.

    March 2, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  5. Will

    I wonder if the LGBT community has really thought this through. Isn't most of the food grown in this country grown in the Bible Belt? And aren't most of the people in the Bible Belt pretty strong traditional Christians? So, by this standard, shouldn't they boycott most of the food served in this country? At all restaurants? And grocery stores?

    Honestly, if you're going to start boycotting places because they serve their community with free food, you're going to run out of allies soon. The biggest problem with the LGBT community is that sometimes their activism gets ahead of their brains.

    March 1, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  6. colinsquat

    I hereby call a halt to these proceedings.

    February 27, 2011 at 3:57 am |
  7. Holly M

    Way to go Chick-fil-A. You've now added yourself to a list of retailers where I don't have to spend my hard earned money. Keep fueling the hatred against people you are different from and hopefully you'll put yourself out of business. Acceptance is key to understanding. You holier than thou's have a lot to learn if you think your going to get past the pearly gates.

    February 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  8. Alain

    One other thing, if anyone even cares, religious intolerance have started many conflicts throughout history. Is this what we want? Look at the at the Irish situation with the Protastants and the Catholics. They have been fighting forever because of religious beliefs.

    February 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Carl

      Sound much like the Sunni and the Shia...?

      February 28, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  9. Alain

    Good for Chick-Fil-A. They have beliefs that they believe in and they are sticking to their guns. The store near where I live have a few gay employees and they are not treated any differently. Yes, the chain does have a Christian view, but they do not force their beliefs upon others. The gay employees there are treated fairly and with dignity and I think that how they are treated should be a model for the rest of the gay bashing world!!!! Look at Ford Motors, they treat gay employees well too. For all the gay bashing populus, get a life and leave the gay community alone.

    February 23, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  10. Kyle

    ILet's focus on the important things here: Dreamcones, and the 64 nugget tray for 22 dollars. Polynesian sauce. Now they bluecheese sauce as well, so you can dip the nuggets in buffalo sauce and bluecheese...........ughhhh so good

    February 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  11. john

    I 100% support chic fil a. And I go to school at harvard and applaud them for their stand for righteousness. They are a private organization and are free to do what they want. And because of their Christian model, they are one of the most successful businesses in America. EAT MORE CHICKEN!

    February 21, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  12. Magwah

    Its ok to believe differently.....if Chic Fil A offends you then there is Kentucky Fried....I don't agree with everything Wal Mart does or Target or GAP and yet I manage to shop....support those who agree with you...God Bless America!

    February 21, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  13. MaAv55a

    Knowing what I do now about their restauraunts,...

    I want to support them MORE than EVER!
    Plus they make the best damned chicken sandwiches!

    February 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  14. Sharon

    While I'm a supporter of gay rights, I don't feel any animosity towards Chick-fil-A. They said they respected and loved people who disagree with their stance on marriage, and I truly appreciate that sentiment. Too often we find intolerant and disrespectful people of both sides of the argument.

    February 19, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  15. SG

    Just as it's their right to donate money where ever they want, it's my right to choose not to eat in their restaurant. The bottom line is I'd rather not let my hard earned money contribute to the oppression of lgtb Americans.

    February 18, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • MaAv55a

      Wow. Just like I *want* my hard earned money to go to organization that does *NOT* promote a perverted lifestyle. To each their own. I'll be supprting Chick-fil-A.

      February 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • gj

      oh man, donating food is causing this problem for chick-fila-a!! I don't think cfa have any problem donating food for any gay groups as well, go ask you will receive as well. And that is called true love.

      February 21, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  16. shutahekup

    I support Chick-fil-A for staying true to their faith.

    February 18, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  17. toshmaster1

    Guess we are done eating here

    February 18, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  18. SC Diva

    They can donate to any organization they want. My goodness. So silly!

    February 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  19. Chris

    I love Chick-fil-A's chicken sandwiches. As long as they insist on their prejudice, I have to boycott them. I encourage all who respect the rights of ALL Americans to do the same.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • frank

      More chicken for me!

      February 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • VB

      Prejudice? "While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage,” the statement continued, “we love and respect anyone who disagrees.” This is called conviction, and tolerance of those who disagree. The only prejudice I see is in your intolerance of their beliefs.

      February 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Chris

      I didn't attack their beliefs. If they want to specify that they don't believe good, law-abiding gay people should be allowed to marry, I will simply take my buisness elsewhere. Most of my family is Christian, and I haven't boycotted them. So maybe you should go and check the definition of prejudice, half-wit.

      February 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • MaAv55a

      Now I want to support Chick-fil-A even MORE than ever! I think I'll go get a chicken sandwich there tonight.
      Wow. A store where I can actually say blessing over the food and no one will ask me to leave.
      What a nice place eat.

      February 20, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Jules

      I have Lesbian friends and relatives but I think Chick FilA has every right to do what it wants in regards to this matter. Gay rights shouldn't be imposed on them if they don't believe in it. Personally, not sure where I stand on the subject – whether I'm for or against gay marriage but even if I decide I'm 'for it' doesn't mean I should impose this view on others. Marriage was originally set up for a union between man and woman whether you like it or not. Wonder if other countries with people of different faiths support gay marriage? I don't think Islam does. At least we're lucky enough in this country to be able to debate it. If you don't agree with Chick FilA them by all means boycott it. I love their chicken and don't feel strongly enough about gay marriage rights to care.

      February 22, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Todd S

      To say a person or organization is tolerant of a group while at the same time seeking to restrict thier legal rights is no less hypocrtical than to say that you're free to believe in christianity yet not be allowed to go to church.

      February 25, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Lee

      I don't believe I have ever seen chikfilet turn a single gay customer away from the sales counter. Prejudiced? I think not. Just because they support one organizations views doesn't make them the bad guy. I applaud them for standing up for what they do believe in. Especially these days when people chastise and criticize people when they do stand up for their own beliefs. I applaud them and encourage them to continue to be public in their support. They have that right and should not be bullied by any organization that opposes them due to difference of opinion or belief. Its been long understood that gay rights advocates would stoop to any level possible to push their own agenda. And its about time someone stood up and said, "Hey I don't care if you like it. Its what I believe and this is America."
      On a second note, there are many corporations that totally oppose chikfilet for their simple policy of being closed on Sundays. Due to their religious beliefs, they see Sunday as a day of rest and worship. From the employees point of view it is nice to know they have a guaranteed day off. Many other corporations see this as a threat to their scheduling policies and that their own employees may speak up and request the same thing. It boils down to greed and the almighty dollar. And those same corporations would easily stop to covertly work through such abominations as gay rights groups to subvert and discredit great companies like chikfilet.
      Chikfilet, kudos to you. Do not let anyone tell you how to run your company. Stick to your guns and remain public about it. I will continue to shop your stores and may even do so more now.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • jj

      Where is the prejudice? They donated free food to a group. Only those twisting an agenda make that into some form of prejudice. That is really picking through a lot of hay to find a needle, but actually points to the hate, and prejudice of those who claim is such.

      March 3, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  20. Cleborp

    But the make good chicken...

    February 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
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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.