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)
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    July 16, 2012 at 6:25 am |
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  3. Mike J

    Good for Chick-Fil-A!!! At least someone is stilll willing to take a stand for their beliefs. If expanding outside the "bible belt" is going to cause them to "encounter resistance", then so be it. Let it be Chick-Fil-A's problem and not yours(writer of this article), so don't worry about it. There wouldn't be as much "controversy" in this world if it weren't for writers like you. Just worry about you. Obviously, Chick-Fil-A isn't encountering too much resistance. They continue to expand!!!

    March 27, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Jason

      Yes, making people aware is a terrible thing. We should all be kept ignorant. (After all, that fosters Christianity.)

      It's their right to donate to who they want. It's the consumers' right to be informed, and choose to not patronize corporations that will turn around and give their money to an organization that's trying to get the government to deny them, or their fellow americans, essential civil rights.

      April 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  4. sandy blue

    i like chik fil a's waffle fries and they are building one on the route i take to work so i will be eating there. i support gay marriage but if they dont so what? now if theystart killing babies or innocent people then i might change my mind.

    March 27, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
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    February 19, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Mike J

      Go advertise like everyone else in the US. Pay for it!! Quit poaching idiot!!!!

      March 27, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  6. Charles

    I agree that since Chik-Fil-A is a private company, they can donate to whomever they please. If someone chooses not to patronize a company for it's beliefs that's okay, but don't bother others about it. Stop complaining and remember, FREEDOM OF CHOICE.

    October 25, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  7. Jason

    They didn't simply give food to a PTA group or a homeless shelter. They gave free food to a group of people who assemble for the sole purpose of preventing another group of people from enjoying their civil rights (I use the word "rights" because typically, rights of humans aren't put to a vote). This company chose to support something many people believe is a form of bigotry. It's easy to say they're doing no harm when you're not on the other of the groups agenda. There'd be a great uproar if they donated food to a group of KKK members. Supporters of the KKK wouldn't have a problem with it. They'd say "What's the problem? It's just a little free food!" The rest of us would be upset.

    October 25, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • SillyBean

      Spot ON!

      December 2, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • sandy blue

      they can donate to whomever they want to. while i suppport gay marriage, if chik fil a wants to send free food to non supporters, that is their business!!!!!

      March 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Mike J

      It's their "right" to support whatever cause they want to support too. Get over it!!!!

      March 28, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  8. KK

    OMG this is ridiculous... So what Chick fi la catered, donated food to an event regarding marriage.... Really!!!! Everyone has an opinion, a belief....whether that fits yours or the next person so what!!!! This is getting way out of hand...... If you want to be gay, straight, whatever you can't FORCE someone else to believe or feel the same way you do....Its terrible that every religion, belief or stand demands rights but the Christian faith can't just believe and live how they believe. This is AMERICA right????
    GROW UP....Already... This is getting sickening!!

    October 19, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  9. Valerie Ironmonger

    Hang tuff! We are with u.

    October 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  10. Riley

    I never liked drive-thrus anyway.

    October 13, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  11. chocolates

    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.

    May 10, 2011 at 5:29 am |
  12. Fill

    Why do they support the Biblical "wisdom" on marriage, but not the Biblical "wisdom" on slavery?

    "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ." (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

    "Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them." (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)

    May 7, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Datrebor

      Fill that NIV but in KJV and Young's Literal Translation:
      "The servants! obey the masters according to the flesh with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your heart, as to the Christ."
      6.6 not with eye-service at men-pleasers, but as servants of the Christ, doing the will of God out of soul.

      1Tim 6.1-2
      As many as are servants under a yoke. their own masters worthy of all honor let them reckon, that the name of God and the teaching may not be evil spoken of,

      This could also have to do with employees and their employers then to Slaves. What does it have to do with anyone or company's rights to support whom ever they want? What I have seen, its not against Gays but Marriage or the word Marriage. Eat there or don't eat there I don't care but I'm not going to change my eating habits.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:05 am |
    • Amanda

      Thank you! The bible is a work of fiction with some good stories and some good values. But it reflects the period in which its authors lived. A time of brutality and violence. It has also been translated and selectively compiled to reflect various dictators over the years to aid in controlling their subjects. I firmly believe in equal rights for all people. It saddens me that Chick-fil-a doesn't share this humanitarian value. I can't support a business that supports anti-gay rights movements. Too bad because those waffle fries are good.

      October 13, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • EM

      we can't say for certain that Christian's did not obey their masters primarily because we weren't around when Christian's were enslaved and for the most part, they didn't enslave Christian's they usually burned them alive, or hung them from a stake or killed them in some other tortuous way.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  13. Cris C.

    Chick-fil-A is a light shining in a dark world, God bless them for taking a stand in a time when righteousness is called evil and evil is called good. They are like the man who was given ten talents to use for God and they have chosen to use them wisely. All the worldly minded businesses foist their ungodliness on us Christians; I support Chick-fil-A!

    April 17, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Brianna v

      You are not alone! They sure have stood strong when the rest of amerca is going down the drain! I love chick fil a and will continue to eat there!

      August 7, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Mike J

      Amen bro!!!!! Well said. We need more businesses like Chick-Fil-A in this world. I eat their all the time.

      March 28, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  14. Bonnie

    What I cannot understand is why I cannot believe in what I believe and you belive in what you want to believe. The moment I say I am a christian, someone has to hate on me because they think i hate them. I may not agree with certain peoples choices and lifestyles but doesnt mean I am going ot hate them or stop associating with anyone different than myself or my beliefs. Should i stop eating chinese food because they have budas all over the place? NO!!! I am going to eat where I please, even if I dont worship buda, I can eat there bc the food is good. I respect the person and culture, even if its not what I believe. God never said hate people, and even Christians ahve misinterpret that, and hence, people think all Christians are that way. Quit hating and love. You dont have to agree with someone in order to love your neighbor.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • William

      First off let me say I wish more people have your viewpoint. I'm gay and from what I have seen what really bothers the gay community is when people try to block our marriage rights. I can accept somebody thinking that I'm not living the correct life style but that doesn't give them the right to tell me what to do with my life. From the little bit of research I have done, the organization that Chick Fil A supported does try to block gay marriage. That's why I personally will not eat there again. Not because they have a different opinion, but because they are supporting to have my rights taken away.

      March 10, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  15. Markie

    I shan't be darkening their door ever again. I don't like when people foist their religious beliefs on others.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Monica

      Really you feel forced? They are standing behind their beliefs and supporting those who believe the same.......not forcing anything on you!

      April 20, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  16. Terry P

    I support Chick Filet A.

    I don't support the mad dog policy of the gay community.

    March 6, 2011 at 2:43 am |
  17. John D

    Bless Chick-fil-A. All restaurant chains should be like them.

    March 4, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  18. Mikel

    <3 Chik-Fil-A!

    March 4, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  19. Nathan

    I specifically love Chick-fil-A because they have delicious chicken and because they close on Sunday! The gay and lesbian activist groups are soooo intolerant of people who don't share their viewpoint – it is crazy. They want to hold their viewpoint and be tolerated for it and not vilified for it, but any person/organization holding a differing view is not tolerated by them and is in fact vilified by them. Why can they not ask respect and give it in return?

    March 3, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Amanda

      So you would financially support an organization or company that supported groups who advocated against your human rights? Say an anti-nathan group who rallied that you should not have the right to marriage (and subsequently all the legal and emotional benefits of marriage) simply because they felt you shouldn't have been attracted to, and fell in love with, the person you naturally did.

      October 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  20. Bob

    Here is what I don't understand.... would it be better if all the food donated went into the trash I know MANY chain resturants don't even donate any food it all goes into the garbage... is that better than just choosing who it goes to?
    So rather than say thank you Chick-Fil-a for caring enough to give back to society and help the needy we attack them.
    So I guess the Gay and Lesbian Community would rather many go hungry than there feelings be hurt over who received the donation????

    I personally will start supporting them MORE NOW!!!

    March 3, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Stella

      Yes. It would be better served to be thrown in the garage... or to giving it to someone who can actually use it. Such as a starving homeless person!

      March 3, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Joe

      It isn't as if Chik-fil-a donated food that would have been otherwise thrown away... they made the food specifically for the event- basically catered it for free and out of support.

      Stop being a moron and get your facts straight before you make silly, sweeping statements..

      March 3, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Randy

      How about if all the Christian-phobes let Chik-fil-a and other free-enterprise, private, commercial companies in free America (or at least it used to be) donate their food to whomever they please?

      March 22, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Lael

      This not in response to Bobs comment. There are companies that are public that support gay rights. Some have spent millions in support. So why is the gay activist attacking Chick-fil-A? So what if they support the biblical stance on marriage. What are you (Gay community) afraid of? This country is free. We can worship kitty litter if we want. We can be impervious to religion if we want. You can be gay and proud. You can own your own business and dedicate money to the church of kitty litter. We are free. Eat at Chick-fil-A or don't. You decide. Find out what a company does with its money and decide if you want to continue to support it.

      April 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Amanda

      Well Bob, Chick-fil-a didn't donate their food to the "needy" homeless and hungry. They donated it to a group who directly advocates against equal human rights. This discussion wouldn't be happening if they'd donated their food to the hungry, because that does seems to be a humanist value we all share 🙂

      October 15, 2011 at 9:31 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.