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. Neri

    Humanity did not create marriage therefore we don't get to define it only God can define it. Marriage is between a man and a woman the end.

    July 24, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  2. Joshelplex

    I guess nobody notices the hypocrisy in condemning a company for being "intolerant" because they have a differing viewpoint from you. Practice what you preach people. You can't force people to agree with you but you have to accept their beliefs even when you disagree, isn't that what tolerance is?

    July 23, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nope. No one is required to simply accept viewpoints. Anyone can disagree with an action; that's why America is such a great country. I can heap scorn on Chick-Fil-A if I want; there's no law against it.

      July 23, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Annie

      The problem with boycotts is that it won't hurt Mr. Cathey. It will hurt the workers at the stores and the people that won't be hired because of the lowered sales. He'll just close up the store and walk away. He's proven that money doesn't talk to him or he would have been open on Sundays long ago.

      July 24, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  3. HaveBikeWillTravel

    To all of you who find Chick-fil-A so anti gay. Do everyone a favor and just do not eat there. Stop your whinning and move on. Its a private company. Im sure you would not like anyone interfering with your beliefs. They are doing nothing illegal. The whinners are trying to infringe on there rights. But I guess thats ok in this liberal PC time. If you disagree with me, too bad and move on.

    July 23, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • just sayin

      "The whinners are trying to infringe on >>> there<<<< rights"
      Let me guess, you are from the South?

      July 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • LinCA


      While they have the right to do what they do, that doesn't mean what they do is right. They are a despicable organization. They are no better than the KKK or Aryan Nation. They promote hate and discrimination. They should be called out for what they are.

      Anyone, and any organization, that feels they need to try to shape society to conform to their delusion should be opposed. They are free not to engage in behavior they don't like, but trying to prohibit others from doing the same based on a fable, is bigotry.

      July 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Scott

      LinCA... "They are no better than the KKK or Aryan Nation. They promote hate and discrimination. They should be called out for what they are"

      So, anyone who doesn't believe like you is just like the KKK? I haven't heard any stories of gays being mistreated at one of their restaurants, so where is the hate and discrimination that you speak of? Perhaps you need to let go of your anger just a tad...

      July 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said, "So, anyone who doesn't believe like you is just like the KKK?"
      No, of course not. It's just those that force their delusions on others.

      You said, "I haven't heard any stories of gays being mistreated at one of their restaurants, so where is the hate and discrimination that you speak of?"
      They have spent 5 million dollars on promotion of anti-gay causes. They are actively promoting discrimination against gays. Of course, they'll take their money, which they then will use against them. Hypocrites.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  4. Allie

    I like Chick-fil-A and the people at the one in my neighborhood are very nice, so I think it's a shame they have chosen a sinful and hurtful stance on gay marriage. There is no such thing as what Dan Cathy calls "the Biblical definition of marriage." It's imaginary, and the only way to believe in it is not to read your Bible. The real Bible really says that Jesus embraced the persecuted and spoke out against those who used God as an excuse to hurt people. It also says that many who say "Lord, lord," will be turned away in the end because Jesus never knew them. I hope Dan Cathy and those who feel as he does find a better heart within themselves.

    July 22, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • Scott

      "sinful stance" on gay marriage...are you joking? Have you even read the Bible? Please just stop, since you have no idea what you are talking about.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Scott


      Jesus also told people to "go and sin no more." He was not all about letting people wallow in their sin. You need to read again, but this time without your own bias. Of course Christians are to love all people...and the real ones do. However, we are not called to embrace and accept and endorse sinful behavior. Let's get rid of all of this watered-down, everybody is good, weak Christianity and get real.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  5. Howard

    The gay and lesbians just as well hear it from Chick-fi-li because they will hear it from GOD ALL MIGHTY @ the Great White Throne Judgement 11

    July 20, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Who invited me?

      This might be better if it were a bit more coherent....care to try again?

      July 20, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Who invited me?

      You're asking for coherence from a religious nutjob. Really think about that.

      July 20, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I think I drove the Great White Throne a few times in my wilder, younger years.

      July 20, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Bg

      What happened to the free thinking minds of our founding Fathers? Just because you believe that a man in the clouds will make it all better for you, does not mean that the rest of the world does. In the scheme of things, you are the minority. Hate breeds hate. Ignorance breeds ignorance.

      July 21, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      If you're that convinced God will be handing out fiery penalties after death, perhaps you should leave them be in this fleshly life and revel in your schaudenfreude privately.

      July 23, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
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    July 20, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Spam anyone?

      July 20, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  7. Susan S Isaacs

    I am very proud of Chick-fil-a for standing up to Christian principles! Too many people and businesses in this country, in my opinion, are weak-knee and try to be "politically correct" and not "Christian correct". We need more people in places of responsibility to stand up for what is morally right!

    My son, John has worked at a Chick-fil-a for four years and this experience has helped him learn responsibility and how to interact with the public.

    I have nothing but praise for Chick-fil-a and other businesses that have and show a moral backbone.

    July 19, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • WASP

      @susan: it has taught your son how to interact with ONLY the christian part of society. basically you admitted to being proud of your son being culturally stunted, there are so many faiths and beliefs in this country that contredict and go opposite of the "christian ideals" it isn't even funny. so yay for your son not understanding or being able to coup with a different culture. great christian logic there mom. lmao

      July 20, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Bark Ohama

      I love chic-fil-a and so does our family and everyone in the neighborhood... will be eating there more often now.

      July 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Scott

      Are you saying that her son has never served/made food for a gay person? There is a good chance he has interacted with a wide range of different types of people in his time with the company. And where is your evidence that gay people have been mistreated at a Chic-Fil-A restaurant? You have none. Just because you don't want to believe in God because it would mean you would have to change your thinking to conform with His (God's...not mine or anyone elses), those who do believe in Him are not hate mongers for recognizing sin for what it is...sin.

      July 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm |


    July 19, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  9. bobbi roser

    eat more chickn gogogo.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  10. Vivi

    I, Praise the Lord for Chick-Filo-A's strong decision.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Can we as$ume that they also spend the same amount of money combating str8 divorce, and are actively attempting to make divorce illegal ? In the interest of consistency.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Or actively "outing" some of the 700,000+ believers that have abortions each year in the USA?

      July 19, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  11. Vivi

    I, Praise the Lord for Chick-Fil-A

    July 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • just sayin

      Amen ! God bless

      July 19, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  12. Al Murchison

    I tried to purchase some chick-fil-a stock a few years ago, but I found out that chick-fil-a was a private family business. I was disappointed, but I understand. I completely agree with Mr. Cathy, and what he said was not about hate but about telling the truth jn love. I'm going to put Mr. Cathy's name on our PRAYER LIST at church and ask God to bless him even more. THANK YOU, Love that chicken

    July 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • dylan

      Yah cuz he isnt already a gajillioaire ? And their arent people in the world way more in need of the lords graces than him ?

      July 20, 2012 at 3:56 am |
  13. .02

    ignorance and intolerance are always ugly.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • truth be told

      Your ignorance and intolerance are duly noted.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
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  16. Salty Light

    Love their chicken, love their company, love that they value God more than an extra day of making money, love their family values... love all people. What about this makes them anti anything? Customer for life.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • David

      To the owners of Chic-Fi-La....Just Keep On Standing. We're with You.

      July 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • H-Town, TX

      Only in America will ignorant people "keep on standing" with fast food joints that use their backwards religious views to make more money. Certainly doesn't make their food taste any less disgusting... (except for those brownies, those are so decadently delicious I'm quite sure they made a deal with the devil)

      July 19, 2012 at 4:59 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.