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. Oh please

    It's funny to be when people bring up Sodom and Gomorrah, yet then fail to mention that Lot afterwards went up into the mountains and impregnated both of his daughters. It's also just as amusing to me when people use the word "God" as some ultimate word of Christian power, when they most likely don't know that the word 'God' originated in Sanskrit, not Hebrew ... and Sanskrit is the language of Hinduism.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jim

      Lot did conceive from his daughters- He became the father of the Moabites and the Ammonites who both caused severe problems with Israel up to the time that Genesis was written. The Israelites who would have read this passage would have known that and would have realized how terrible that part of the bible was. Lot's daughters were wrong and they became the mothers of evil nations. The Bible in no way was saying that Lots daughters did the right thing there... Who cares where the term 'god' came from? If english had another term for it then I would use that instead...

      February 5, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  2. Good grief

    I keep seeing this article. It's typical to see comment after comment calling a conservative group/person/organization "hypocritical," but really, it's becoming clear that those who say such things need to put a mirror in front of their faces. Chick-fil-a said they harbored no ill-will toward anyone. They can give money to whomever they want and have their own "opinion." If an organization supported gay ANYTHING, no one would say anything. If a muslim-owned company supported ANYTHING muslim, it would be expected, etc. Why do you only bring out your measuring stick when someone has a conservative opinion? – oh hypocritical ones.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  3. Emmitt Langley

    Normal sane people are behind you Chick fil A...don't listen to the Leftists trying to force their values on everyone else. We will never let them take over America like they did in Germany!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  4. LEB

    Is the author aware that there's no such thing as Christian DNA? Or Islamic DNA, or Buddhist DNA, or really Jewish DNA even though they like to think there is. Religion is something you are raised with or you choose, not something encoded in your genes.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  5. Vested

    “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.”

    They don't even have the guts to stand up and states their own convictions. Of course they have an agenda against those who disagree with them.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  6. Hypocritic

    I guess in the land of the free you are not allowed to disagree with anyone.

    Apparently, some people are more equal and more free than others.

    And also, it is definitely not appropriate to have faith or belong to a religion here, because it may contradict the views of others.

    Amazing how intolerant some people are who advocate for "rights" while claiming that everyone else is intolerant because they don't agree with them.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  7. Chicknlovr

    I will be eating more at this restaurant! Go Chic!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  8. Ashley

    Yes, the people that feel it is wrong for Chick Fil A to be making donations to anti gay marriage groups, have every right to feel that way. But Chick Fil A has every right to support whomever they want, regardless. How did I miss the official statement: "We hate you Gay people and our chicken sandwiches are the key to ensuring you never marry! mua ha ha ha ha".......Seriously...that's how you people are acting. Its a frigin fast food chicken chain, folks.....waffle fries and tasty sandwiches are not going to be the deciding factor on whether or not gays get to marry.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  9. Chickenman101

    I am not a Christian nor do I beleive in a Creator or in organized religion, but I do beleive in Chick fil a's right as a privately held company to do as they wish. If some people are offended by their choices, then voice your opinion and don't eat there. But, Chick fil a is a stellar operation, they are the gold standard of fast food. I am sorry, but this is a top notch company...their products and service are commendable. They choose to be closed on Sundays so that their employee's have a day off, ok.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  10. sailingStu

    Attention: anyone who doesn't like Chick-Fil-A's corporate philosophy...DON'T EAT THERE...GO SOMEWHERE ELSE INSTEAD!!! Life is about decisions, and you do not make mine for me. Everyone should be allowed to vote with their feet, whether it's a news program, radio channel, light bulb or life style. Mind your own business and keep your nose out of mine.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • ASW

      Yes, and everyone is also allowed to try and convince others to vote with their feet.

      This is why freedom of speech is important, and protected. It isn't just the right to say what you want. The words of one individual are just the words of one individual. It is the ability for one individual to convince others to agree with him, and for those others acting as a group to convince yet more others to agree with them. That is where the power comes from. That is why autocrats fear freedom of speech, and why free societies protect it.

      The right of any individual to try to convince others to agree with what he or she believes and wants to do. That is the heart of democracy. To deny that, to say "shut the f– up and just act on your own in silence", that is what dictators do. That is the death of democracy.

      February 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  11. John R.

    Sheez, they donated some food to some people. Who cares? Can they only donate food to people who agree with you? This country is pathetic.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  12. CS

    I hanve not read through all the comments above but, is chick fil a really supporting anti gay rights groups by giving them free food? Have any of the pro gay rights groups been denied free food? If they have there might be a case here. If not, don't cry foul when one group asks and another does not. The article was not clear about who approached whom about donating the food....

    February 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  13. Al Gore's th'rapist

    More discrimination by gay groups once again.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • ASW

      Because criticism is the same as "discrimination". Because only you have the right to do and say what you please. And anyone who even dares to voice an objection is "discriminating" against you.

      Because anything other than silence and obedient invisibility to your view of the world is "discrimination" against you.


      February 5, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  14. Joe

    I've read 2 posts where MandatoryFun has said; "...as a National Chain they do not have the right to use its company as a platform for their beliefs." Being a "National Chain" does not exclude you from your right of free speech. Secondly, what diffenece does it make if they are a National Chain or a Mom n Pop shop? Like a Mom n Pop shop, Chic-Fil-A is privately owned just on a larger scale.

    And they are not using their company as a platform for their beliefs, they are using their beliefs in how they want their company run. Just the way Mom n Pop would want to run their shop their way without interference from outside groups telling them what they can and can't do.

    Now, here is what I would like to know, gay and lesbian groups have "attacked" Chic-Fil-A because Chic-Fil-A donated food to an organization that is against gay mariages. Instead of immediately attacking Chic-Fil-A, did any of these gay and lesbian groups approach Chic-Fil-A for a food donation for one of their rallies or events? Who is to say Chic-Fil-A would not have obliged?

    All anyone see's is what is right in front of them. They are so quick to jump to the worst conclusions instead of first trying to understand exactly whyat took place and why.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  15. Pete

    I find it disgusting that the gays are so thumb up the butt when someone doesnt do anything thats to their likings! They need to grow up!! You cant go around forcing your beliefs on people as everyone to forward your own agendas! This is a private company and they are free to donate to anybody. If you got beef with the place of donation who doesnt like gays, take it out them! Not chic-fil-a! I have nothing against gays but im sick of the overdramatic victim complex they play off!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  16. Al

    if some groups offer support to pro-gay marriage groups, why can't other show support for anti-gay marriage groups? it's not a "hate" crime if you provide support to a group who has different values or beliefs, right? if I show support for an organization that doesn't agree with gay marriage, does that make me guilty of a hate crime? i think common sense needs to play a factor here....

    February 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  17. Just4theComments

    Lay off my waffle fries!!!

    February 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  18. Lynn

    Stand by your guns, Chick-fil-a! The "Blue Law" needs to be enacted again so all stores would be closed on Sunday. We see more of this type "bullying" when someone goes "against the grain". We admire Mr. Cathy for the example he and his family exemplify.

    February 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  19. Enrico

    All we have acquired, all that we have we manage for the glory of the Lord.. It's all his.. Chick-Fil-A is a privately-owned company – they can do whatever they want, as well as send donations to whoever they want, or to whatever group they want. If you don't like it – then don't eat there. Simple as that. When the masses, or the government, start dictating what a privately-owned company can do – then you are treading on dangerous ground. Just as they have every legal right to do so. Again – very simple – if you don't like it – don't eat there !

    February 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  20. dcdave2011

    if chic fil a was muslim run there would be no issues and the libs would be fighting for one to be built on dead bodies of 9/11

    February 5, 2011 at 1:40 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.