Beliefs Culture Ethics Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy dies, leaves legacy of faith in business

When he died, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy had a net worth of $1.9 billion. - Image courtesy of Demoss Group (
When he died, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy had a net worth of $1.9 billion. - Image courtesy of Demoss Group (

When he died, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy had a net worth of $1.9 billion. – Image courtesy of Demoss Group (

The first time I visited the Chick-Fil-A headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, I was stopped in my tracks by the corporate purpose statement stamped on a plaque outside: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.”

In a time when many believers and business owners hide their faith under bushels for fear of what others may think, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy let his shine. And it paid off big time.

Since its founding in 1946, Cathy’s chicken chain has grown to more than 1,800 stores across 39 states. It is famous for industry-leading quality and customer service, and the loyalty of its fan base is legendary. Today, Chick-fil-A is valued at approximately $5.5 billion and, when he died, Cathy had a net worth of $1.9 billion.

But more intriguing than the financial successes of the Chick-fil-A is the way it was able to weave Cathy’s faith into the corporate fabric without compromise. Cathy was a devout Southern Baptist who taught Sunday school to teenage boys for half a century. Because he believed that faith was not merely a private matter, it flavored the way he ran his business.

Chick-fil-A restaurants are notoriously closed on Sundays, a policy implemented in the 1940s when such policies were commonplace but one that has somehow remained. According to the company website, the reasoning behind the policy is as much practical as it is spiritual:

[Truett Cathy] believes that all franchised Chick-fil-A Operators and their Restaurant employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so. That’s why all Chick-fil-A Restaurants are closed on Sundays.

Truett Cathy (second from left) offering samples of the Original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich. The company was known and even criticized for its charitable donations.

Truett Cathy (second from left) offering samples of the Original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich. The company was known and even criticized for its charitable donations. – Image courtesy of Demoss Group (

To further imbue Chick-fil-A with his religious values, Cathy made generosity one of the organization’s corporate values. The company has donated more than $68 million to over 700 educational and charitable organizations. When an unexpected snowstorm pelted Birmingham, Alabama, Chick-fil-A delivered free food to stranded motorists. For every bowl of soup purchased in Tyler, Texas during the winter another bowl is donated to The Salvation Army to feed a needy person. They’ve given free food to weary firefighters, provided college scholarships to thousands, runs a long-term foster care program, and has raised millions to benefit causes ranging from cancer to diabetes.

Chick-fil-A was criticized for reportedly donating millions to “anti-gay” groups, but further inspection showed that media outlets had inflated such numbers. In order to substantiate such a claim, ill-informed journalists classified mainstream religious groups like Fellowship of Christian Athletes as “anti-LGBT” hate groups. Even still, Chick-fil-A responded by dramatically reducing its gifts to controversial organizations.

Despite bouts of controversy due to imprudent comments about gay marriage from Cathy’s son, Dan, Truett never let the public pressure him into running away from his religious roots. He wanted to remain true to himself and his beliefs until he finally crossed over from this life into the next.

“I’d like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order,” he said. “We live in a changing word, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed.”

Whether you agree with Cathy’s choice of priorities, it’s hard not to respect his commitment to them for 93 years, even when it cost him personally. There is little doubt that Cathy will be remembered as someone who stuck to what he believed was important. As a result, he has left behind more than a slew of fast food franchises; he has bequeathed a philosophy of faith in business that will doubtlessly live on.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • Bravo, Truett Cathy! Thank you for being a great example of what it means to honor Christ in your business dealings. You’ve made the world a better place for it… and quite possibly the best chicken sandwich ever. Well done!

  • No one classified the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a “hate group.”

    Equality Matters is a branch of Media Matters, a Democratic front group (not really pro-LGBT — it sacrifices LGBT rights when Democratic special interests dictate). EM did classify FCA as anti-gay, and it most certainly is.

  • Chick-Fil-A may not have compromised Southern Baptist faith, but it undeniably sacrifices Christian faith (as does every fast-food corporation) in favor of unhealthy and anti-environmental objectives that serve mammon and gluttony, not current and future generations of life on the world that God created.

  • As someone opposed to Chick-fil-a’s past support for anti-gay organizations, I appreciate the good things they’ve done in the name of Christ. We’re all sinners, and I view these as past mistakes by otherwise good, well intentioned people. I appreciated the company cutting funding for the more controversial groups.

    You may view their anti-gay giving as inflated by the media, but I felt many on the right were unfairly minimizing it, and the “Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day” looked more like a passive-aggressive anti-gay day than anything positive or kingdom building. It’s actions like these that drive people from the church. I’ve had their delicious chicken more times than I can count (probably to an unhealthy level) and my customer experience has always been pleasant.

  • “In order to substantiate such a claim, ill-informed journalists classified mainstream religious groups like Fellowship of Christian Athletes as ‘anti-LGBT…'”

    But the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is anti-gay (*), as is mainstream religion. The two categories are far from mutually exclusive.

    (*) They even went so far as to complain that Jason Collins’ homosexuality “puts Christian athletes, coaches and fans in a predicament,” which, to put it mildly, does not seem at all obvious to anyone whose life does not revolve around opposing gay people.

  • I am sorry to see this brillient businessman and true CHristian leader pass on, but he sits in Heaven now at the foot of our Lord, and the gays and athiests can no longer hurt him there. He is at piece.

    Every time I bite in to a juicy Chick Fil-A sanwich, I know I am not only eating a delicious sanwich but also helping to defeat the Gay Mafia. I humbly suggest that all Christians pay tribute to this great man today by gorging on Chick Fil-A sanwiches (good thing he didn’t die on Sunday) and donating money to the Family Research Council.

  • No gay or atheist person has ever hurt Truett Cathy or sought to hurt him.

    Your false accusation, and your celebration of gluttony, either reflects either impenitent sin on your part, or it reflects that you’re just a troll.

  • They boycotted his sanwich restaraunts and tried to put him out of business. They went after his livelyhood just because he donated money to convert them all to straights.

    Jonathan Merritt himself pointed out that it was WRONG and UNAMERICAN for the gays to not buy sanwiches from CHick Fil A. :

    This is a Christian Nation and we must all do our part by supporting Christian businesses. Gays must also do so. They don’t have a right to boycott, and they personally hurt Cathy Truett by doing so.

  • Ronald, you keep right on misquoting people.

    Jonathan Merritt never said that gluttony is required to be an American.

    And “Christian business” is an oxymoron.

  • Murder your tastebuds for JESUS!!

    Clog your arteries for JESUS!!

    Develop Type 2 diabetes for JESUS!!

    Jesus wants high blood pressure and cholesterol

    There is nothing more holy than a quadruple bypass!!!!

    Btw Trevin Wax is hilarious. Its always funny when bigots pretend they are victims or complain that their hatred isn’t given social sanction anymore 🙁

  • What’s with the signage behind Cathy in the photo? “[Home?] of the Original Chicken Sandwich.”

    The “original” chicken sandwich? Really? Are we supposed to believe that this man was the first person who got the idea to put a piece of chicken between two pieces of bread? Is that further proof of what a titan among men he was? Is there any evidence that chicken sandwiches do not predate Chick Fil A, or are we expected to take it on faith like the Bible?

    Also, what does it take to be an “industry leader” in “quality and customer service” when the industry is fast food? Is it just that the employees don’t spit phlegm in your order, or is there something more?

  • To be fair, CFA’s food and morale are better-than-average for the traditional fast food industry.

    But the notion that offering decent customer service or being closed on Sunday makes a company distinctively “Christian” is unfortunate. So is the tendency of some evangelicals to overlook the more-relevant Christian ethical considerations, such as farm-animal welfare, farm worker treatment, support for fair trade, and pay equity. If an executive pays himself ten times the average worker’s salary (or more), that ain’t Christ-like.

  • Without Chick-Fil-A there is no (supposedly) valued diversity (even on Sundays) in our intolerant secular society. Here’s to a man of courage.

  • Ronald is a parody troll. A “Poe” (See Poe’s Law)

    “Tongue in cheek” would be a great understatement.

  • They can’t tolerate my intolerance!!

    I have a god given right to treat people like crap if they aren’t like me. Jesus says I can do it!

  • I don’t even know what those words mean. Theyre not in the Bible.

    I provided sitations for what I was talking about. I am not a Poe, whatever that means. I am not descend3d from Edgar Allen Poe, nor do I take laudanum.

    All my posts are sincere, and I expect to be slandered by athiests but I have found my treatment here by many supposed Christians to be quite UN christian. Only Jesus seems to be on my side, but He is all I need.

  • Jonathan, thank you for the thoughtful reflection on this man’s life.

    One question: is there another article you meant to link to? I’m speaking of the paragraph in which you say that journalists blew up the numbers to support their claims that Chick-fil-A was supporting “anti-gay” groups. I don’t see this link, only two links to this article about Chick-fil-A reducing their contributions.

    I’d be curious to see what groups the franchise was actually supporting. Thanks!

  • The day was NOT an offical act of Chick Fil-A. It was organized by former Arkansas Govenor Mike Hukabee. The faithful and loyal customers of Chick Fil-A only responded to the gay attack of son Dan’s religious freedom. So if anything was (and still is) in poor taste, it is the constant attacking of religious freedom by gays and leftist media.

  • Freedom of religion is a bar on government restrictions, not private citizens choosing how to express their opinions about the beliefs of others.

  • They were supporting groups like Exodus International and the Family Research Council. Apparently it is “ill-informed” to describe these organizations as anti-gay, even though Exodus publicly apologized to the gay people they had harmed before disbanding.

  • Unfortunately, most evangelicals would deny that concern for humane treatment of animals, or very large pay disparities were “un-Christian”. From what I have seen over the last few decades, most evangelicals are die-hard supporters of the status quo and conflate unequivocal support for consumer capitalism and all its attendant exploitative structures with “Christianity”.

    It’s instructive that this support for Chick-Fil-A and its founder must in passing deny that blatantly anti-LGBT organizations are, in fact, not anti-LBGT. Even Exodus International admitted the fault in its core operating principles, but revisionist denial seems to be the order of the day.