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Chick-fil-A controversy shines light on company’s charitable giving
Chick-fil-A’s charitable giving has come under scrutiny in the controversy over its president's opposition to same-sex marriage.
August 3rd, 2012
08:41 AM ET

Chick-fil-A controversy shines light on company’s charitable giving

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – The website for the WinShape Foundation, a group started by Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy that’s financed almost entirely by Chick-fil-A profits, doesn’t look like a battlefield in the culture war.

The site features warm and fuzzy snapshots of winding country roads and rustic cabins along with links to a cornucopia of social welfare programs the foundation funds from foster homes to kids’ camps to college scholarships that would seem to be the furthest thing from controversial.

The foundation's “simple but profound goal” is also hard to take issue with: “Help ‘shape winners.’ ”

But gay rights groups are incensed about the chain’s financial support for what they say are anti-gay groups. WinShape-backed groups deny that accusation, while WinShape stresses its activities are almost entirely aimed at youth and families, as opposed to conservative advocacy.

Yet WinShape finds itself in the center of a storm over gay rights and religious liberties as Americans take sides in the controversy over Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s recently reaffirmed opposition to same-sex marriage.

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"We are very much supportive of the family the biblical definition of the family unit," Dan Cathy, Truett’s son, said in an interview last month. "We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."

The comments sparked a tsunami of criticism from gay rights advocates and their allies, with a same-sex kiss day at Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide scheduled for Friday. (Supporters rallied around the chain Wednesday, with an event dubbed Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.)

But gay rights groups appear even more concerned about Chick-fil-A’s charitable giving, most of which is funneled through WinShape. The group received more than $8 million from Chick-fil-A in 2010, the most recent years for which tax records are available.

A fact sheet about Chick-fil-A recently issued by the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest gay rights group, aims its ire mostly at WinShape.

The fact sheet, titled “Chick-fil-A anti-gay: Company funnels millions to anti-equality groups,” says that the “popular fast food chain has donated millions to groups that demonize (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people on a daily basis.”

The document enumerates what it calls Chick-fil-A’s “shocking donations” to evangelical groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Focus on the Family.

Other gay rights groups have also zeroed in on WinShape’s donations.

A 2011 report from Equality Matters, an arm of the liberal group Media Matters Action Network, said the restaurant’s “charitable division has provided more than $1.1 million to organizations that deliver anti-LGBT messages and promote egregious practices like reparative therapy that seek to ‘free’ people of being gay.”

The WinShape-backed groups that gay rights advocates accuse of being anti-gay reject that label, insisting that they condemn homosexual acts, not gay people.

“Those Christian groups don’t see themselves as hateful organizations it’s a completely different perspective,” said Rusty Leonard, a financial adviser who counsels Christians on charitable giving and who knows the Cathy family. “But as conservative Christians we believe that homosexual activity is sinful.”

Most WinShape-backed groups, such as Focus on the Family and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, are mostly apolitical and are mainstream within the evangelical world.

At the same time, the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center has classified some WinShape-backed organizations, such as the Family Research Council, as anti-gay hate  groups.

WinShape spends the vast majority of its money on internal programs like its camps, which cost $5 million to run in 2010, and foster homes, which cost $3.2 million that year.

By comparison, the organization gave $1,000 to Family Research Council in 2010 and $1,000 to Exodus International, a group that for years promoted so-called conversion therapy for gays, though the group is now reassessing that stance.

“The WinShape Foundation and Chick-fil-A’s corporate giving is focused on supporting youth, family and educational programs,” said Steve Robinson, Chick-fil-A’s executive vice president for marketing, in a statement to CNN.com, responding to questions.

“WinShape provides camping programs for more than 13,000 girls and boys annually and 14 foster homes caring for more than 100 children,” the statement continued. "In addition, Chick-fil-A has awarded more than $30 million in Restaurant Team Member college scholarships to hourly employees.”

A public relations firm representing WinShape and Chick-fil-A declined interview requests Thursday.

WinShape’s own programs have a serious Christian tint. Its summer camp for kids “challenges campers to sharpen their character, deepen their Christian faith and relationships,” according to its website.

The foundation’s college scholarships, mostly for current and former Chick-fil-A employees, are to Berry College, a Christian liberal arts school in Georgia. The scholarships are bent on equipping “college students to impact the world for Jesus Christ by following him and living out his unique calling in their lives,” according to WinShape.

For evangelical Christians, such programs make Chick-fil-A a model corporate citizen.

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“On the conservative end of the Christian world, they are seen as being one of the most fabulous examples of Christianity lived out in appropriate ways,” Leonard said. “They support all kinds of wonderful things.”

But for now, the national focus is on outside groups that WinShape supports. The gay rights group GLAAD, for example, recently started a petition to get Dan Cathy to have dinner with a pair of gay parents and their children.

“If Cathy is going to spend millions trying to break apart loving families,” the petition says, “he should at least meet the people his money is hurting."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Food • Gay marriage • Gay rights

soundoff (2,697 Responses)
  1. Lynne

    The underlying basis for this discussion appears to be the age old conflict between the far right and the far left. I really doubt that either group is likely to change their opinions any time soon.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • James PDX

      That's why the 2 best rules in life are;
      1. Live and let live; and
      2. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • DaTruth

      @James... You should run for president. I would vote for you

      August 3, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  2. tom

    Gay people have taken something petty and managed to mangle their message. They have suceeded in dividing gays and hetero people.non gay people who were accepting of their lifestyle are now realizing that the only thing gays have in their life is their gayness. In my opinion, gay people know that being gay is not in the normal sequence of events and they constantly feel they have to push their agenda to bolster their self esteem. I am sick of pretending im tolerant. Game on.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • DaTruth

      You are a pathetic piece of inbred white trash destined to die alone? The only thing you have in your heart is hate and fear. And when you meet your "God" he will see it. Enjoy the eternal flames of hell. I can't wait for your entire generation to die off so we can get some real work done in this country

      August 3, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • James PDX

      Thankfully, your opinion is as meaningless as it is shallow and ignorant.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • worktolive

      AGREE. Mr. Cathy should be able to donate to whatever charity/organization he wants. I will continue to donate to the Boy Scouts – who were criticized over and over for being anti-gay. Hey, GLADD can donate to whomever/whatever they want so get off the backs of people/businesses who choose to donate to Christian organizations i.e.. Focus on the Family.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Huebert

      "In my opinion, gay people know that being gay is not in the normal sequence of events and they constantly feel they have to push their agenda to bolster their self esteem."

      Well that is simply incorrect.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • pervert alert

      It is not "gay" it is qu eer and it is correct that there is simply no reason to accept perversion as normal. Qu eers the folks who gave AIDS to the world.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • DaTruth

      Actually, Perv, there was some SCIENCE performed on the subject quite a few years ago, and that disease originated in Africa when it jumped species from a primate group, which we evolved from. Maybe you should read a book

      August 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  3. JJ

    I'm sure all your fellow Christards from Wesrboro Baptist Church will dine with you at Chick-fil-hate, move over.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  4. Dan

    Did you really think Chick-fil-A would be donating to the North American Man/Boy Love Association?

    August 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  5. panorain

    They should do the same to Chick-Fil-A that they did to Henry Ford. He started off as a staunch individualist but by the time the Left got done with him he was financing ev4rything from how to get condoms into the hands of pre-pubescents to how to make sure people in 3rd world countries remembered to change their underwear at least twice a week. Plus the usual Unionista activity. All of which was not at all what Henry Ford had in mind when he started his foundation. Which should beware to anybody thinking of putting too much money in the hands of Leftists.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Manda

      Give it a rest, wingnut.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • DaTruth

      Yeah, dont forget that your idol there was one of the most racist, biggoted, hateful people in the history of the world. Hittler actually had a large picture of him in his residence. You Rightys are killin me!

      August 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  6. Wheres-the-beef?

    Mark 3:25

    "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

    Thank you Barack Hussien Obama. You have a divided nation, and your plans to dramatically change the bases of the United States of America has come to fruition. We are now the Divided States of Unamerica.

    We are undone. Destined to fall. We are now all part of the great lost generation.

    THANK YOU GALB's where ever you are. You now have arrived. Enjoy it while you can. Someone worse than you will rise up one day and you will lose your position in power. We have not seen the worse, that day is still to come. Sad day for us. And you.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • yeano

      Um. Weird?

      August 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • worktolive

      I'm afraid you are so right.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  7. Olaf Big

    If I were a Chick-Fil-A customer, I would worry more about how those chickens are raised and what they are fed, then what the views of the owner on gay marriage are. Gay rights groups may do gay community a disservice if they begin to be seen as bullies, which is what this story may suggest.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • don

      they kill the chickens because they are gay.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  8. Dina

    So... its come down to the people that are not gay , they should be quiet and say nothing anymore or even donate or hand out there support because all the gays are gonna cry ????? Come on ! I'll tell you what I am young in this society and I am part of this younger generation, but I will always stay true to my beliefs and God does not lie !!! and Sodom and Gomorah told a great deal of truth. People should be ashamed of themselves for trying to persue something that is a sin and its a contributing factor to the world !!!! repent Jesus is coming !!!

    August 3, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Manda

      Jesus is coming? Good for him! But do you really think he'll notice all the repenting while he's having an orgasm?

      August 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • gary

      ditto

      August 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • gary

      my ditto is for Dina by the way not Manda . Praying for you Manda. You should pray for God to draw you near. Have you ever thought "what if those Christians are right and I'm spending an eternity in hell?" Eternity is a looong time to be wrong, isn't it? Turn from idolizing the things of this world; making worldly things your god and give your life instead, to One who died for you. Died for you. Bled, suffered and died............for you.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Dina and gary

      Perhaps you should establish your god exists before you attempt to frighten people into accepting your mob boss of a god.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • DaTruth

      Gary, have you ever considered that you little book filled with fairy tales, which was written by people thousands of years ago who never saw any of it happen, which was then translated thousands of more times, and has been completely and totally disproven by modern science, might be wrong?

      August 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Then again, I'm not expecting either of you to actually answer me, let alone even present a point beyond "DERR THE BIBLE SAYS IT!!!!!!!".

      August 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      When? Will they broadcast his coming without commercial breaks?

      August 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      Oh, my we need to work on grammar and spelling, or Jesus may be very unhappy when he comes.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  9. Frank

    Ya know I never knew all this about Chik Fil A and the Cathy family until the attack of the Hommoz. No I am truly amazed at what hard working and respectful family they are and I truly admire them for their success. What a true success story not only in the success of their business but the success and happiness in their families that their faith in God provides for them. This is prime example of true Christians and how they live. You have to one extremely EVIL person to find something bad in the Cathy's and the way they manage their lives. I admire them.

    I never eat out hardly but when I do I never thought to eat at Chick Fil A but now with all the respect they earned from me after this intolerant attack of HATE from the hommoz it will be on the top of my list to give them my business. Kudos Chik Fil A, you set a a great American example of hard work, morality and success that made America the greatest nation on earth! IM PROUD OF YOU!

    August 3, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • James PDX

      Ah, yes, admire their success, their discrimatory hiring practices, and they money the donate to groups who spread hate for and incite violence against gays globally.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • DaTruth

      Wow, its amazing how the foxtards talk about morality and doing the right thing when their ACTIONS are all about hate, intolerance, and discrimination. Your a real stand up guy Frank. Please throw yourself in front of the next speeding Chick-Fil-hate truck you see and spare us all from your ignorance

      August 3, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  10. TKO

    AIDS didn't "come from" anyone–this is ignorance. Moreover, the "biblical definition of family" would include polygamy, among other inconvenient truths, if you are going to follow that argument. Unless, of course, you don't actually read the bible but simply quote what it doesn't say–or quote your preachers, who also haven't read it very carefully..

    August 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  11. sbeth1

    Neither straights or gays will "win" anything from their statements or actions. It has remained an issue only because the media chooses for it be. Both "sides" are the pawns of media moguls so they (moguls) may sell their rags or garner ratings on the tube.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Dina

      Amen

      August 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • A dose of reality

      please provide proof that prayer changes anything. Amen

      August 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • just sayin

      You are here. God bless

      August 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things
      Proven

      August 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • DaTruth

      But i talk to myself all the time and nothing happens...

      August 3, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  13. JJ

    EAT-MOR-EQUALITY!

    August 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  14. sbeth1

    Boo hoo. Chick has more money than the gay groups. They must be jealous.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  15. david

    And why are thesepeople not going after the Black Christian groups. They are clearly the most adament in their opposition to "Marriage Equality". You raise greater support if you brand a white businessman as the leader of the pack. They would lose much support if they went after black organizatoins. It's all a game of tactics for them.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  16. JM

    The reporting that is done by CNN is really incredibly unbelievable. The Chic fil a organization does more to support school children who can not afford school supplies than any other organization in the country.
    You really failed to report the huge support across the country to this organization.

    You also fail to report how insignificant these gay rights organizations really are. CNN needs to remember that you are to report the news, not falsely create it.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  17. Bubba North

    Going to have breakfast at Chick-fil-A tomorrow !!! I'm sure they are getting more business from this press than less. Thanks !

    August 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  18. Lonnie

    I agree it is very, very sad!!! However, I’d much rather see these haters lining up at a greasy chicken place then hanging people from trees, burning out there homes and churches or out right murdering human being like their grandparents and great grandparents did in the last Civil Right battle of the 50s, 60s and 70s. The haters lost that battle and they will lose this one too. No matter how much money they give.

    August 3, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Wade

      Yes, sad that these Pro-Gay groups hate anyone who disagrees with them. I guess it's best for everyone to keep your opinion to yourself these days.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  19. Yo Jesus

    You just replied to a troll comment. Stop feeding the trolls.

    August 3, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  20. Jane

    you have a right to be gay... YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE ANTI-GAY!

    August 3, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • David

      But you don't have the RIGHT to block my civil rights!

      August 3, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • pervert alert

      There is and has never been a right to perversion. Qu eers the folks who gave the whole world AIDS

      August 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Lonnie

      Let me see if I understand you. Lets change a few of the words. You would say you have a right to be black...YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE ANIT-BLACK! THAT MAKES YOU A RACIST BIGOT whether the word you use is gay or black!

      August 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • TROLL ALERT

      Do not feed the pervert troll. He will follow you home.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Gumby

      Being gay is not a choice. Being a hateful bigot is.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Tom

      @David: And gays don't have the "right" to arbitrarily change the definition of the word "marriage." Hetero couples can create new life. Gays can not. Obviously there's a difference, hence, calling both a "marriage" and trying to pretend they are the same thing is inaccurate and disingenuous.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Huebert

      @Tom

      You are right Tom. That is why we don't allow infertile or elderly people to get married, since they cannot produce a new life.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • dave canski

      The correct response in this day and age is a big THANK YOU Chick Fil A for donating to HELP PEOPLE!! Oh the selfishness of some people & "special interest" groups because they didn't get any or got their feelings hurt. Sit down and STFU!

      August 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Tom

      @Huebert: That's the best you've got??? Pathetic.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Huebert

      It's your argument.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • DaTruth

      Jane is right guys. You can chose to be tolerant or a intolerant of other human beings. Why spread love when you can spread hate?

      August 3, 2012 at 5:39 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.