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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. anne

    These gays have got to be the stupidest people on the face of this earth. Talk about bigots...and intolerance. Ive never had a problem with gays before, but now with all this stupidity, Im starting to think they are all idiots. What are they trying to do, force their Gay beliefs on everyone else? What country do they think they live in anyway????

    August 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • shwmin

      Guess this is the tolerance gay people are always talking about. Tolerance for themselves and no one else...

      August 3, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • norman

      anne, stupidest is not a word-yikes, must feel pretty stupid huh?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • tommy

      Let a gay explain something to everyone: we are people just like straight people who have different beliefs, views and values but we come together, no matter how different we are, when it comes to EQUALITY. We don't care if you like us, we don't care if your interpretation of religion or the bible is against us, we don't even care what you think about us. I personally don't give two shakes about Chick Fil A or what their family run business believes in. What gays do care about is when someone or an organization actively takes steps to marginalize us or try to prevent us from obtaining equial rights. We care about equality. We want to marry who we love. It doesn't involve you or your beliefs or your interpretation of life or your emotions. We don't care what you think. Worry about yourself and don't worry about us. WE WANT EQUALITY!!

      August 3, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • norman

      and you guys are a joke-no one is stopping free speech-gays just dont like teh milliosn Cathy gave to anti-gay hate groups-you know, the groups that support killing gays in Uganda, the ones that lie about gays molesting kids, or how kids were forced to go to gay weddings...guess gays shoudl just shut up and take it..

      August 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @tommy

      Well said.

      Peace...

      August 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Norman, that is a complete lie! No one was protesting CFA until the interview with the Baptist Press came out. Please don't insult us with complete lies. It doesn't help your cause.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  2. Mr Mark

    Christianity has devolved into nothing more than a set of god-approved excuses to hate others.

    The world will be a better place when the scourge of Christianity is consigned to the dust bin of history, right next to all of the other religions man has invented for himself over the millennia.

    What a shame that in the 21st century, the make believe of religion is still impacting the real lives of real people.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      I don't agree with what you are saying right now. That doesn't mean I hate you. If you can't understand that, you are just ridiculous.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Hugo

      You mr. Bright, then tells what should we belive in? What is morale? What are the pricniples of human beings? If we get rid of God, what do we have
      Eft? Perhaps and empty lofe like yours? Think aboit it.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • christian

      Mr. Mark. I am a Christian and I don't hate anyone, just as Christ taught. I do have standards I live by just like everyone else in the world. I live by the laws of the land and will vote for them based on my beliefs, just like everyone else should. We should all show some tact and tolerance for each other and not just throw baseless barbs around. I am having trouble with this idea that tolerance is a one way street. Just as passionate as you are about your beliefs, understand there is always going to be another side who is just as passionate about theirs. True tolerance allows for both.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @christian,

      your comments are fair and reasonable. I'd like to ask you a question:

      When should religious principles be used to determine what is legal versus illegal?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  3. larry simpson

    when will you gay and lesbians figure out nobody wants you around except others like you. Winshape I'm sending a donation today!

    August 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • norman

      OK, Larry-dumfukk

      August 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  4. Hindu

    LGBT Dictionary:

    big·ot
       [big-uht]
    noun
    a person who does not agree with LGBT definition of marriage

    August 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  5. shwmin

    where can I donate to WINSHAPE

    August 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Here

      https://american.redcross.org/site/Donation2?idb=388595488&df_id=4988&4988.donation=form1

      -or-

      https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/donate/onetime.cfm?

      August 3, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  6. areyoudumb

    oh and one should know that being gay is a DISEASE and it does have a cure loot it up but oh no when science proved it to be a disease look at the budget cuts and protests lol

    August 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Huebert

      Your writing reveals your level of education.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  7. Tim

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAA1xgTTw9w&w=640&h=390]

    August 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  8. shwmin

    Guess this is the tolerance gay people are always talking about. Tolerance for themselves and no one else.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  9. areyoudumb

    so let me get this right, if they donated to groups that support gay rights no one would care but since they choose to spend their money elsewhere...everyone gets mad ...grow up its a free country to donate money where you choose and speak your mind..if you don't like it move to N. Korea

    August 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • norman

      its the groups that donate to kill the gays bills in Uganda, or the ones that lie about gays molesting kids-that kind of stuff made gays a little mad...wasnt aware of gays donating to groups advocating for death or jail for christians-please provide link-thanks!

      August 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  10. Bob

    It is interesting that Chic-fil-A broke all previous sales records Wednesday with supporters who turned out (no pun intended). Significantly smaller numbers today in protest.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • norman

      not really, Bob-just a little education figures it out-all chik fil as are located in red states filled with fat religious bigots who really dont need an excuse to eat more fatty food-

      August 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  11. Doug H

    What a bunch of bigoted morons. If you don't like their CEO's beliefs, then go somewhere else to eat. I will no longer shop at JC Penney for just the opposite reason – I am against their gay/lesbian endorsement. There are plenty of fast food joints and department stores. It's as simple as this – if you don't like what you see on TV, then change the channel and stay out of my life!!!

    August 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Snooze.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • NewYorkGal12

      Do you not have the right to not go to Chik-Fil-A because you do not want to expose yourself to the protests? Works all ways.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  12. GauisCaesar

    I whole-heartedly support Chik-Fil-A. Funny how 4% of the world has the audacity to think everyone else should bow to the way they see life. I think I found gays to be more honest until this story came out. Now I see them as militant and ridiculous,since again only 4% of the world is gay.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • tommy

      Let a gay explain something to everyone: we are people just like straight people who have different beliefs, views and values but we come together, no matter how different we are, when it comes to EQUALITY. We don't care if you like us, we don't care if your interpretation of religion or the bible is against us, we don't even care what you think about us. I personally don't give two shakes about Chick Fil A or what their family run business believes in. What gays do care about is when someone or an organization actively takes steps to marginalize us or try to prevent us from obtaining equial rights. We care about equality. We want to marry who we love. It doesn't involve you or your beliefs or your interpretation of life or your emotions. We don't care what you think. Worry about yourself and don't worry about us. WE WANT EQUALITY!!

      August 3, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • norman

      yes-gays want people to bow down to them -idiot-if peopel paid for you to be dead, wouldnt you raise a fuss? yes, winshape supported a group that tried to keep the "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda...

      August 3, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  13. Carrie

    Why are most of you spouting off with hate about a man stating his own beliefs and opinion? And it's his business where he wants to invest Chik-Fil-A's money. Just because you don't agree with him doesn't make him a bigot. What he invests his money in is his business as long as it's not a Nazi group or something TRULY hateful. Why do other people get to say mean hateful things just because Dan Cathy stands up for his own beliefs?

    August 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • GrowUp

      GrowUp
      Poor abused Christians. When anyone criticizes or disagrees with them, they are being victimized. When they try to pass laws forcing their beliefs and practices on others, they are simply spreading the word of God. Me smells hypocrisy–but then, that is what Evangelicals are all about.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |

      August 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  14. Lover Of the LORD

    im so TIRED OF THEM GAAYS TRYN TO TELL US HOW TO LVIE!!!!!!!! CHIKEN FIL AA I SUPPORT YOU!!!!!!!!! USE THAT MONNY YOU MADE Y ESTRDAY TO MAKE THAT LECTRIC FENCE AND PUT THE GAYS IN IT!!!!!

    August 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • JJ

      They should spend that money to educate YOU!

      August 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Huebert

      I can't tell if you are making a parody of a christian extremist or if you actually are one. So if this a parody great job, if not LOL.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Lover Of the LORD

      YOULL THINK EDUCAT WHEN IM EATIN CHCKEN WITH JESUS AND YOU ARE ARE DRINKN THE DEVISL PEEPEE

      August 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  15. Dilip Samuels

    Chick-fil-A and the tea party bigots. What's new

    Toxic for America today

    August 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Do you have any proof or you just another liberal hack that misrepresents positions and talks about how others hate by making up evidence to somehow prove your point. You are the problem in America! A liar is a liar, whether you do it for the good of the world, or to promote your opinion.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  16. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    All this grandstanding on Chik-fil-A is pointless and distracting from more serious discussion.

    If you don't like the company's policies, don't eat there.

    They are doing nothing illegal. Everyone, private or corporate, can donate to whatever charities float their boat. If you don't like what these charities do with the money, that's a different thing.

    Chik-fil-A has never hidden their affinity for being a blatently pro-religious corporation since their early days. There is nothing about Mr. Cathy's recent statements that should have been in any way surprising to anyone.

    The passionate advocacy of opposing gay marriage reminds me of the story of King Canute who illustrated by example that you can't stop the tide no matter how influential you think you are.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  17. Lars

    What if Cathy was Muslim and made those statements? Would this be such a big debate? Or would we just write it off as their beliefs? Makes you wonder.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • N

      If he was a Muslim, everyone would be so scared of him and the rest of his ilk that NOBODY would have said ANYTHING! Conservatives, and people who support free speech are EASY targets...Muslims, not so much.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • norman

      N-youre an idiot-muslims in the US are very passive and definitely American-not like bigoted christains giving money to groups to kill off gays! shame on you , redneck

      August 3, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  18. JJ

    Religious freedom doesn't mean you can force others to live by your beliefs. Live and let live, mind your own business and keep your nose out of mine.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • david

      No, but marriage between a man and a woman has been societies norm since the beginning of societies Now you want to change societies norms without the approval of the majority of society. Just look at California, the most liberal state in the country, where 53% of the population voted against gay marriage.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Precisely. Freedom of religion does not mean that you can pass laws requiring others to abide by your religious beliefs and practices. That is Un-American. If you want that, go live in Iran or, better yet, start your own cult colony away from here.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • norman

      David, youre retarded (no offesne to retarded peopel). Marriage has NOT been man and woman until the last centruy-what are you talking about?? it was one man, and many women for most of history-thousands of eyars actually-then it was just the same race until the 50s. And-geez cant believe how dumb you are-CA is not a liberal state-the entire middle of it is VERY conservative-look at a district plan. And, yes, 4 years ago, mistakes were made and peopel were fooled-but that time is LONG past-all polls show a majority in CA and teh US supporting gay equality-sorry pal-scary huh? now die off please-thank you!

      August 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  19. David

    While I have no opposition to gay marriage, I also believe that, at least for the time being and at least in America, He has a right to his opinion and a right to support whatever organizations he chooses. Don't like his choices? Don't buy his product!

    August 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @David

      While I have no opposition to gay marriage,

      " I also believe that, at (least for the time being) and at least in America, He has a right to his opinion and a right to support whatever organizations he chooses."

      What ??

      Peace...

      August 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  20. Jason

    You americans are too funny, who in their right mind would eat ckicken anyway. Like the saying goes, you are what you eat and chicken eaters are chicken of gay people, lol. But at least everyone of you can go out an buy a gun or ten but I guess that means the gay people can go out and buy themselves a gun too. Okay, I guess you all are up to your eye browse in chicken soup... You americans just stay away from the rest of us normal people ok!!

    August 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • iowanole

      Wow! If the rest of the "normal' world is like Jason, then lord help us! You're either just barely smart enough to tie your shoe or you're so methed out that you felt it would be a great idea to take every thought in your head and jam it into a paragraph. Either way, a little advice. Next time, reread your post before hitting the POST button. Then, when you think it's complete, just hit delete. Thanks!

      August 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Hugo

      I am ot american either, but your comment is stupid, inconsistent, and lacks any sense. If you dont like american or americans just go away.

      August 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • Your Panties in Texas

      What is normal? And, where do you live?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:02 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.