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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. IearnedIT

    Seriously – Gays are attacking FCA – I am a proud member – an athlete and a believer in God – all the Gays need to understand the gravity of the fight they picked and you have no idea how many believe in God and marriage between a man and women versus the few freaks that want to complian about marriage – shame on you CNN for publishing these complaining liberal Gays.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • LinCA

      @IearnedIT

      You said, "Seriously – Gays are attacking FCA – I am a proud member – an athlete and a believer in God – all the Gays need to understand the gravity of the fight they picked and you have no idea how many believe in God and marriage between a man and women versus the few freaks that want to complian about marriage – shame on you CNN for publishing these complaining liberal Gays."
      Considering that you're the adult who still believes in fairy tales, I wouldn't call those that oppose your bigotry "freaks".

      You are free to believe whatever bullshit you want. You are free to marry, or not marry, whoever you want. How about you show some fucking decency and afford the same right to everyone else.

      Your church will still be allowed to not marry same sex couples. You are free to limit your organization to those that agree with you, but the government has to be impartial and grant the same rights to everyone.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • sam

      Last I checked, tough guy, we lived in a country that espouses equality for all. That means you don't always get your way, and that your views are not the end all be all. I don't care if you believe one-man-one-woman; IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU OR PEOPLE WHO ONLY THINK LIKE YOU.

      There are other people in the world besides white, straight christians. Get over it.

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

    While I say everyone has the right to be in love and marry however they want... who do these people think they are telling anyone else who they can donate money to when they are throwing money at the groups they support. The double standard is unbelievable. I am not a religious person but I believe they have the right to live by their beliefs and donate to whomever they wish same as the LGBT community.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Jkhur

      So you would be fine if I donate money to groups that try to make laws that women can't get abortions? That women can't drive? Hold public office? Can't leave the house, even for food, unless accompanied by a male relative? Now, other than the abortion one, no one in the US is trying to do these things. But in a country where everyone is supposed to have equal rights, why would you tolerate someone trying to take yours away? Why would you turn away from confronting that person or group?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • sam

      Because when someone donates money to a group that supports the death penalty for gays in other countries, that's creepy.

      But don't worry. They're just good christians who want their say. Right?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  3. BOb the Prairie Dog

    “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.

    Hey, we all see a movie star when we look in the mirror. Doesn't mean Hollywood is on the phone....

    August 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  4. James

    CNN is Censoring posts again! Ahhh, what else is new?!

    August 3, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • LinCA

      @James

      You said, "CNN is Censoring posts again! Ahhh, what else is new?!"

      CNN uses WordPress blogs for their opinion pieces, and they use automated censoring that looks for words, or fragments of words, that are considered offensive. If your post doesn't show up, it most likely had a forbidden word in it.

      On the Belief Blog, repeat posts, even those that were previously censored and not displayed, will show a message stating that you posted it before.

      The following words or word fragments will get your post censored (list is incomplete):
            arse             as in Arsenal
            bastard
            bitch
            cock           as in cockatiel
            coon           as in cocoon
            cum             as in circumstance
            cunt
            douche
            effing
            fag
            ftw
            fuck
            homo         as in homosexual
            hooters
            horny
            hump
            jackass
            jap
            jism
            kinky
            kooch
            nipple
            orgy
            pis
            porn
            poo           as in spooked
            prick
            queer
            rape         as in grape
            sex           as in homosexual
            shit
            slut
            smut
            snatch
            spic         as in despicable
            tit               as in constitution or title
            twat
            vag           as in vague
            whore
            wonderful us
            wtf

      To circumvent the filters you can break up the words by putting an extra character in, like: consti.tution (breaking the oh so naughty "tit").

      August 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  5. silentcount

    The hm sectual community needs to get over its persecution complex. It's not discrimination for society to maintain the definition of marriage the way it has always been in all cultures from the beginning of time. It's based on the laws of physics, in that it takes two people of the opposite gender to create human life. Changing the definition will not make fat people skinny, short people tall or weird people normal.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Jkhur

      ignoring for an instant the complete historical fallacy you have there, what would you call denying someone their civil rights if not persecution?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • sam

      Uh...you have no idea what you're talking about. In 5 minutes of research, the definition of marriage in all cultures for all time has not been one man, one woman.

      Are you deliberately this ignorant? Or have you just given up and decided to believe whatever you're told?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  6. Roadhouse

    A certain Presidential candidate in 2008 said almost the exact same thing as Dan Cathy regarding traditional marriage. Was he protested and called a biggot? No. He was elected into office by the same people currently in an uproar about a Christian company's CEO giving his (apparantly shocking) opinion about his values. If anyone hear would like to tell me how the two statements by the two men were different, I'd love to read it.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Bella

      These lib tards are hypocrites, haters, racists, and don't have enough sense to know better. Some people just want to espouse hate while crying how mistreated they are... they have lost any credibility to their cause.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • sam

      Bella, you're a silly, ignorant little fool. Wrapped in your own cute little world where what you believe must be okay and right and one size fits all.

      Enjoy it, but realize it's not gong to last. The world is going to change, and neanderthals such as yourself are going to have to catch up.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  7. gee

    Looks like a Mitt follower in true colours.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Bella

      Hypocrites – all of you.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • sam

      Bella, you're one of the biggest. And that's likely literal.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  8. Peter

    http://www.postpoems.org/authors/joewillard/poem/931332

    August 3, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • dfldude

      Subtle picture with the Do not enter sign in front. I wonder if they meant it that way. Yep, probably..wouldn't put it past them to have photoshopped it in. Wonder what would happen if we started doing boycotts on gay run businesses. Oh yeah, we would be labeled intolerant. But not them. Love the dual standard. Ok, you can start flaming me now...

      August 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • sam

      @dfldude: that happens every day. Along with beatings, murder, etc.

      The minute gay people start roaming around in groups beating and killing christians? Let me know, fool.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  9. Pat

    Just listened to US national anthem again during olympic:

    ......
    ......
    And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave
    .....
    .....

    Two questions:

    1. Which God does GLAAD trust? Not "bible-based" God I guess?
    2. Is USA not a "land of free" anymore? GLAAD has the rights to vocally say their opinions, while others should just shut up?

    Or, should we change the national anthem? Oh, and the "In God We Trust" in the dollar bill also needs to be changed?

    August 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • GrowUp

      You are out if your league dude. Go back to logic 101.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Pat

      You said, "2. Is USA not a "land of free" anymore?"
      As long as believers keep forcing their nonsense on everyone else, we'll never be truly free.

      You said, "Or, should we change the national anthem? Oh, and the "In God We Trust" in the dollar bill also needs to be changed?"
      Can we, please?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  10. Hatrick

    I believe the same as Chik fil a. If you don't have the same views and it bothers you that much go eat somewhere else. The scary part is when you have elected officials saying they are going to block business owners based on their views.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • deeceeuci

      I think that Chick-Fil-A should be given the same rights as any business such as McDonalds, group such as KKK or individual such as myself. If we don't like their stance then don't buy their product.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Yeah! Wouldn't it be awful if we had politicians who wanted to block businesses that wouldn't allow blacks inside? Or block landlords who wouldn't rent to people with children? Or block neighborhoods that wouldn't let Jews own property? Wow–wouldn't that be just awful!

      August 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • GrowUp

      And wouldn't it be just horrendous if we had politicians who wanted to block private employers from firing you because of your religious beliefs (which, by the way, is something you choose to believe)?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  11. GrowUp

    So many Christians, so few lions.

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

      Agreed!

      August 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Ben from Winnipeg

      ahaha and people say that christians hate? look in a mirror

      August 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • BOb the Prairie Dog

      "Do unto others..." Ben...

      August 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Look in the mirror? Grow a brain dude. Hating hate is not hate.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  12. Chic

    What about the chickens? Does Chick-fil-A care about how the chickens are treated? Just wondering . . .

    August 3, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  13. JJ

    CNN sure knows how to milk a story don't they.

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

      You clicked on it bozo.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  14. the_dude

    I went to Chick-fil-a for 2 days in a row now for lunch. It was great chicken sandwich and a bonus I dont have to worry about catching aids from any if the sick gays.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • JJ

      uninformed troll is fail

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

      D-bag. You need not worry. No gay would have the slightest interest in you dude.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  15. Linda

    Why don't the people who support gay rights just choose to eat somewhere else? Why does Chick-fil-A have to conform to gay rights support groups' ideology? Live & let live. Obviously the anti-gay support groups haven't stopped people from being gay and the gay support groups haven't made that many converts so what's the problem?

    August 3, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • GrowUp

      They not only have the right to eat somewhere else, they also have the right to criticize Chic-Fil-A . Free speech, remember?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  16. Hindu

    LGBT Dictionary:

    tol·er·ance
       [tol-er-uhns]
    noun
    1.
    something that must be practiced by others but not by us

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

      Practice what you preach, numbnuts.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      I'm pretty sure tolerance doesn't mean keeping quiet in the face of programs that fight to make you a second-class citizen. Would you be tolerant of that?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Susie

      I dont think intolerance includes protesting a behavior that kills 20% of the people who engage in it.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • sam

      @Susie – what are you talking about? Do I dare ask?

      August 3, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  17. NewYorkGal12

    I hate Chik-Fil-A because of their endorsement of any religion, regardless of the gay issue. I don't want them creating foster care programs that force kids to be Christian just to have food. Same with Carls Jr / Hardees. I don't want my money going to Christians.

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

      Here is a crazy idea for you.....don't go to Chick-fil-a

      August 3, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Rooster Cogburn

      I hate people like you, you are sick in the head, good luck, you need it badly...

      August 3, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • GrowUp

      @dude: here's a crazy idea–we also have the right to criticize chic-Fil-a. Remember that thing called free speech?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Michael

      Dont' eat there?

      August 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Susie

      What a moron...fostercare families cant force their children to be Christian, they would get thir licenses revoked.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  18. Hindu

    tol·er·ance
       [tol-er-uhns]
    noun
    1.
    something that must be practiced by others but not by us

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

      post it again please-no one's buying it-maybe if you post it a third time...

      August 3, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  19. Johnnie!

    To everyone--why do you all care what the Chick-Fil-A guy thinks about gay marriage? His opinion affects NOBODY....at all! Are you all bored? Just ignore it if it bothers you. Sheesh opposition to anything gay seems to rustle everyones jimmies.

    August 3, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • NewYorkGal12

      It's funny how the same thing is going on in reverse – gays come out in protest and everyone else is up in arms about that too. Both sides need to tone down the fight, but if one comes out and says bad stuff, they better expect the other to say bad stuff back. Just works that way.

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

      And anytime someone criticizes the anti-gay goons, I bet you get your panties in a twist.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  20. Sam Yaza

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAhb4mQ6Pj0&w=640&h=390]

    August 3, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbcyiFt5VEs&w=640&h=390]

      August 3, 2012 at 6:24 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.