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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. Hindu

    Gays practicing forced conversions ... (A forced conversion is the acceptance of a philosophy against the will of the subject, often with the threatened consequence of earthly penalties or harm - mayors saying we will not grant business license is a threatened consequence - media saying we will wage a campaign against you is another threat and force)

    August 3, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  2. lamb of dog

    Its beautiful. Thanks god. For hate and intolerance from your crazy followers.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • pervert alert

      Opposing the filth of sin is not hate or intolerance it is a moral responsibility. Qu eers the folks who gave the world AIDS

      August 3, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • GrowUp

      @ pervert: trim that hair on the palm of your hand. Can't see it cuz your blind?

      August 3, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • pervert alert

      @growup
      Are you speaking from experience or are you just wishful dreaming? Qu eers the folks who gave the world AIDS. Be a grown up – share a needle with a qu eer.

      August 3, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Jen

      Awww...poor pervert alert is scared he's going to get aids from a dirty needle...maybe you should give up that nasty crack habit you obviously have (all of you poorly educated people seem to have one nowadays)....

      August 3, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  3. Ro

    GOD is the BEST!!!

    August 3, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  4. lamb of dog

    And all you religious bigots need help.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • pervert alert

      Truth is not bigotry. Qu eers the folks who gave the world AIDS

      August 3, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • here we go again

      pervert alert, some asshole straight guy fucked a monkey and gave the world AIDS.

      shall we debate that now, monkeyfucker?

      August 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • pervert alert

      Qu eers in San Francisco do a lot of monkeys do they? Ground zero, one very sick Canadian qu eer from Montreal Canada into multiple partners and animals as well. Qu eers the folks that gave the world AIDS

      August 3, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  5. Dina

    @Hawaiiguest.....Look around .... God exists!!! just because your faith is dead and you wantsome fact pper proof right in front of you... IT IS IN FRONT OF YOU .... LOOK AROUND ISNT IT AMAZING????? THE WOR D, PEOPLE???? HIS CREATION ALL OF IT . Thanks for the chat God Bless you

    August 3, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  6. lamb of dog

    God is a Sky Fairy.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  7. Bobo

    It's time to move on, they have a right to do as they please. Right or wrong!

    August 3, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Joe A.

      Are you talking about Drug Dealers? Murderers? Pedophiles? Bullies? who are you talking about?

      August 3, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  8. MontanaSon

    Way to ferret out the truth! Hilareous! This network has 19 reporters digging through Chick Fill A's garbage cans.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  9. Laura

    Since when is it anyone's business where a private corporation donates its money???

    August 3, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  10. Hindu

    Gays will not give up until they succeed in bullying Chick-Fil-A into giving donations to groups that support their views. Gay is the new bully – using politicians (city mayors etc) and the media (CNN, NBC etc) to bully those who do not agree with their views. Forced conversions ... LOL!

    August 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • California

      It's the liberal way.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • GrowUp

      At least Christians have never tried and still do not try to force their beliefs on others. Nor have they ever used governments or the political process to do so, much less violence of any means. Hahaha!

      August 3, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  11. lamb of dog

    Mean gays.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  12. BLAKTA301

    I THINK THE HEAD OF CHICK-FIL-A HAS THE RIGHT TO SAY ANYTHING HE WANTS TO SAY. THATS WHAT FREEDOM OF SPEECH MEANS MORE POWER TO CHICK-FIL-A I WILL EAT THERE MORE NOW

    August 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • MontanaSon

      Right on. I don't think I've ever stopped there – but now I won't pass one up!

      August 3, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • here we go again

      Capslock – srs bsns I guess.

      Eat as much greasy fried food as you can. I beg you.

      August 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  13. Eddie

    Blah blah blah who cares what the Gay rights groups say. Way to go Chick-fil-A. I never ate there, but I will now. At least I know I won't get hit up by some nasty gay creep.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • GrowUp

      @Eddie: not to worry. Gays don't like fat, fried chicken eating trailer trash. Get a new suit at Wal Mart and go to church. Pray that some day you find someone fat and ugly enough to love you.

      August 3, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  14. ROSE JAMES

    We support FREEDOM OF SPEECH for all AMERICANS, and leave all the hate out. Just because I don't agree with you is no reason for me to not love you. I support CHICK- FIL- A, they stand up for the WORD OF GOD.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • sam

      ....and free speech gets to be used by people who disagree with this view. It works all ways.

      Also, the word of god gets changed all the time...sorry.

      August 3, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 3, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  16. Insider

    Time to investigate gay owned businesses and see where their money goes, say to... anti-christen groups?

    August 3, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • truth be told

      There are not enough fairies around to make a difference.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  17. California

    The gay community showing their true side of hatred and violence.

    This surprises no one.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Your Panties in Texas

      I totally agree witchya. You are an intelligent person.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Repeating the same idiocy over and over makes it no more true the 12th time than the 1st.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • truth be told

      99% of the world is normal 1%is fairy. Truth is with the overwhelming majority. You turn fairy in Iran, it is a one way ticket to answer all your doubts.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • here we go again

      Where's the violence?

      Oh, right. You just made that up because it sounded cool.

      August 3, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  18. Hindu

    Gays will not give up until they succeed in bullying Chick-Fil-A into giving donations to groups that support their views. Gay is the new bully - using politicians (city mayors etc) and the media (CNN, NBC etc) to bully those who do not agree. Forced conversions ... LOL!

    August 3, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Gary

      That is the stupidest thing I've read all day...

      August 3, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Ro

      True that!!!

      August 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • California

      It's OK to bully as long as you're gay.

      August 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • here we go again

      Protesting is bullying?

      Damn, is this board really this dumb? All the time?

      August 3, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Cry baby Christians causing trouble and wars all over the world. Ever has it been

      August 3, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Hindu

      @here we go again - protesting is not bullying but using state power (e.g. city mayors) to threaten consequences for your viewpoint is BULLYING.

      August 3, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  19. California

    Liberalism / Political correcness = parasitic disease.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • here we go again

      I agree on the political correctness. But from what I can see of your posts so far, you're the parasite.

      August 3, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • GrowUp

      How do you like living in your Mommie's basement?

      August 3, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  20. brian

    I remember when hate groups were like the KKK and other violent groups. Now all you have to do is have a different point of view and your a hate group.

    I disagree with the DNC most of the type can we start calling them a hate group.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • here we go again

      Come back when you actually have something almost intelligent to say. We'll wait.

      August 3, 2012 at 7:08 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.