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."
Gays, protesting is not bullying but trying to use state power (e.g. city mayors) to threaten consequences for someone's viewpoint is BULLYING.
Funding hate groups, like Cathy does, IS bullying and worse.
@James PDX - do you fund LGBT groups? I am sure you do and I am OK with it and dont consider it bullying. Bullying is use of force and threatening consequences, penalties etc for holding a viewpoint. That is what some of mayors tried to do. That was bullying.
Never mind – Hindu doesn't get it, and it's purposeful.
I am a graduate of Berry College, class of 1998. Yes, technically it is loosely considered a non denominational Christian school, but many students, such as myself, had no such religious ties while we attended. You want to know what two groups are fairly predominate at Berry (or at least they were predominant when I was there)? The Christians and the GAYS. That's right. For whatever reason, Berry seemed to have a pretty high population of LGBTs. They weren't as open and vocal as the Christians, but everyone knew they were there. Now, despite issues with the administration (which probably happens at most small, liberal arts colleges), I loved my time there. I'm proud of my degree, my professors, and my fellow students. It is a shame Chic Fil A has to be the way they are and I wish Berry would just break off all affiliation with them. I do have concerns it will drag down the value of my undergrad's reputation. Luckily for me, I have a graduate degree as well, but I know not all my classmates will have this. Please don't read this and think that Berry is and always was some kind of right winged nutcase school. Trust me, when I was there, it most certainly was not like that at all, even though the Chic Fil A affiliation existed back then. If it had been like that, I would NOT have stayed. We had our nuts (like my first roommate whose paperwork was mixed up by the residents' life office so she got stuck with me. She was the president of the young conservatives club and she'd take naps listening to Rush Limbaugh, which I would promptly turn off as soon as she was asleep. Talk about a mismatch! We parted ways and haven't spoken since. I don't even recall her last name.) But by and large, I expect we are similar to most other colleges of a similar size and with a similar liberal arts focus–a mixed bag. I for one just so happen to be straight and married to a man, but I support LGBT causes nonetheless. Please keep that in mind should you run across a Berry College grad in the near future. Don't make assumptions. Thanks.
Sounds like you are the nut and your roommate was the san one.
Susie is a nutjob.
Nice post. Never mind criticism from someone who can't even spell "sane" – a Limbaugh fan no doubt.
Susie and her 131 IQ have been nuttying this place up the last few pages.
Divide that IQ by 2. That's her real IQ.
Susie is just confused by all the big words Heather used in her insightful post.
thanks for posting. It's nice to know that Berry is pretty much a "normal' small liberal arts college.
In the context of Chik-fil-A scholarships people could easily construe it to be otherwise – another Wheaton College of protestant orthodoxy.
(same rights as everyone else)
I ate at chik-fil-a today and was going to buy a protester a milkshake but I couldn't find any. Obviously gays are only loud and don't have the numbers that everybody thinks they do.
They probably had better things to do than hate.
If it wasn't for their sin and hate they would not be qu eers. Qu eers the folks who gave the world AIDS
Terrorists nazis will take over if we don't all pray. You people and your stupid scare tactics. How many of you were scared into belief in you Sky Fairy.
Next you'll be using the "R" word because you're beyond pathetic.
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but rather a confident assurance. Fear belongs to those who try to hide behind calling God childish insults. God bless
I am still looking for my pants, though. God bless
Ok. Every other religious nut job threatens me with hell. So half of you do have a spirit of fear. And I don't know what r word you mean.
Why is this getting so much press? Who cares what Chick Fil-a's CEO thinks? Go there for the food. I can't stand Christian Bale, but I will still go watch Batman. The people that get upset over this crap obviously live easy lives and have nothing more important to worry about.
So far nothing I have read suggests CFA hates anybody. Geez, way to blow things out of proportion.
Hey its Mr Cathy's money and he can choose to donate it as he likes. You have your right to speak with your money. So exercise that! Dont be silly!
Could Christianity legitimately be considered a CULT, if they did not have so much influence?
Could they fit all the other criteria for a CULT? (yes/no/why?)
Any and every religion is a cult if you go word for word from the definition, the things that set modern day religions aside from cults are the religions have been modernized for the most part and cults are generally seen as extremist groups (mass suicide, sacrificial "lamb", etc.). So I would have to say no, and don't worry I'm not biased. I'm saying no because Christianity isn't really even about Jesus anymore, people consider themselves Christian if they get the present they want on Christmas or eat like gluttons on Easter; and same goes for Judaism and I guess Islam.
Please visit the Straight Alliance at http://www.straight-alliance.webs.com. Gay people making a fuss over someone not agreeing with them is ridiculous. You can't force people to agree with your lifestyle. Are you gonna go after every business and organization because they don't support gay marriage? When will gay people learn that disagreeing isn't hatred. If anything, they're the ones spreading hatred by trying to force their beliefs on others.
You said, "When will gay people learn that disagreeing isn't hatred."
Disagree all you want.
You said, "If anything, they're the ones spreading hatred by trying to force their beliefs on others."
No, you idiot. All they want is equal rights. Nothing more, nothing less. How hard is that to grasp?
Well people I gotta go.
Time to go get dinner at Chick-Fil-A and watch the freakshow outside.
btw, I love a good reaming.
Now we can now clearly see that when gays come into power, they will not give the straight people liberties and rights that were afforded to them when straight people were in power ... straight people will be bullied into forced conversions of views ... gays' false mask of tolerance is exposed. Beware. You have been warned!
The media has a new word now "outcry" actually not to many people care one way or another, it is the company's money they earned it and have a right to give it to whoever they wish. I'm glad because while the gay lifestyle is not my lifestyle the freedom of expression is as we still live in a free country in spite of the present administration.
Prayer changes things .
Sky Fairy is bad for kids.
We tend to dismiss the parallels between the rise of Stalin and Hitler and the rise of totalitarianism in this country. Couldn't happen here! But here it is. Obama's bunch is not stupid. They are applying proven methods of history.
Obama a totalitarianism???
Oh my. I can't stop laughing at the absurdity of your premise.
I recommend getting a truck with a radio that receives something other than AM conservative talk shows.
Marriage is a old word it means man and woman living together.Gays have to invent their own word for living together.
What's wrong with using the word 'marriage' beyond man+woman. Word meanings evolve over time. Take 'gay' for instance. ;)
After reading all the hate filled comments below, I really feel bad for the black people in the 60's that had to endure this same thing, all in the name of Jesus. A Baptist Church just last week would not let a black straight couple get married in it because the members complained that they were black. Can you believe this?
After doing my research on this subject and NOT getting my info from Fox News; this issue had nothing to do with what Mr. Cathy's statement, but the fact that Chick-fil-a uses profits it makes from the community and gives them to hate groups that their only mission is to get rid of gays. So the masses have been duped again.
All through life, I always wondered how Hitler was able to get so many people to follow him. NOW I KNOW! Peace.
So Hitler did his evil over a basket of Chicken? Hmm...interesting comment.
Christian Athletics a hate group?
Well the good news is the youth are starting to reject the silly notion of a Sky Fairy.
Lamb up @$$ – Does that hurt?
Thanks for capitalizing "Sky Fairy"...give honor where honor is due!
Too late..using too much logic..your subconscious already betrayed you:-P
Your the one who thinks Sky Fairy and god are the same.
Gays' false mask of tolerance is exposed. Gay is the new bully. Agree with us, donate to our groups or else .... (city mayors, media campaign - threatening consequences).
Hindus aren't Christian and they're going to burn in hell. They are freaks of nature and the things they do are disgusting. They can't be trusted to raise children or have family because they are all a bunch of perverts with forehead dots. I'm going to donate money and do everything else I can to make sure they don't have the same rights that I do and are considered inferior to real Americans.
Now, Hindu, remember if you don't think that's fair and if you speak out against it you are being a bully.....
@Manda - lame try to divide Christians and Hindus on this issue. divide and conquer - latest political weapon of gays and liberals. FAIL!
Wow, you're too stupid to even recognize that you're being personally criticized.
These days the word "gay" means the complete opposite of happy.
You said, "These days the word "gay" means the complete opposite of happy."
And so called christians are to blame for a large part of that.
So you depend on other people to give you happiness?
That is certainly the way it looks.
LinCA – You liberals never were any good at taking responsibility for your own actions.
Gay is a word stolen by qu eers to try to make their dirty disgusting practices more acceptable. Qu eers the people who gave the world AIDS
You said, "LinCA – You liberals never were any good at taking responsibility for your own actions."
If fighting for equal rights makes me a "liberal", I'm sure glad I'm not a conservative.
You already have equal rights. You want rights for your fetish.
LinCA – You liberals don't even know what equal rights means. You don't even know what "fair share" is along with LEGAL. You parasitc people twist things to mean whatever you want it to mean at any given time.
"I'd feel sorry for liberals if they weren't so stupid"~ JG
Divorce is dusgusting and against God's law. Every Christian who has had a divorce and gets remarried is committing adultery. Adultery is disgusting and against God's law. All Christians should boycott themselves and try to pass laws eliminating the rights of every one of them who has had a divorce – which, statistically speaking, is morre than 1/2 of you who have married..
Joe, only a complete imbecile would say that a person depends on another for happiness just because another person can willingly impair their happiness. Congratulations. You're an imbecile.
You said, "You liberals don't even know what equal rights means."
I certainly know what you think it means. But just because you think you are special doesn't mean that you are right. Discriminating based on your silly beliefs, isn't equal.
You said, "You don't even know what "fair share" is along with LEGAL. You parasitc people twist things to mean whatever you want it to mean at any given time."
I'm guessing you are dissatisfied with the current US tax code? Lemme guess, you are in the lower middle class and have been lead to believe that we redistributing your wealth?
You may want to get a clue. Your wealth, if you have any, is being redistributed. It is being sent abroad and into the pockets of the super wealthy.
The vast majority of conservative voters are voting against their own pocketbook. They are lead by the nose by special interest that trick them into voting for their puppets. The religious right is being used, and their religion is the tool to do it.
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.