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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. angeson

    MESSAGE TO GAY PEOPLE >> Belief in God and the bible is not a sin.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      No but it's retarded.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • exlonghorn

      angeson, how did you arrive at your beliefs in God and the bible?

      August 4, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  2. guest50

    It's ruined the gay movement because its shown the world that they're really not all about intolerance after all this time.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • angeson

      I love you in a straight sort of way.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • guest50

      Gay advocates have been exposed, and its not so rosey

      August 4, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  3. bold

    I'm sure a lot of the same people talking about religious freedom and liberty for chick fil a are the same people who oppose the mosque in tennessee

    August 4, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Agreed, and at Ground Zero. Or indeed anywhere.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  4. Doug Rothgaber

    The only hate I see is coming from those who are attacking Chick-fil-A. The company does not discriminate against anyone in it operation or service.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • exlonghorn

      So Chick-Fil-A deserves credit for being more creative about how they try to limit the rights of others who don't align with their Christian fundamentalist beliefs? How is that better? That's like giving someone like Romney credit for being creative with his taxes, isn't it?

      August 4, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  5. bold

    Some of these people definitely watch too much of the breathless folks on fox news and their made up war on christians to stir up the base. Why won't romney release his tax returns? Where is romney's birth certificate?

    August 4, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Bert

      Romney already released his real birth certificate and school records. Romney has a 3.97 GPA. What is Obama's GPA?

      August 4, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  6. evo_lover

    You know here is the thing who cares what they say or do? I mean seriously is it personally effecting you? People gay/straight are all allowed to have their own oppion. It doesn't matter if you agree or not, religious or not. Get over it and stop complaining about it. Get over it not everyone has the same ideas oh well grow up.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • don

      a good gay is a dead gay

      August 4, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      So gay people shouldn't complain about not having equal rights? Same as those slaves in the 1850s. They should have just gotten on with the work and shut up. I mean, they were given food and shelter, what more didi they want?

      August 4, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Southerner01

      Gays have equal rights. They want special privileges.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  7. Ken

    gay people are gross

    August 4, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  8. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    RATIONAL LIBERTARIAN IS A TROLL, YA'LL!!!! LOLOLOLOL! RIDICULOUS! GO GET A LIFE AND STOP TROLLING ON EVERYONE'S COMMENT WHO DO NOT AGREE WITH YOUR SICK AND TWISTED AND BASELESS LIFESTYLE. BUT, AT THE END OF THE DAY, GOD STILL LOVES YOU...AND SO DO I!!! :-)

    August 4, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  9. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    RATIONAL LIBERTARIAN – YOU AND YOUR CREW ARE THE "BACKWARD" ONES. WHAT IS SO PROGRESSIVE ABOUT TWO MEN AND TWO WOMEN SLEEPING TOGETHER/? IT IS SICK! HOW IS THIS PROGRESSIVE AND RIGHT AND GOOD AND SOMETHING TO BE REVERED? PLEASE ADVISE.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Because it's their right as consenting adults. Anyway, don't think for one second that Yahweh doesn't get a bit of c.ock up in the pantheon. I'd say he gets spit roasted by Mars and Zeus.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Rational my foot

      Hear, hear! "Rational" is clearly incensed that normal people won't buy it's line of baloney.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Your foot is rational? Why don't you introduce it to your brain.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  10. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    HE WILL BRING JUDGEMENT ON THIS COUNTRY AS A RESULT OF THESE SODOMITES

    August 4, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      He being that desert storm god who loves genocide I take it?

      August 4, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Rational my foot

      "Rational" Libertarian? Replace "Rational" with "Irrational" in there and I'm buyin,.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • evo_lover

      Actually the desert storm god as you put it is set... The kemetic or for people who don't know the ancient egyptian god. The Christian god is believed by some scholars that they are the one in the same but many don't, so try to get your facts straight.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Yahweh was a storm god. Try to get your facts right dingus.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Funny

      Wheres this judgement? I always hear about this judgement thats coming but never does. Oh wait, some natural event will happen like a earthquake and you'll be like "Yeah thats it, its his judgement!" God is is no more real than Sauron.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • evo_lover

      No Yahweh was not a storm god. He was a mix of Ammon and Set combined into one so he really isnt

      August 4, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • guido

      How do you feel about worship vs adoration?

      August 4, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • exlonghorn

      walk in the light, how did you arrive at your beliefs in God and the bible?

      August 4, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  11. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    THESE CRAZY GAY PEOPLE MAKE ME SICK

    August 4, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      These fundies make me laugh and cry due to their sheer retardedness.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  12. jasson p

    Here is a simple concept for those who don't agree with CFA, DON'T eat there. Pretty simple isn't it.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      We won't and we'll also criticize their backwardness.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Rational my foot

      "Rational" can dish out the criticism but has a real problem taking it.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 4, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • nogay

      LOL.......

      August 4, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  14. maraut

    I think the gay agenda is full of hate and intolerance for God and Christianity community. They are on a mission to outlaw Christianity in this country and the breakdown of the "family" as defined by God. I am convinced this is the downfall of the country. Wake up people and fight to keep our freedoms and take a stance against this form of debauchery.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • midwest rail

      The sky is falling ! What utter nonsense.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • WALK IN THE LIGHT

      I AGREE WITH YOU WHOLLY!

      August 4, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Hating god is like hating a toaster, except the toaster exists.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • evo_lover

      Some people believe in a god, while others believe in gods, and even more some don't believe in god at all. So why don't you just let people believe what they want, who cares what people believe I don't you shouldnt eithet

      August 4, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  15. nogay

    you gays are bored aren't you. have you seen what you look like on TV when they interview you. you look like the dregs of society and you are trying to force your sick beliefs on everyone else. Society was built on the basis of traditional family units. you gays, yourself came from those same families. otherwise you would have never been born., see how that work?? you're forcing yourselves on the entire country. we don't care about you. stop with the complaining and please go get some make overs....

    August 4, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Actually, people are beginning to care less and less about retarded fundies and more about individual liberty.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      You right wing judgmental christians are GETTING NERVOUS about this one eh? The evangelical right will not supply Chickfil a with enough customers to sustain profits EVERYDAY. RECORD SALES will change into steady irreversable losses. You have the right to free speech and right to religion, however silly, hateful, against science for centuries it may be. SHUT UP AND GO PRAY IN CHURCH. I don't know christians who just vomit all over the table when dining with other people, but prayers and bible quotes make me puke.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • ghgh

      I’m asking you to please pull your head out of the sand, open your mind just a little and try to educate yourself before posting statements online. Now go back and try again. You offer nothing

      August 4, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  16. guest50

    The way gays have behaved throughout this whole chick fil a ordeal has ruined their movement.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Elaborate.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      America’s “Nones” — the nonreligious — are at an all-time high, now comprising nearly one in five Americans (19%), according to a new study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. The 19% count is based on aggregated surveys of 19,377 people conducted by the Pew Research Center throughout 2011 and reported by USA Today.

      I'm not gay and will never eat there again. (This company is going to suffer the financial losses it deserves from this, just give it a few months.) Now when I see a Chick fil A I will think of two bearded men kissing, instead of The Muppets. (Many christians will now stay away from their restaurants too, this is only support from the evangelical right. Mr. Cathy has a right to free speech and to do irreparable harm to his corporation. (In and Out Burger gets NO MORE of my business either. BIBLE QUOTES MAKE ME WANT TO VOMIT, NOT EAT A MEAL.)

      August 4, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  17. Bugsy

    I would have loved to have seen what would have happened if all the Gays that work for Chick-fil-A had a sickout during their "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day"

    August 4, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  18. Blasphemy

    we are married to our first wives

    And they keep the second and third wives in a closet.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Are you a Muslim, 'cause we all know how much Muslims like to keep their wives in closets?

      August 4, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Blasphemy

      Muslims and Southern Conservatives have a lot in common.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      They certainly do.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  19. Pulling Hair

    Shut up about Chick-Fil-A already! What a non-story!

    August 4, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Blasphemy

      Shut up about Chick-Fil-A already, if you think it is not a story.

      August 4, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  20. mb2010a

    I still like the "Do Not Enter" sign in front of the CFA in the pic above...

    August 4, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • evo_lover

      It is funny

      August 4, 2012 at 9:19 am |
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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.