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."
I don't want freedom of religion as much as i want freedom from religion
go worship a rock i could care less, just don't expect me to worship it
So, naturally you hang out on a Belief blog. Hmmmm, makes sense.
Rasunel, you seem to assume that i'm atheist, I'm not. I am making a point that i dont expect others to belief the same way i do and expect the same from them. i could use the torah, koran, new testement, book of mormon to "down" other people's life style. but why should i? dont pee in my kool aide and i wont poop in your shoes. kind of a simple rule to follow, no?
If a child, who is non judmental sees 2 men kiss and goes "ewwww", he inatley knows it is wrong. 2 men kissing will
ALWAYS BE A BIZARRE SIGHT. None of your activism will EVER CHANGE THAT. THE SIGHT OF 2 MEN KISSING
WILL ALWAYS BE REPULSIVE. ITS JUST THAT YOUR BIZARRE BRAINS CAN'T COMPREHEND WHAT WE SEE
Children become aware of the stigma very early on because of the att.itudes of people like you. Anyway, lots of kids react the same way to seeing two adults of the opposite gender kissing.
SHUT UP, IRRATIONAL LIBERTARIA! YOU'RE SICKENING. DONT YOU HAVE SOME COLORFUL PARADE TO ATTEND THIS MORNING? GET OFF THE COMPUTER AND GO PUT YOUR TIGHTS AND WIG ON.
kids seeing two adults of opposite genders kiss and say ewwwwww. your point? kids act immaturely, because they're kids.
Pchow – you havent been around children much. It is totally common for children to say "ewwww" when they see a man and a women kissing..... duhh
Gay men can try and try to have children. All they will ever get is a turd.
Keep your God out of my sandwich.
And my orifices.
Chik Fil A will not hurt from this. All the places here were full of paying customers. I guess people really don't care about your condition.
I'm flattered. You must really like me. In a gay way, perhaps?
Nah, just amused at your ranting. This whole thing makes me laugh.
So standing up for peoples' rights is ranting? I get it, you want to suck me off. Don't be shy.
See, this is the problem. You escalate your rudeness when people exchange ideas that don't align with your beliefs. I have not problem with the issue or civil unions. I just choose not to belittle others.
You can rim me if you like, I don't mind Mr. Hypocrite.
Haha, you are a nasty one, aren't you. Actually, the only rimming I do is when I am shooting hoops. :)
Since throughout history gays have always been the majority, lets give them what they want
Majority at the cemetery/
if a man loves a turtle, so be it. Why stop there? Marry anything with a hole you can fit it into
Can a turtle give consent fool?
More nonsense, but you already knew that. Why are faux Christians so dishonest ?
I like that... anything that moves with a hole, let them marry...
In reply to rat lib. Did the Sandusky victims give consent?
Kids can't give legal consent f.uckwit.
Good, pchow, if a man wants to marry a turtle, let him. How does this affect you?
That's why you and your kind are defective.
Of course chick fil a had record crowds on their appreciation day. 95 percent of them are in the south. I wonder how many people would of showed up if Cathy voiced his disapproval of interracial marriage?
He didn't do that, so your arguement is rediculous
She is not against interracial marriage, she is against man to man and woman to woman marriage... even animals don't do that for Christs sake... what a world we live in...
^ "she". This shows how little you people know about what or who you're supporting, you just do it because others say do it. SHEEPLE! Get a mind of your own, start reading and do research, the world is not that scary
I don't believe in god. I know that being gay is wrong, unnatural. I do believe in mother nature. Mother nature would die if 98% of the population of all living creatures was gay. That's how we know it's wrong. Survival instinct!
As a non believer I agree there is something unnatural but it has it's explanations in nature as well, there are theories surrounding it and it exists in other animals as well. The two dads or two mothers in nature is actually a better way to nurture and perpetuate some species. I think it's called the gay uncle theory or something.
Can we all agree WALKING IN THE LIGHT is a complete tool
HEY ROBBIE, WANNA WALK IN THE LIGHT WITH ME??? HUH? HUH? YOU KNOW YOU WANNA. ;-)
"Can we all agree WALKING IN THE LIGHT is a complete tool" OMG so funny.
let get this gay marriage thing over with already so I can move forward and marry the tree in my backyard that I love!
Standard delusional idiocy.
pchow, you CAN marry the tree in your backyard.
I love how atheist and non-christians want to tell christians and jesus how they would behave. how would they know? christians defend God's word, they don't tolerate immoral behavior. there is nothing hateful or biggoted about following God and the Bible. I'm just glad people are taking a stand.
tata, how did you arrive at your beliefs in God and the bible?
I k ow because I've read the bible, more than once, studied it and lived it blindly. Now I know better
I haven't seen this much controversy for a fast food chain since Mayor McCheese was caught in bed with Grimace.
The news really ran with that one. But I hear they're living happily together and have little creepy children now
I may wish to sleep with multiple women and marry more than one. There aren't even civil unions for that, and that behaviour was actually IN the bible, and not considered sin then like g/l acts were. And that was accepted for thousands of years, and is still accepted today in some parts of the world. So, I think my "rights" which in some religions are acceptable, should be granted before those of you that are freaks of nature are granted. So deal with it.
Polygamy should be legal.
so should beastiality apparently. if you love your horse, why not marry it. who are you to judge
Can a horse give consent retard?
And while I'm at it, THANK YOU CNN for giving so much free advertising to this company. Or wait a second... are you guys making money off of this?? CNN reeks like Faux "News"...
SHM. GO EAT A HAM SANDWICH
Intolerance? Let's talk about focus on the family and 1,000,000 moms. They are boycotting jcpenney, Ford, Starbucks, general mills, Disney and others. Their crime? Giving benefits to domestic partners and hiring ellen degeneres.
GO SIT DOWN SOMEWHERE!
THIS IS JUST RIDICULOUS!
No, you're ridiculous, and turn the caps off...you aren't making a point with it. He's completely right. I think it's funny how you never hear about the Jewwish community having these problems, why? They know persecution. They may not agree with others lifestyles but they keep it to themselves. Christians need to get over themselves. We (non believers and other religions) are over your agenda and pity party
If Jesus came back today, these cfl creeps would crucify him all over again because he would rail so hard against their gluttony, greed, hatred, and hypocrisy.
He'd be too busy banging little boys.
In muslim nations gays are slaughtered. If you want to protest something there's a cause. Leave the God loving chicken sandwich alone.
This is a secular nation.
THERE GOES MR TROLL AGAIN..THIS IS A CHRISTIAN NATION. JESUS IS IN CHARGE. NOT YOU GAEESSS!
So you think it's ok to be "a llittle bit bigoted"? Doesn't hold water.
Christians also get killed by muslims in the mideast so I guess that means that your religious freedom over here doesn't matter all that much, right? Let's toss that freedom away because others are treated worse somewhere else.
WALKING IN THE LIGHT 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
Ever read the First Amendment troll?
GHGH & IRRATIONAL LIBERTARIAN – YOU TWO WILL BURN IN HELL TOGETHER! MY MIND IS AS OPEN AS ALL THE PAGES IN THE GOOD BOOK. STOP THE MADNESS. YOU BOTH HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER. YOU ARE SICK AND SCARED AND CRAZY AND DEPRESSED AND MISERABLE AND LONELY AND NUTS! AMERICA IS A CHRISTIAN NATION. ALWAYS HAS BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE. GOD BLESS AMERICA. MY HOME SWEET HOME. GOD IS IN CONTROL. GOD IS IN CONTROL. GOD IS IN CONTROL!!!!!
If you're going to heaven, I'm glad I'm going to hell.
Gays preach tolerance when it suits their agenda but it seems that "tolerance" is a one-way-street for them as they're clearly intolerant of any views opposing theirs. Can you spell h-y-p-o-c-r-i-t-e-s?
So criticizing the intolerance of others is intolerant?
oh please. When "Christians" boycott a company for its stance, it's called "excercising my rights". When gays boycott a business for its stance, it's called "infringement on freedom of speech". Yes you spell the H word very well. If these greedy, gluttonous people really believed in supporting "traditional marriage", why are they not trying to ban divorce? The whole thing is pathetic, especially considering the people who think buying some food at this restaurant is going to make their marriages better. No wonder the divorce rate in this country is so high.
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.