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."
LETS PRAY FOR THAT CRAZY PERSON WHO STOLE MY SCREEN NAME
I think this is pretty simple...if you don't agree with the corporate stance on the definition of marriage, then you don't have to eat there. They do have some darn good Chicken Sandwiches though.
The 97% who aren't gay will make a point of eating their more often. Once again, the militant gays are the best sales people for another well-run corporation. MMMMMMmmmmmmm. Tastes like chicken.
Check any recent poll. Support for gay marriage has surpassed retardo-fundie opposition. Just because 97% (more like 90-93%) aren't gay doesn't mean that all those people are hateful bigots.
If there was a god, he would be a perfect being. As such he wouldnt judge, hate, or be angry. Why in the name of religion do flawed humans ascribe the worst human frailties and emotions to their allegedly perfect being? Because of a book of fairy tales written by scared old me one step out of caves thousands of years ago? And if you actually belived a word of that book, why is it you forget all of the passages about loving your neighbor and leaving vengeance and justice to your god? There is more hate an bile on here from you alleged church going Christians that I ever saw anywhere in your hated evil blue states.
THAK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY. BE SURE TO TAKE YOUR MEDS DAILY AND GET BETTER SOON.
There is a God and He hates sin, there is a holy hate. There is also Gods wrath, He endures sin only to the measure He has set and there is a judgement of God giving full authority to His anger (wrath) and there will be a final white throne judgement at the end of time as we know it.
PLEASE PRAY THE GAY OUT OF ME! I CONFESS! I AM DOING THIS BECAUSE MY PREACHER TOLD ME THAT IF I SPREAD THE HATE TOWARD OTHER GAYS IT WILL PRAY THE GAY OUT OF ME!!!!
GAYS, DO YOU WANT PRAYER?
If only I could come back to life and eat a great Chick Fil A meal. Oh, heaven just isn't what heaven without the pickles, waffle fries and chicken. It haunts me. But the g/l protesters can take it to the real south where chicken is fried with brimstone
LET US ALL PRAY FOR THE BREEDERS! WE ARE OVERPOPULATING THE EARTH, USING UP ALL THE RESOURCES AND SPREADING DISEASE, HATRED AND BIGOTRY. LET US PRAY FOR HATRED AND CRUELTY TO RULE THE EARTH BECAUSE CHRISTIANS HATE, HATE, HATE!
NOW EVERYONE PRAY FOR ME BECAUSE I'M ACTUALLY GAY TOO!!!
ARE YOU ALL PRAYING YET?
LET'S HOLD HANDS AND PRAY FOR THE GAYS
Everyone should start checking out BBCnews.com for their morning news. No rednecks allowed and REAL news is actually reported. This constant coverage of a pathetic animal butchery that supports hatred and bigotry has gotten old. CNN, you're just like FOX News. Proud of that? Trying to start a civil war between Gays and Breeders? How sad.
Their news is OK, but they are so afraid to offend anybody. The BBC is one of the most PC organizations on the planet.
The militant gays have created the worst strategy ever. Hate is the cornerstone of the militant gay agenda. They hate Christians. They insist we're all gay. They write stories that Lincoln was gay. They ignore the real % of those who are gay – low single digits by the way, not 20%. Own it. Enjoy the lack of support.
LET'S ALL PRAY FOR THE GAYS, EVERYBODY. THEY NEED OUR SWIFT AND IMMEDIATE PRAYERS! PRAY FOR THE GAYS, EVERYONE! PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!!!! THEY NEED OUR PRAYERS. THEY ARE CRAZY. FALLING APART. LET'S PRAY FOR THE GAYS.
The Bible makes it clear that Jesus really loved waffle fries.
And little boys.
In a hundred years from now this issue will completely disappear. Scientist have identified the genetic defect and will be able to test pregnant women during their first trimester. If the results come back positive they will by law have to abort the defective fetus. SO WHAT IS ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?
It is pretty simple. If you don't like where Chick-fil-A donates money, don't eat there.
I won't eat there, and I'll also criticize them.
It's pretty simple, you have the right to practice your religion. It's pretty simple, THE FREE MARKET has the ALL THE RIGHT in this debate. "Never lose a customer" is a kind of religion in business, and Mr. Cathy screwed up. Sales will plummet. I won't eat where people VOMIT RELIGION AT ME while I dine. (In and Out Burger is on my boycott list too.)
Just because a person has an opinion does not mean they hate. Get over it qays. It`s not a religious deal either. It`s just us being us and you being you. Not straight vs, gay \ lezbian at all. Why all the sad faces? It`s life, kive it.
Denying someone their rights is hateful.
You tend to be thick as a brick. There is no right to perversion. Qu eers the diseased slugs that gave the world AIDS
Chick-fil-A donates money to religious groups that are for traditional marriage! How dare a private company express their opinion through donations? What about all who donated to the president before he recently came out for gay marriage? They too must be terrible people.
They're allowed to donate to who they want to, and we're allowed to criticize them for supporting hatred. That's how freedom works.
IRRATIONAL LIBERARIAN, SHUT UP!
Can't we all just get along... and enjoy good food??
Since when do Chick-fil-A have good food?
HERE YOU GO AGAIN, SHUT UP!
Well, since well before your taste buds fell off your free flapping tounge LOL
Ho ho. Funny. You should get your own primetime show on NBC.
I love how anything that speaks out against the gays possible being wrong is censored.
What reality are you living in? This stupid eatery has been on CNN all week long with at least 5 articles to back up hatred toward Gays....At least you don't have to go to Fox News anymore to get hatred and bigotry from the right-wing...it's right here for you! EVERYDAY!!!
UGH! YOU IRRATIONAL LIBERTARIAN, SHUT THE H E L L UP!!!!!
When gays accept my polygamist lifesytle then I'll accept their gay lifestyle.
They, and the law, should recognize polygamy if every party gives consent.
I have no problem with polygamy among consenting adults.
ROBERT, I WILL KEEP THE CAPS ON, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. AND, BE QUIET. YOUR COMMENTS ARE BASELESS. YAWN.
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.