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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. WALK IN THE LIGHT FOR SURE

    LETS PRAY FOR THAT CRAZY PERSON WHO STOLE MY SCREEN NAME

    August 4, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  2. kpeace

    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.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Ken

      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.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Ken

      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.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • nope

      @rational? libertarian
      nope

      August 4, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  3. NY Veteran

    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.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • WALK IN THE LIGHT FOR SURE

      THAK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE TO OUR COUNTRY. BE SURE TO TAKE YOUR MEDS DAILY AND GET BETTER SOON.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • truth be told

      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.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  4. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    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!!!!

    August 4, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • WALK IN THE LIGHT FOR SURE

      FOOL

      August 4, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  5. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    GAYS, DO YOU WANT PRAYER?

    August 4, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  6. Ghost of Rodney King

    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

    August 4, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  7. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    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!!!

    August 4, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  8. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    ARE YOU ALL PRAYING YET?

    August 4, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  9. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    LET'S HOLD HANDS AND PRAY FOR THE GAYS

    August 4, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  10. Jesus Christ

    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.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • WALK IN THE LIGHT

      SMH

      August 4, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Their news is OK, but they are so afraid to offend anybody. The BBC is one of the most PC organizations on the planet.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Ken

      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.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  11. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    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.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  12. Hawkeye321

    The Bible makes it clear that Jesus really loved waffle fries.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      And little boys.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  13. Nostradamus

    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?

    August 4, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  14. Your Religion Might Be Bullshіt If...

    August 4, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  15. KittyKat

    It is pretty simple. If you don't like where Chick-fil-A donates money, don't eat there.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I won't eat there, and I'll also criticize them.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Nietodarwin

      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.)

      August 4, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • irock

      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.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Denying someone their rights is hateful.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • pervert alert

      You tend to be thick as a brick. There is no right to perversion. Qu eers the diseased slugs that gave the world AIDS

      August 4, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  16. TownC

    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.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      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.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • WALK IN THE LIGHT

      IRRATIONAL LIBERARIAN, SHUT UP!

      August 4, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  17. Ghost of Rodney King

    Can't we all just get along... and enjoy good food??

    August 4, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Since when do Chick-fil-A have good food?

      August 4, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • WALK IN THE LIGHT

      HERE YOU GO AGAIN, SHUT UP!

      August 4, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Ghost of Rodney King

      Well, since well before your taste buds fell off your free flapping tounge LOL

      August 4, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Ho ho. Funny. You should get your own primetime show on NBC.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  18. Richard

    I love how anything that speaks out against the gays possible being wrong is censored.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      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!!!

      August 4, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • WALK IN THE LIGHT

      UGH! YOU IRRATIONAL LIBERTARIAN, SHUT THE H E L L UP!!!!!

      August 4, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  19. Richard

    When gays accept my polygamist lifesytle then I'll accept their gay lifestyle.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      They, and the law, should recognize polygamy if every party gives consent.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Atheist

      I have no problem with polygamy among consenting adults.

      August 4, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  20. WALK IN THE LIGHT

    ROBERT, I WILL KEEP THE CAPS ON, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. AND, BE QUIET. YOUR COMMENTS ARE BASELESS. YAWN.

    August 4, 2012 at 9:10 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.