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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. Cubist Tut

    In response to those who quote the 14th amendment:

    What would you call it when a State prohibits polygamy, but then turns around and permits same-s-e-x marriage? Would you call that equality or being hypocritical?

    August 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com

      @cubist turd

      When you understand WHY polygemy is against the law, then we can discuss other issues. You are comparing apples and oranges dumb a.s.s

      August 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Cubist Tut

      ChristardMingle.com

      How about you explain it to me. Do you think you can do that logically without being rude?

      August 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Help us all

      The correct spelling is polygamy not polygemy. Continue on....

      August 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  2. Keith

    True Christians please do not waste your time arguing about God's Word it is clear. There are people who do not believe, those who continue to sin no matter what you say. Those who use only God can judge, which is not true. The Bible tells us to judge a man by the fruit he bears but if you do not read the Bible you will continue to use a verse incorrectly.

    In the end not following His Word will be judgement enough. Please stop arguing with non believers and yes if you are living in sin you will not make it to heaven. If you believe or not Hell is real.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Thank you, Keith, for representing the voice of the hopelessly brainwashed on this blog.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Redemption23

      Keith.............Thank you for representing the message of Christ, however I must disagree with you about not arguing for The Word. 1 Peter 3:15 compels us followers to make "a defense of the faith", but to do it with gentle and meekness. Notice Rufus attacks you and not your position. This is called "ad hominem" and it is used when the opposing person really has nothing to say on the matter. Rufus infers that your brainwashed, which means he has an insight to the truth, but does nothing to present it. Rufus actually makes your point about the futility of judging others, by him judging you. It's usage serves only him.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Redemption

      Considering that Keith usually posts this same post and runs to a different blog, I'm pretty sure he won't see your response. Unless of course he just wan't people to agree with him. Either way, he didn't even have an argument, he merely called for believers not to back up assertions with anything.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  3. Rita

    They support groups with conservative Christian beliefs. If conservative Christianity involves not agreeing with the LGBT lifestyle, as God puts it: Hating the sin but loving the sinner, then there is nothing wrong with it. They are just following their beliefs and not harming anybody.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  4. Amy Taylor

    PetSmart Charities exists to help homeless pets – but did you know that PetSmart Corporate donates ZERO dollars? The money is all raised by hitting up PetSmart customers for MORE money rather than giving some of what they already spend. My hunch is that many so-called corporate charities are run this way. My hat is off to a company that takes from its profits to give. Americans, Christians specifically are the most generous people in the world (look it up, this is statistically accurate) – guess what, it's because charity is…gasp…a Christian principle. You don't have to agree with Christian values, but for God's sake – why would you slam people for GIVING? Even IF some of the money goes towards causes you aren't on board with, I can guarantee you Winshape is doing and giving WAY more to help the less-fortunate than all these activists who are crying fowl…

    August 3, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Jesse

      They are using anything they can to move the "agenda" forward. If the money was going to a homeless shelter, or a dog shelter "they" would say the homeless shelter doesn't help any gay or lesbian homeless or the dog shelter doesn't allow gay dogs. It's all about bullying people/companies into following "their" agenda.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  5. GE

    Geez! not only do they want to slience the beliefs of the Christians because it differs from theirs now the want to control how one spends his hard earned money....Geez you gay and lesbian nutbags need to get a life and accept that not everyone supports that lifestyle!!!!! point blank there are people who don't believe in that and have to the right to stand on what they believe!!!

    August 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • McCave

      Amen!

      August 3, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • ChristardMingle.com

      But GE, don't you remember the part about it is none of your business what other people do? You don't have to be gay (unless you are, you don't have a choice), but you don't have the right to dictate policy for others. You are a facist, bigoted pig by definition. YOU are what is wrong with the world.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Geez you gay and lesbian nutbags need to get a life and accept that not everyone supports that lifestyle!!!!"

      It's about civil rights. Marriage was defined by the US Supreme Court as a civil right. Recognized federal civil rights law in the United States is grounded in the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. By this standard, marriage has long been established as a civil right.

      The operative constitutional text is section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1868. The relevant passages read as follows:

      No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws

      A federal appeals court on May 31st ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it denies equal rights for legally married same-sex couples, making it likely that the Supreme Court will consider the politically divisive issue for the first time in its next term. This most likely will be decided in the courts and since most courts keep ruling in gays favor they should be able to over turn all the unconstitutional laws prejudice bigots have been trying to pass.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • GE

      Being gay and lesbian is a choice not a civil right

      August 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  6. Chuck

    Every single person in this country already have the same rights. Every gay man can marry a woman who agrees to marry him. And I as a straight man cannot marry another man. We already have the same rights. What you're looking for is a new right.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • .

      This is one of the dumbest comments.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Help us all

      He thought it was clever but it's not

      August 3, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  7. RJM

    "Shocking donations" to Focus on the Family. Wow – now that shows where these groups are coming from. They live in their own little world and if you don't subscribe to their narrow beliefs you are "hateful". To believe what the Bible says is now "shocking". To believe that a marriage is only one man and one women is "shocking".

    August 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  8. Sheryl

    Sick that i have to automatically just accept, gays and lesbian, even though it goes against everything that i believe in. very tired of being told how to think, what i should and should not believe in.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • sleepytime

      Hey, it's a free country, you can hate whoever you want, Sheryl. That doesn't mean you get to live your life free from criticism though.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Help us all

      You don't have to – move to Saudi Arabia

      August 3, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  9. Ray

    Chick-Fil-A donates to Christian groups (big breaking news all the sudden huh?), Ben and Jerry's donates to Gay groups...it's their right to donate to whatever group they want, don't like it simply don't consume their products.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  10. jealous

    you're all just jealous that gay people have the nicest houses and cars in your neighborhood

    August 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • McCave

      I suppose... if that's important to you.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  11. Daniel

    Everybody Sins. That is all.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Help us all

      Amen Brother!!

      August 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  12. BUBBLES

    Their food is pretty bland.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Skwisgaar Skwigelf

      Just likes thems brains, they ares big dil.dos!

      August 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  13. you can do it...all night longgggg!

    believe what you want, but when your beliefs are working to restrict my rights i won't put up with it

    August 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • rich

      exactly. No one is trying to stop men and women from getting married. Stop making an idol of a book and use your heads.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • McCave

      That statement goes both ways. You'll have to be more specific...which side are you on?

      August 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  14. McCave

    you guys call anyone who disagrees with you a hate group. Grow up. Be a man.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Ewan

      Lol, you're asking a gay person to be a man? That's not possible.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • rich

      you two make a good couple :)

      August 3, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  15. Skwisgaar Skwigelf

    What is wrong with this dumb dil.dos, they give us all the sandwhiches in the world and no instruction on hows to removes the Jesus goo!

    August 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  16. ah ha!

    oh no, i don't want gay people to get married, i don't know why, i read in a book once that it was a sin....holy smokes

    August 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  17. Jesse

    I'm appalled at any network that promotes and endorses teens sleeping together and making out for ratings, that includes both gay and straight. So I guess Glee needs to stop promoting and funneling money to promote gays and lesbians, but I guess since "they" have an "agenda" its all good.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Skwisgaar Skwigelf

      I loves the lesbians makings out, but I don't bones the g.a.y dudes.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Jesse

      Hopefully you mean the hot lesbians!?!

      August 3, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • gracko

      Ironic that most of the programming that includes the things you mentioned are on FOX channels.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Jesse

      That can't be true FOX is the devil haven't you heard? But you are helping prove my point, they have an agenda, and they will use any excuse to move it forward.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  18. shimanchu

    We need a Chick-Fil-A in Council Bluffs, IA!

    August 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  19. rich

    Actively seeking to limit the freedom of others is not a " free speech " issue. Think and say whatever you want, but mind your own business. Adam and Steve getting married has nothing to do with you or your religion. Do you understand what makes America great ? I have doubts. Out with the old, in with the new. Thank God.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  20. gayrad

    Rug munchers and hershey riders unite, kill and destroy anybody and anything that goes against our beliefs. You can have your freedom as long as it fit our definition of freedom .

    August 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
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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.