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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. Tess

    Why is this even being discussed. If I own a company and pay my taxes and conduct my business within the letter of the law can I not be allowed to give MY MONEY to the charities i wish. Last I knew this was still a free country. Why is it all of a sudden if you are some strange splinter group that you are unfairly being treated. I have been unfairly treated many times in my life. Where's that prejudice? We have gone so far to the left that pretty soon we will fall off a cliff. If there weren't any people giving up children, they wouldn't have any "family". I am a Christian and view this behavior as a serious sin. But if I wish to give large sums of money to my church, that is my right as an American. The law says I can do what I want with my money as long as it is legal. I think all these people who want to make out today in public are a sorry sick bunch. NO ONE should make out in any public place or in front of children. That is left for the bedroom. Do not make me accept your behavior by trying to force your blatant opinion on me. As long as we have free speak, you can have your rights. But you are only hurting yourself. What YOU are practicing is reverse discrimnation against Chik-Fil-A by your sleezy behavior, besides drawing public ire can certainly backfire. Why is it only you are right all of sudden and our opinions are no longer valid? You can not make me like you and I am certainly never going to support you, or than our government wasting my tax dollars. You want to help, try raising money for a cause or go help in a soup kitchen. Seems as if you have to much time on your hands if you can hang around a restuarant to try & disgusted people while eating. As far as trying to make Cathy have dinner with one of your "families", hopefully he would know he was walking into a trap with the way you have behaved this past week. Just because someone is a Christian does not mean they have to like you. Get over yourselves already, pull your bootstraps up and turn the other cheek you so-called self righteous bunch. Judge not that ye be judged!

    August 3, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Jim

      People like you have been using religion for years to justify your hatred of people "not like you".

      August 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • coolbreeze

      Right on, TESS

      August 3, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      "Just because someone is a Christian does not mean they have to like you."

      37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

      Guess you missed this lesson.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Jim

      Save yourself the trouble, the religious "right" have been cherry picking the bible for years to justify their small minded prejudice selves for centuries.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  2. Jim

    Funny, when an atheist says that prayer is just you talking to yourself and that god is nothing more than an imaginary friend, well that is just spewing hate. it's seems that it is only Freedom of Speech when the religious agree with the speech

    August 3, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      Actually Jim, I testified on here that when I would pray to God, I realized I WAS actually answering myself. I heard no voices in my head. It was me and my thoughts. So, basically..... I was talking to myself.

      What does God sound like in your head? Like Charleston Heston? Orson Wells? James Earl Jones?

      August 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      @Jim, sorry. I didn't read the post correctly. I understand what you're saying.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  3. coolbreeze

    Chick-fil-a your service is awesome, in ALL of your restaurants.

    August 3, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  4. Ginger

    Look, I know "gay" people and they are some of my best friends, whatever makes them happy is fine with me. But I am so sick of hearing about Gay rights. I say let them marry who they want to and be miserable like the rest of us!!!!!!

    August 3, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  5. rob

    Shocking...A business founded on Christian foundations gives money to (gasp) Christian ministries! What is the world coming to!

    August 3, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  6. JulieMS

    "But gay rights groups are incensed about the chain’s financial support for what they say are anti-gay groups. " But it's OK for businesses to give only to gay rights groups? Such hypocrites!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 3, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  7. coolbreeze

    Chick-fil-a can do whatever it wants to do with it's money. Get a life!

    August 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • LaTuya

      Yes they can do what they want and people have died and will continue to die as long as they continue to fund and perpetuate hate. hate is not a christian value

      August 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Duane - St. Pete FLA

      they don't hate, they disagree....stop putting your words in others mouths......and it's ok to disagree. this is America

      August 3, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • heavenSnot

      Atheism is good for children. They will learn to accomplish much more without prayer and all that stupid religious junk. It is written.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  9. ART

    rep you moth sucks c**cks in hell

    August 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  10. bqm13

    Unions spend their money towards political elecitons, look at the Wisconsin recall. Unions contribute more than any other industry towards local and federal elections. These are dues which are taken away from memebers and benefit the Union Elite. Where is the outcry. CNN hypocrites.
    Also, who will contribute more Chik Fil A or Bill Maher?

    August 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • mk1

      Typical right wing lies. Liberals and unions were outspent in Wisconsin 7-1 by corporate and outside of Wisconsin money. For every dollar Maher has contributed Sheldon Aldelson is willing to contribute 100. For every millionaire Democratic donor, there are hundreds of millionaire Republican donors. Also, anyone who believes that unions can or do spend as much on elections as corporations are just plain ignorant.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • Duane - St. Pete FLA

      100% right on that....CNN champions of the liberal left...forget news, they want to change the USA into a nanny state where the goverment is everything.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  11. Duane - St. Pete FLA

    I was a chick-fil-a today for lunch...nothing but hungry people and lots of good chicken...

    August 3, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • just sayin

      AMEN ! God bless

      August 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  12. voxx

    Soon they will be fighting for the right to get into Heaven .. But it well be to late then.... sad.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      Great. Another 'Spirit-Cop' that knows where everyone will be going when they die.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  13. Nick

    Oh, shut up, CNN.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  14. AverageJoe76

    Didn't blacks go through this same plight concerning interracial marriages. Have we forgotten that it was once illegal for blacks to marry whites? And people attempted to justify it using........ (drumroll pleeease).......... TADAA – The BIBLE!

    So why are we putting the blinders back on? "Two steps foward, one step back"

    August 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Duane - St. Pete FLA

      they don't want too....it's not up to you.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • voxx

      Nothing wrong with B&W marriage long as it is MALE AND FEMALE!.. Good God that is not even in the same ball park!

      August 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • bqm13

      I am not using the bible when it comes to my stance on gay marriage. The United States Government chose to provide incentive for individuals to marry and procreate. Procreation is good for the economy, it keeps plants open and steady stream of workers (not illegal), school open.
      Classes need proteciton: national origin, gender. Being a black, white, or aisan perons who is gay, doesnt change the fact that you are still a black, white, or asian. Gay is not a protected class and it should never be.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      @ Duane – St. Pete FLA – "they don't want too....it's not up to you" -– So it's cool for a majority to tell a minority, "you can't do what we can, because we don't like it"?

      Blacks went through that same issue; one group tells another, "you can't do what WE can do" . "We wont ALLOW you". Oh by the way....... Welcome to America: land of the 'free', home of the pathetically hypocritical.

      I'm still going to hold on to my dream of America. It's still got a ways to go.......

      August 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      @voxx – You may want to deny the relation, but trust me, it's the same ole' ball game baby!

      One group, tells another group – "You cannot do what WE can do" or better yet "We'll tell you what you CAN and CANNOT do"

      August 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • heavenSnot

      wrong bqm13. it should be protected only if it is discriminated against. and well, it is. try again.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  15. sKaDoosh

    Chick-fil-a is a privately held company so they can do with the money as they please. It doesn't matter what others believe as long as what they do with that money is legal.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  16. Duane - St. Pete FLA

    it's a free speech issue....he you do not like what he said tough crap....don't eat there.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Bill

      Yes. That's exactly what people are doing. What part of this don't you understand?

      August 3, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Jim

      Funny, when an atheist says that prayer is just you talking to yourself and that god is nothing more than an imaginary friend, well that is just spewing hate. it's seems that it is only Freedom of Speech when the religious agree with the speech.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Jim

      Are atheists actively attempting to legislate against your ability to pray? No they are not.
      Sorry, but mocking you is not hate.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Jim

      @Hawaii I think you're reading my message incorrectly. I am an atheist (I also happen to be a straight man celebrating my 14th wedding anniversary today and is not in any way threatened by gay marriage). I am pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious "right"

      August 3, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Jim

      I did indeed misread. My bad.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  17. lokii

    It's a private company, the family can do what they please with the money.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  18. reference

    et the claim that gays are normal revoked. That will take some of that puffiness out of them.

    We can simply change the APA declaration that gays are "normal", and they'll have to shut up and go back to their closets.
    The psychologists will have to admit they were wrong about gays sooner or later. Remember, Sigmund Freud was also "right" for a while.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "We can simply change the APA declaration that gays are "normal", and they'll have to shut up and go back to their closets."

      It's not just the APA moron. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of SocialWorkers, together representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that needs to or can be “cured."

      August 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Erik

      "APA declaration that gays are "normal","

      All major medical professional organizations concur that sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be changed, from gay to straight or otherwise. The American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and European Psychological, Psychiatric, and Medical Associations all agree with this, as does the World Health Organization and the medical organizations of Japan, China, and most recently, Thailand. Furthermore, attempts to change one's sexual orientation can be psychologically damaging, and cause great inner turmoil and depression, especially for Christian gays and lesbians.

      The scientific evidence of the innateness of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism is overwhelming, and more peer-reviewed studies which bolster this fact are being added all the time. Science has long regarded sexual orientation – and that's all sexual orientations, including heterosexuality – as a phenotype. Simply put, a phenotype is an observable set of properties that varies among individuals and is deeply rooted in biology. For the scientific community, the role of genetics in sexuality is about as "disputable" as the role of evolution in biology.

      On the second point, that there is no conclusion that there is a "gay gene," they are right. No so-called gay gene has been found, and it's highly unlikely that one ever will. This is where conservative Christians and Muslims quickly say "See, I told you so! There's no gay gene, so being gay is a choice!"

      The fact that a so-called "gay gene" has not been discovered does not mean that homosexuality is not genetic in its causation. This is understandably something that can seem a bit strange to those who have not been educated in fields of science and advanced biology, and it is also why people who are not scientists ought not try to explain the processes in simple black-and-white terms. There is no gay gene, but there is also no "height gene" or "skin tone gene" or "left-handed gene." These, like sexuality, have a heritable aspect, but no one dominant gene is responsible for them.

      Many genes, working in sync, contribute to the phenotype and therefore do have a role in sexual orientation. In many animal model systems, for example, the precise genes involved in sexual partner selection have been identified, and their neuro-biochemical pathways have been worked out in great detail. A great number of these mechanisms have been preserved evolutionarily in humans, just as they are for every other behavioral trait we know (including heterosexuality).

      There are many biologic traits which are not specifically genetic but are biologic nonetheless. These traits are rooted in hormonal influences, contributed especially during the early stages of fetal development. This too is indisputable and based on extensive peer-reviewed research the world over. Such prenatal hormonal influences are not genetic per se, but are inborn, natural, and biologic nevertheless.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  19. gutterboy

    I love them wangs...

    August 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  20. Tim

    You gotta love the irony of it. The left fired the first salvo in this culture battle by exposing that wicked, wicked Chick Fil A as a (gasp) supporter of traditional marriage. This, in turn exposed their contempt for the First Amendment. It's made for a pretty entertaining week to see them all on their bicycle in full damage control mode.

    August 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "This, in turn exposed their contempt for the First Amendment. It's made for a pretty entertaining week to see them all on their bicycle in full damage control mode."

      Prejudice bigots probably also said that when African Americans and women were fighting for their civil rights too.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Some African Americans resent you co-opting them in the name of your cause.

      August 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Bill

      The First Amendment prevents the government from censoring someone's free speech. It doesn't prevent other citizens from reacting negatively to what has been said.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • deb

      Absolutely Tim!

      August 3, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      @Bill Deacon – And I say to those that feel resentment; Once upon a time, blacks could not marry whites. And I'll repeat this going foward;

      When a majority tells a minority, "We can do 'this', but you cannot do 'this', because we (the majority) will not ALLOW you". This is how we do in this country. Everybody has to fight for the freedom that was promised in the 1700's.

      August 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • pervert alert

      Being qu eer isn't a right anymore than thievery or murder is a right. qu eers the folks who gave the world AIDS

      August 3, 2012 at 4:49 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.