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Chicken sandwich charity

Despite Chick-fil-A’s confusing announcement and severed ties with the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, most of its charitable giving still goes to Christian ministries

Chicken sandwich charity

Julia Weeks/AP

The Chick-fil-A Foundation’s announcement of its shift in giving priorities ruffled many feathers in the evangelical world, but a review of tax documents suggests the chicken restaurant still gives the vast majority of its charitable dollars to Christian ministries. 

Some evangelicals read the foundation’s cuts to the Salvation Army (which last year received $115,000 for its Angel Tree program) and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (which last year received $1.65 million for young people to attend camps at historically black colleges and universities like Morehouse College) as a cave-in to the demands of gay rights organizations. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins issued a call to boycott. Several Christian leaders of conservative organizations signed a letter to Chick-fil-A (CFA), accusing it of “defaming” the Salvation Army and “bowing to the pressure of left-wing extremist groups.” 

One Christian family values group in Ohio used Chick-fil-A’s perceived betrayal for a fundraising appeal to supporters on Giving Tuesday: “Chick-fil-A’s retreat is just another example of why the work of Citizens for Community Values is so important,” the fundraising email to supporters read. The email said Chick-fil-A “has started funding radical leftist organizations.”

Chick-fil-A’s lack of explanation left more confusion than clarity, and it did not return requests for comment on this story. But tax documents show a bigger picture. It appears that the company’s foundation has shifted larger gifts to Atlanta-based organizations that aren't currently targets of groups like GLAAD. The company itself, however, hasn’t appeared to change its Christian-heavy giving.

The company in the last few years doubled its contributions to the Winshape Foundation, which comprises the vast majority of its charitable giving, and nothing indicates that relationship is changing. WinShape, a creation of Chick-fil-A’s founders, the Cathy family members, runs a bevy of Christian programs from foster homes to marriage retreats championing “Christ-centered teaching” to summer camps to college ministry training. WinShape also gives about $600,000 a year in scholarships to the Christian liberal arts school Berry College in Mount Berry, Ga. 

According to WinShape’s latest tax filings, Chick-fil-A Inc. contributed about $21 million to the foundation in 2017. That’s about double what the Chick-fil-A Foundation gives out annually and more than 10 times the amount the foundation was giving annually to the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the two organizations that lost grant funding from the Chick-fil-A Foundation. 

WinShape did not return a request to confirm that Chick-fil-A will continue to be its major benefactor, but when I thanked the person who answered the phone for taking my question, she responded, “My pleasure.”

WinShape Camps Facebook

(WinShape Camps Facebook)

The Chick-fil-A Foundation, meanwhile, announced that it will give $1 million to City of Refuge, a faith-based homeless shelter for women and children in Atlanta with affiliated Christian schools. Junior Achievement, an Atlanta financial literacy program for children, is receiving $737,500 this year. Two other organizations focused on development in Atlanta, Westside Future Fund and the Grove Park Foundation, each are receiving $500,000. The Chick-fil-A Foundation also announced it would expand a partnership with Covenant House, an organization that serves homeless youth and describes its houses as “welcoming, affirming, and safe for LGBTQ youth.” The foundation had given $225,000 to Covenant House in 2018.

The CFA Foundation in the past reserved its larger funding for FCA, YMCA of Metro Atlanta, and, more recently, City of Refuge and Junior Achievement. But the CFA Foundation had supported a wide variety of causes in years past, mostly in small grants: Christian rehab programs, Christian schools in low-income communities, a Jewish film festival, legal aid organizations, financial services for the poor, Christian refugee services, Harvard Debate, a Christian group fighting AIDS, a ministry to children living in mobile homes in Atlanta, anti-human trafficking organizations, Friends of Down Syndrome, LGBT-affirming YWCA, and Chris180, which “celebrates and serves LGBTQ+ youth.” It has funded colleges like Berry College, College of the Ozarks, Morehouse College, and Emory University.

One other small contribution came to light in this brouhaha and has been a burr in evangelicals’ saddles. Several outlets reported that the Chick-fil-A Foundation donated $2,500 to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2017 as evidence that Chick-fil-A’s mission had shifted. The SPLC lists a number of Christian organizations as hate groups. In 2012 an armed man, citing SPLC’s list, shot a security guard and attempted to enter the Family Research Council and murder staffers there.

The SPLC and CFA did not answer my questions about the $2,500 donation, but Chick-fil-A issued a statement to several news outlets that “a volunteer member of the Chick-fil-A Foundation Advisory Board” made the donation, and that each volunteer gets to recommend one grant recipient.

Corporate foundations often give to contradictory causes, because grants may be employee-directed, as the SPLC one appeared to be. That’s the case for the GE Foundation, for example, which gives to both Planned Parenthood and evangelical organizations like the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Attorney Tom Bakewell, who has experience with corporate foundation giving, said he considers any grant from a large corporate foundation under $30,000 to be “pretty much inconsequential and a rounding error.” The $2,500 to the SPLC represents close to the amount Chick-fil-A had donated to dozens of high schools for sponsored events. 

“I remain persuaded at this point that Chick-fil-A remains a strong private company with admirable Christian values that shine through in their culture, values, giving, overall business practices, and good works,” said Bakewell. “When they start selling their product on Sunday with store openings then I will reconsider my support and opinion of their values.” 

The same year CFA gave $2,500 to the SPLC, it gave a $50,000 grant to Straight Ahead Ministries, a New England prison ministry to juvenile offenders. Straight Ahead President Scott Larson said the ministry hadn’t applied for the grant, but a local Chick-fil-A manager had employed youth from the program and recommended the ministry to the foundation.

Straight Ahead hosts Bible studies in juvenile detention facilities, but Larson said what CFA funded was more “social services work,” not evangelism. According to Larson, CFA intended its one-time grant to help launch Straight Ahead’s job training program for 16- to 24-year-olds fresh out of detention. The ministry also funds the youths’ first three months of employment to help shoulder risk for employers.

“[Chick-fil-A staffers] have been great in terms of partnering however they can,” Larson said. He said Straight Ahead recently went to Atlanta for a statewide gathering of juvenile prison ministries, and CFA funded the meals. 

The last remaining ministry of the major grant recipients from the Chick-fil-A Foundation, City of Refuge, is a homeless ministry in Atlanta started by a Pentecostal pastor. City of Refuge says it is “faith-based” on its site, but doesn’t have much other reference to Christianity in its mission or in videos interviewing organization leaders. Earlier this year, according to the Internet Archive, it had Matthew 5:14,16 on its homepage—“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works”—but that is now gone.

City of Refuge Facebook

(City of Refuge Facebook)

In past interviews, its founders have been open about the ministry’s gospel focus and its origins in a neighborhood church. But City of Refuge did not respond to a request for comment on whether its mission had recently shifted to be more secular. 

Bakewell thinks that Chick-fil-A’s strategy perhaps is to be “all things to all people” as it expands to “less Christian-friendly environments” like the Northeast and West Coast.

“I take Chick-fil-A at their word and give them the benefit of the doubt when they say they are merely taking a more focused approach in their giving ... Of course, religious convictions and traditional values remain under scrutiny/attack and will remain so until the Second Coming,” he said in an email. Then he asked, “Is Chick-fil-A’s primary role to defend all faith-based organizations or to be a wildly successful business that shares (perhaps subtly) the good news as good corporate citizens?”

—with reporting from Michael Reneau

Emily Belz

Emily Belz

Emily is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine based in New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.

Comments

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Wed, 12/11/2019 08:01 pm

    It is a real shame that the intolerant left has branded excellent ministries like Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Salvation Army as bigots and haters. And such things are definitely not the fault of donors like you and I and Chick-fil-A. 

    While giving by you and I is (so far) unlikely to be scrutinized by the lefties, a corporation like CfA has to contend everyday with that kind of issue. ESPECIALLY a company that has had a public profile that promotes Christ.

    And outfits like the Southern Poverty Law Center make it worse. My opinion is that SPLC is the real hate group in this picture, and is guilty of economic terrorism.

    My wife and I do support Salvation Army regularly.  I think we’ll bump it up a bit this Christmas.  And maybe eat at Chick-fil-A a little more often.

     

  • TWH
    Posted: Wed, 12/11/2019 09:30 pm

    Chick-fil-A gets every benefit of the doubt in this artice. Ironically, now that they have started to give in they will be hounded all the more until they reach the required "affirming" position. (See the former "Boy Scouts.") Meanwhile, The Salvation Army and FCA are thrown under the chicken delivery truck. 

    I am counting on World to step back and take a look at what is going on across the corporate and non-profit world. How the few are very successfully controlling the many, and Biblical priniciples are becoming secular anathema. 

  • RC
    Posted: Fri, 12/13/2019 10:02 am

    WOW. What a gloom and doom attitude.  History shows those against the Bible have predicted it would become an anathema, and so far, 100% of them have been wrong! Plus God says His Word will last forever! Guaranteed!  I pray your hopeless attitude becomes an anathema.  

  • Idaho ob
    Posted: Wed, 12/11/2019 11:57 pm

    This is reporting that is so skewed and factually biased it is hard to know where to start. Talk to Matt Staver at Liberty Counsel for clarification. Covenant House promotes drag queen performances and is way beyond just welcoming.  

    ANY contribution to SPLC is troubling, more than a rounding error. Individual franchises are doing good work, but corporate has lost its way and World reporting right behind them

  • Laura W
    Posted: Thu, 12/12/2019 08:59 am

    That sounds pretty harsh, especially toward the reporters at World. It sounds like you're saying that you're so sure about your own conclusions regarding Chick-fil-A that there's no room for legitimate or productive disagreement with you on this issue. Is the true answer really that obvious here?

    For instance, I rather like an organization that cares enough about letting employees give to causes they feel passionate about that they're willing to actually let them decide where to send the money, rather than simply providing a list of pre-approved charities. I'd certainly prefer it if my boss treated me this way.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Thu, 12/12/2019 06:10 am

    In our age of instant news and, unfortunately, instant self aggrandizing criticism we can be so quick to tear down our friends and enemies. The latter because we assume any news about our “enemy” who we don't like to be true. The former because bad news about good people or organizations just somehow appeals to our fleshly instincts. 

    Thanks for this excellent article. I am impressed that we have not seen slavish over zealous rebuttals or defensive press releases from Chick-fil-A. They just keep on selling that chicken. Yesterday I enjoyed lunch at a franchise in little Westminster, MD. There was standing room only inside and long lines of cars outside!

  • RK
    Posted: Thu, 12/12/2019 10:28 am

    Thank you, World Magazine!  This is the first piece I've seen from ANY Chrisitan publication or Christian "leader" that looked at the CFA situation objectively and gave them the benefit of the doubt.  Why is it that Christians are the first to put their fellow believers under the bus?!?

  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Sat, 01/04/2020 04:04 pm

    The problem, in this case, is that is exactly what Chick-fil-A did to the Salvation Army and FCA-publicly shamed them by refusing to donate to them anymore, thereby affirming the Progressives' labeling them as bigoted and anti-LGBT.

  • Bob R
    Posted: Thu, 12/12/2019 01:32 pm

    I think most of you are missing the point; in kowtowing to the LGTBQ agenda, Chick-fil-A has, in effect affirmed the accusations against the Salvation Army as a bigoted and evil organization, simply because they affirm the biblical truths that men are men, women are women, and sex is to be restricted to monogamous, heterosexual marriage.  Period.  If you who should affirm exactly the same position, can't stand with the real victim here, it gives me serious doubt about the ability of American believers to withstand real persecution!

  • BC
    Posted: Thu, 12/12/2019 03:16 pm

    As usual, World Magazine is on point, fair, and thoughtful. Thank you for articles that don't shut down discussion by trotting out tired rhetoric. Instead, you promote it with well-reasoned and researched ideas.

  • Rich277
    Posted: Thu, 12/12/2019 07:28 pm

    I made a contribution to the Salvation Army and a New Year's resolution to eat mor kows. 

  • Narissara
    Posted: Fri, 12/13/2019 04:32 pm

    I'd like to know how Mr. Bakewell defines Christian values.  The majority of faith-based organizations listed as recipients appear to emphasize social justice.  LGBTQ groups can get on board with that, as long as divisive biblical principles are left out of the equation (starting with marriage/sexuality and never getting to the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone).  In light of that, Bakewell's statement about reconsidering his opinion were CFA ever to open for business on Sunday comes across as legalistic. 

    On the SPLC contribution, I wonder about the choice of words.  To say each volunteer gets to "recommend" one grant recipient would seem to suggest the Advisory Board then needs to make a final decision as a body.  Would it be more accurate to say each volunteer gets to "designate" one grant recipient?  I applaud Chik-fil-A for respecting its employees/volunteers enough to not bully them into donating to causes they don't personally support, out of their own pockets, but my understanding is these are corporate funds.

  • AlanE
    Posted: Sat, 12/14/2019 08:23 am

    I read this article 24 hours ago and have been thinking about it. Some parts make a lot of sense. Other parts don't make nearly as much sense.

    The explanation of the contribution to the SPLC makes a lot of sense. I can see why people would be upset with it, but I can also understand why Chick-fil-A would also continue with a policy that would allow such grants.

    But the overall premise of the article--that Chick-fil-A hasn't really changed its standards--seems betrayed by the change of organizations to which the foundation contributes and the (very short) explanation offered. 

    It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that Chick-fil-A wants to expand into areas that are more resistant to the kind of philosophy to which CfA has adhered (more or less) in the past. So, CfA moves to a more palatable (for those areas) slate of contributions. It then becomes difficult to conclude that CfA is not more beholden to the dollar than to the philosophy that has guided them in the past. 

    I find that a very disappointing move. Personally, I don't think it will hurt them much, though--at least not in the way expected. I don't think many Christians even want to play the boycott game (another discussion for another day). I would like to think, however, that God judges the heart and motivations and administers discipline and judgment to those who know better and yet go ahead with world-accommodating policies. 

    Ultimately, it's up to God to determine where CfA is on that sort of scale. I'm disappointed. In some sense, I'm still disheartened by the news of their move. But, it's not up to me to execute the judgment here. Still, I've lost most of my motivation to patronize CfA. Disappointment and being disheartened will do that do you. At this point, CfA feels like just another restaurant to me--and kind of high priced for what it offers. 

  • MTJanet
    Posted: Mon, 12/16/2019 12:23 pm

    The bottom line still appears to be greater access to mammon, i.e. ability to expand with little confrontation from outside groups or not wanting to take any suffering for standing firmly with the gospel.  Problematic either way.

  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Sat, 01/04/2020 03:58 pm

    So, in order to penetrate the West Coast and Northeast in order to make more money, they'll just go ahead and compromise their convictions. How heroic.

    I think a better overall idea would be to charge less for their food and pay their employees more and let us give that extra money to charities we want to support.