Chick-fil-A addresses growing controversy


ATLANTA — Following reports that it has agreed to stop funding certain traditional family groups, Chick-fil-A released a statement September 20, saying that for many months its corporate giving has "been mischaracterized" and that it will continue to fund programs that "strengthen and enrich marriages."

Whether or not the statement appeases its base of supporters — not to mention its critics — remains to be seen.

Chick-fil-A was facing a backlash after Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno and an Illinois gay activist group announced that Chick-fil-A had agreed to no longer fund groups opposed to gay marriage, such as Focus on the Family. That alleged agreement led Moreno — who had criticized Chick-fil-A during the summer for its president's comments against gay marriage — to stop blocking a new franchise from being built in his ward. In comments to the Chicago Tribune, Moreno called it a "big win."

Media stories nationwide then gave Chick-fil-A another public relations headache. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's headline read, "Chick-fil-A said to change stance." The Los Angeles Times' headline: "Chick-fil-A promises to stop giving money to anti-gay groups."

The problem? Chick-fil-A's base of support remains largely in conservative states, and those customers hardly consider Focus on the Family and other groups "anti-gay." They felt Chick-fil-A had caved.

Hundreds of thousands of customers took part in Chick-fil-A Appreciation this summer after company president Dan Cathy was criticized for comments supporting the biblical definition of marriage. Chick-fil-A's stance on values is well-known. It is closed on Sundays, and its corporate statement includes the desire to "glorify God."

In the 24 hours after the story out of Chicago broke, Chick-fil-A's Facebook page was flooded with criticism of the new policy.

"So are you guys going to fold on the whole issue stated by Cathy after you got massive support from the entire US public?" one person on Facebook wrote.

Another wrote, "I'm disgusted that your faith is so weak. You sure raked in the bucks on Chick Fil A day huh? So when do you start opening on Sunday? 'As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord'"

Chick-fil-A released a statement Thursday, saying that "for many months now, Chick-fil-A's corporate giving has been mischaracterized."

"And while our sincere intent has been to remain out of this political and social debate, events from Chicago this week have once again resulted in questions around our giving," the statement said. "For that reason, we want to provide some context and clarity around who we are, what we believe and our priorities in relation to corporate giving.

"A part of our corporate commitment is to be responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. Because of this commitment, Chick-fil-A's giving heritage is focused on programs that educate youth, strengthen families and enrich marriages, and support communities. We will continue to focus our giving in those areas. Our intent is not to support political or social agendas."

The company also released a document that had been referenced in the media called "Chick-fil-A: Who We Are." In it, the company repeats language from this summer and says its tradition is to "treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender."

The Who We Are document also says Chick-fil-A "supports programs and marriage retreats to help strengthen and enrich marriages," which more than 4,000 couples attend annually.

Left unsaid was whether Chick-fil-A has indeed agreed to stop funding certain groups, and if so, what groups it would no longer fund. It's also unclear how the company's policy will appease gay activist groups, because marriage enrichment programs often are traditional-focused and biblically based and typically define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Even before Chick-fil-A released its statement, the Advocate gay website posted an item Thursday charging that Chick-fil-A's Dan Cathy was helping raise what it called "questionable money." The Advocate took issue with Cathy taking part Sept. 18 in a fundraiser known as the WinShape Ride for the Family. The money, the Advocate said, will benefit the Marriage and Family Foundation, which it said funds the Marriage CoMission, a traditional group.

"Granted, the group's sole focus isn't on same-sex marriage," the Advocate reported. "The CoMission emphasizes lowering the divorce rate and making couples more satisfied in their marriages, for example. But even in those instances, the group has made clear it's worried only about heterosexuals being happy in their marriages and avoiding divorce."

The Human Rights Campaign's website referenced the Advocate story in a blog under the headline: "Chick-fil-A Fails to Live Up to Promises of Stricter Donation Guidelines."

Thus, it appears that less than one day after the news about Chick-fil-A broke, some gay groups already are upset. The question now is whether Chick-fil-A's loyal base is, too.

Related story: Chick-fil-A remains silent on claims of defunding traditional marriage groups