Chick-fil-A Takes Families Under Its Wing

Chick-fil-A Takes Families Under Its Wing July 26, 2012

Note: This is a guest post from Jennifer A. Marshall, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. Further biographical information at the end. Many thanks to Ms. Marshall for this excellent piece.


Do these cows look like hate-mongers?

A grease fire has flared up at a comment made by Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy said in an interview posted July 16 by the Baptist Press.

The pro-family remark by the chief of the chicken chain has been recast as “anti-gay” in multiple outlets. The mayor of Boston declared he’d bar the restaurant from that cradle of liberty (though he later backed away), and a Chicago alderman didn’t think the city of broad shoulders could now bear the franchise’s expansion there.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel waded in July 25 with an interesting choice of words about a business built on Christian principles, declaring that “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values.”

The media’s frenzied feeding on the Chick-fil-A flap has implied that family-friendly means anti-gay and given the impression that Cathy’s original comments set out to stoke one of the hottest issues of the day. The casual observer could be forgiven for wondering what it actually means to be “supportive of the family” and whether Cathy & Co. are missing the bigger picture.

After all, who’s doing anything about divorce and the breakdown of the family generally?

Good question. And the folks behind Chick-fil-A quietly have been answering it for years.

In 1984, S. Truett Cathy, founder and chairman of Chick-fil-A Inc., launched the WinShape Foundation. It supports college scholarships, foster care and international ministries. Several other programs offer camps for youth and families and marriage support for couples at the WinShape Retreat, a beautiful campus in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in north Georgia. A former dairy farm inspired by the country architecture of Normandy, the retreat center is “the ideal place to cultivate life’s most essential relationships,” the foundation advertises.

“We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy said in the Baptist Press interview.

That’s the particular focus of WinShape Marriage, which provides holistic support for marriage in conjunction with several other ministries by offering resources to prepare for, strengthen and save marriages. “Nearly wed” or newlywed couples can attend sessions to equip them with relational skills for the years ahead. Couples can take advantage of marriage retreats to maintain healthy relational dynamics at any point in their life together.

The ministry also helps couples in crisis. “Couples Intensive” sessions provide a small-group context for individual healing and relational restoration. For four days, couples in troubled marriages are free from the demands and routines of daily life, cared for in the seclusion of WinShape Retreat so they can focus on addressing core issues through concentrated counseling and prayer.

Many couples have found this intensive approach to be the remedy for brokenness that nothing else had healed. This testimony on the WinShape website describes the bleak outlook the foundation’s work has helped overcome:

“My wife and I attended a marriage intensive this past weekend at WinShape Retreat…[We] arrived Thursday night with a lot of hurt and desperation that I personally didn’t see any answer for or relief from…..I had the privilege of not only watching healing occur in my marriage but some serious breakthroughs in 4 others too.  One couple that said ‘Monday we file for divorce…this is our last option’—they were holding hands by Sunday.”

In closets of guest rooms at the retreat center, discrete graffiti messages left by couples express a similar sense of release from desperation. WinShape reports that thousands of couples have experienced its “Couples Intensive” restoration sessions.

WinShape Retreat has also hosted strategy sessions involving dozens of groups that seek to stengthen marriage in America—among them MarriageSaversFirst Things First and Georgia Family Council. A wide-ranging vision aims at cultural transformation, with efforts from marriage education through churches to public service announcements on the benefits of marriage, and from business policies supporting family life to reform of divorce laws.

It’s the kind of work that will take decades—even generations. And it’s not the stuff of headlines, which is why many Americans probably have no idea this critical effort is under way.

Dan Cathy’s interview with the Baptist Press on the Christian principles that drive Chick-fil-A’s business really wasn’t that remarkable. The restaurants close on Sunday, promote strong families and seek to create a positive experience for their employees and all who come in contact with the company.

Cathy’s comments weren’t enough to start this grease fire; it had external fuel.

“We intend to stay the course,” Cathy said in the interview. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

Surely Mayor Emanuel and the chicken franchise’s other insta-critics agree with that sentiment?



Jennifer Marshall

Jennifer A. Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation and author of the book “Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century.” Follow her on Twitter

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  • Paul Terry Stone

    Sadly a business has to agree with the pro-sodomy policies of the powers that be in several cities to operate there. Anyway the free advertise from the uproar is probably the best thing that ever happened to the business and they will profit from it.

  • Basil

    The issue of concern is not Dan Cathy’s personal views about LGBT persons. His personal views are quite hateful and bigoted, (particularly to gay couples, and their families) but that is his right to hold those views. The issue of concern is the millions of dollars that have been funneled in donations by Chik Fil-A, to a whole host of really objectionable organizations — most notably the Family Research Council (FRC). The Southern Poverty Law Center (the people who have launched a lot important civil rights litigation, including suing the Ku Klux Klan), has designated FRC as a hate group for good reason – they are one inciting anti-gay violence, denouncing gays as pedophiles, calling for the re-criminalization of homos3xuality, and even denouncing anti-bullying efforts to try and make schools safer for LGBT young people. There is nothing morally defensible about funding hate.

    @Paul: Just to be clear, there are many heteros3xuals who engage in acts of sodomy, whereas lesbians, by definition, generally do not engage in such acts. The prurient obsession that many Christians seem to have with the private intimate behavior of strangers is immature and embarassing.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Dan Cathy said that they support the traditional family. The implication is that he believes same-sex partners, whatever else their union might be called (a partnership, a civil union, etc.), ought not to be called marriage. I think it’s a safe bet that he believes God defined marriage as between a man and a woman. I continue to believe that there is nothing hateful or bigoted in that position. One may even *regret* the fact that God defined marriage as such, and yet nonetheless believe it is a fact. There is no hatred or bigotry necessarily implied in the affirmation of the traditional definition of marriage.

      As for the FRC, we’ve gotten into this a little bit before, and I really don’t want to go through it all again, but my view is that the SPLC is no longer a particularly credible definer of hate groups, and the FRC certainly does not qualify as one. When one takes the official position of the FRC (which is where the organization has had the time to deliberate on its views and express them properly and thoroughly) and understands its claims and advocacy in the context of a traditional Judeo-Christian worldview, it does not incite anti-gay violence or endorse bullying of gays, it does not denounce gays as pedophiles, and it does not call for the recriminalization of homosexuality. I’ve looked at everything you’ve pointed me to, and those are just not accurate descriptions for what “the FRC” does. I don’t support everything the FRC says or does, but these claims just seem quite exaggerated to me.

    • Clearhead

      @”basil” Mostly well written (rhetorically, that is). As far as the accurancy of your opinionated facts goes, you are sadly lacking. You seem to have ‘evolved’ into your own ‘hate group’ by frivolously assigning ‘hate’ activity to Chic-Fil-A for the crime of donating funds to a charity you don’t like. Your example of Chic-Fil-A ddonating to the Familr Research Council is a case in point. You hate Chic-Fil-A for giving donations to an organization of their choice. I give donations to a similar organization that advocates a traditional family concept. Therefore, YOU HATE ME — and you don’t even know me. It’s one sided because I don’t hate you for your different beliefs. I highly recommend that you revisit these “hate” organizations that YOU hate, and analyze them objectively. And when you stumble upon Christianity, you will find that it is based entirely on LOVE. AGAPE love, that is. That’s why I’m offering you love in return for your hate. Semper Fi.

  • Cromulent

    Single mothers vote Dem by +30 or more. The Left has a vested interested in dysfunctional families and they pursue that interest with vigor. Men like Don Cathy are anathema to that interest.

  • CapeCodder

    If the referenced quote from the Baptist Press were all that he (Cathy) said, most pro-gays would be ‘oh, another person who doesn’t support marriage’ and be done with it.

    However, here are other quotes, not widely distributed in the non-gay press/blogosphere which shows that Cathy is indeed, pretty anti-gay, not just gay marriage:

    “DAN CATHY, president and COO of Chick-fil-A:”It’s very clear in Romans chapter 1, if we look at society today, we see all the twisted up kind of stuff that’s going on. Washington trying to redefine the definition of marriage and all the other kinds of things that we go—if you go upstream from that, in Romans chapter 1, you will see that because we have not acknowledged God and because we have not thanked God, that we have been left victim to the foolishness of our own thoughts, and as result, we are suffering the consequences of a society and culture who has not acknowledged God or not thanked God—he’s left us to a deprived mind. It’s tragic and we live in a culture of that today.””


    DAN CATHY: (1:05)”…I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about”

    and his company’s foundation gives millions of dollars to groups that are vehemently anti-gay in numerous ways, in addition to being against gay marriage.

    So, Heritage Foundation, it’s wise to do actually research, because Truth will Out.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Those quotations are pretty run-of-the-mill Christian. And the articles I’ve seen about the “millions” Chick-fil-A gives to “anti-gay” organizations have been overblown. They call Fellowship of Christian Athletes, for instance, anti-gay, because they hold to a traditional Christian view of sexuality and marriage. People mention Family Research Council in the mix, but the amount given to FRC is far smaller.

      Besides, again, when Dan Cathy said “guilty as charged” he was referring more to the organization — or at least the Cathy family — and its support for marriage. (The kind of support described in Marshall’s post.) In these other cases, he’s just pontificating as an individual. I do think that’s an important distinction.

  • Chick-fil-A has set out to do harm.

    Why should anyone support it?