Despite reports to the contrary, Chick-Fil-A’s support for anti-gay activism continues to this day and goes right to the top. Over his three decades of service, the financial and managerial acumen of Chick-Fil-A Executive Vice President and CFO James “Buck” McCabe has helped build the growing Chick-Fil-A fast food chicken sandwich empire which has made at least three members of the founding Cathy clan into billionaires. But McCabe also serves on the board of directors of a charitable foundation that may well be the biggest and most prolific funder of anti-LGBT causes in America and which has dramatically scaled up its anti-gay funding while McCabe has served on its board.
In 2012, the personal outreach of Chick-Fil-A fortune scion Dan Cathy helped to convince one leading campus LGBT rights group – which explained that the chicken chain had ceased its financial support of anti-gay groups such as the Family Research Council and Exodus International – to suspend its campaign against Chick-Fil-A. While mainstream media amplified that story, some organizations which support LGBT rights disputed the claim and even reported that Chick-Fil-A was “Still Actively Supporting Anti-Gay Causes“.
Unnoticed amidst the controversy were multiple connections tying Chick-Fil-A leadership to a Christian foundation responsible for the wholesale funding of extreme and even eliminationist evangelical anti-gay activism spanning the globe, from Russia to the continent of Africa. Below is one example of that foundation’s grant-making at work:
In 2013, the international mega-ministry Campus Crusade For Christ – which is heavily funded by a hard-right fundamentalist Christian philanthropy co-managed by Chick-Fil-A’s longtime corporate financial officer and executive vice president – hosted a major 2013 conference near Lagos, Nigeria, that was attended by almost 2,000 young evangelical leaders from across Africa, at which top-billed speaker Seyoum Antonios, who leads an effort in Ethiopia to establish the death penalty for homosexuality, repeatedly shouted out before his frenzied audience that “Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!” Antonios also aired anti-gay propaganda similar to that used to incite a deadly anti-LGBT crusade in Uganda.
In his posthumously published 2005 autobiography, founder and longtime head of Campus Crusade For Christ Bill Bright – who once boasted that Campus Crusade was a “conspiracy to overthrow the world”, advocated the use of stealth and “front groups”, and promoted the writing of R.J. Rushdoony, founder of the theocratic Christian Reconstructionism movement – praised Chick-Fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy as a “supernatural thinker” who “has built his company on solid biblical values”.
Although few critics challenge the deep Christian faith of the Cathy family, by many indications the Cathy version of the faith appears to have a decidedly sectarian, politicized, and anti-gay slant.
“Eat Mor Chiken”
In 1999 three generations of Cathy Chick-Fil-A leadership – S. Truett Cathy, Dan Cathy, and Don “Bubba” Cathy – addressed (link to audio of the Cathys at The Gathering 1999) the elite yearly conference of multimillionaire and billionaire philanthropists known as “The Gathering“.
Deploying, to raucous laughter, the longtime Chick-Fil-A slogan that the chicken franchise has aggressively defended with an arguably spurious trademark violation lawsuit against a Vermont T-shirt vendor whose shirts promote the consumption of kale, S. Truett Cathy asked The Gathering, “What does a cow say?”
“Moo?”, asked one The Gathering member who a second later burst out, mortified, “Oh no!” “Eat more chicken!”, corrected Truett Cathy in his truculent Atlanta drawl, “Arrright.”
“Let’s see if we can say that together,” exhorted Cathy, to a rousing The Gathering chorus of “EAT MOR CHIKEN!” He explained, “Now, cows don’t spell very well – so it’s misspelled a little bit.” Cathy went on to pass out to his The Gathering audience the small plastic Holstein cow figurines that Chick-Fil-A gives to customers as part of its “Eat Mor Chiken” campaign, to “remind people to ‘Eat Mor Chiken’ ” according to Cathy. “Everybody gets one. One only”, admonished the septuagenarian chicken king.
Among its many distinctions, The Gathering boasts a dearth of Democrats. In 2002 at The Gathering, a rare liberal speaker at the event was introduced with,
“When I talked with Jim the first time about being a speaker at the Gathering… I told him there were a number of Democrats at The Gathering. A few days later I was reminded that zero is not a real number.”
Truth In Love
One year before the Cathy clan’s 1999 pilgrimage to the event, The Gathering and the various religious right culture war organizations it funds had launched the mammoth 1998 “Truth In Love” campaign that ran full-page ads, in leading newspapers across America including the New York Times, which promoted “ex-gay” leaders such as Anne Paulk and John Paulk (who has since come out as a gay man.)
As explored in a May 15, 2014 Center Against Religious Extremism report,
“Through its claim that same-sex attraction can be “cured” and thus is not an innate inclination but rather a decision – and within the context of Christian belief a moral decision – the ex-gay industry opens the door both to mob violence and anti-gay legislation being promulgated from Uganda, to Nigeria, to Russia.”
Heading a presentation that laid out plans for anti-gay PR campaigns, such as the “Truth In Love” campaign, at The Gathering in 1997 was Don Schmierer – a program director for Fieldstead and Company, the unincorporated funding vehicle for billionaire and major anti-LGBT rights funder Howard Ahmanson, who was the second biggest backer, with a reported $1,395,000 contribution, of the push to pass California’s anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8 ballot initiative.
[Speakers who have addressed The Gathering have, along with the organizations its members fund such as the National Organization For Marriage and Focus on The Family, represent six out of the top 10 financial backers of the pro-Prop 8 campaign.]
In March 2009, Schmierer spoke alongside anti-LGBT rights agitator Scott Lively at a key Kampala, Uganda conference widely credited with helping incite a climate of anti-gay hatred that helped pave the way for the draconian Uganda Anti Homosexuality Bill, signed into law in early 2014 by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni.
At the March 2009 Kampala conference, Lively – who has stated that his first trip to Uganda was arranged by Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade For Christ (Lively has also suggested Bright was a personal friend) – told his Ugandan audience that the rise of Hitler and his Nazi Party, and the Holocaust, could be attributed to a criminal psychopathology that Lively asserted was common among homosexuals.
PR Shelter From the Storm
From 2011 to 2013, Chick-Fil-A and the Cathy family were buffeted by controversy over funding, from Chick-Fil-A and the Cathy-funded Winshape Foundation, to a host of organizations and causes that critics identified as anti-gay.
In a rare early 2014 interview, founder of the chain S. Truett Cathy indicated to the Atlanta Journal Constitution that his company would no longer be involved with anti-LGBT causes such as the fight against same-sex marriage. “I think that’s a political debate that’s going to rage on,” Cathy told the AJC, “And the wiser thing for us to do is to stay focused on customer service.”
Characterizing Cathy’s statements to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Forbes magazine claimed, “What is clear is that his family’s fried chicken business, which made $4.6 billion in sales in 2012, will be staying out of the fray when it comes to equality.”
But it was not true.
Unnoticed amidst the controversy was Chick-Fil-A Vice President “Buck” McCabe’s very public position as board member of the National Christian Foundation. McCabe, moreover, is anything but peripheral to the daily operation of the Chick-Fil-A empire:
According to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, “Buck” McCabe’s extensive responsibilities at Chick-Fil-A include “accounting, finance, treasury, taxation, employee benefits, risk management, information technology, corporate administration, legal, and Cathy family financial planning”. McCabe is currently listed as a member of the Board of Trustees of the national Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an organization heavily funded by the National Christian Foundation.
Leaders in the non-denominational Fellowship of Christian Athletes are required to sign a “Sexual Purity Statement” which includes the following:
“God desires His children to lead pure lives of holiness. The Bible is clear in teaching on sexual sin including sex outside of marriage and homosexual acts. Neither heterosexual sex outside of marriage nor any homosexual act constitute an alternative lifestyle acceptable to God.”
The statement also stipulates, “I understand that if I am found being involved in a lifestyle that does not conform to the FCA’s Sexual Purity Statement… I will need to step down from my leadership position with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.”
Available records from the Internet Archive, of National Christian Foundation website pages, indicate that McCabe joined the National Christian Foundation sometime after 2005, even as LGBT rights groups were beginning to scrutinize funding from Chick-Fil-A and its Winshape Foundation to anti-gay causes and organizations.
In 2012, the Winshape Foundation dramatically scaled back its funding anti-gay funding stream. But were the Cathy clan intent on simply rerouting that money through a non-public donation mechanism like a donor-advised fund (such as the National Christian Foundation), McCabe’s position on the NCF board could, in theory, help him to help channel such anonymous donations to the same causes Winshape was funding prior to 2012.
And even if the Cathys and Chick-Fil-A have truly ceased their anti-gay philanthropic giving, Buck McCabe’s position as one of the nine members on the NCF board would contradict Chick-Fil-A’s claims to have backed away from the culture wars: in the years since McCabe has, according to Internet Archive records, served on the NCF board the National Christian Foundation’s funding of leading anti-gay groups has dramatically increased.
According to the NCF’s 990 tax forms from 2001-2012, among the leading anti-LGBT rights nonprofits heavily funded by the National Christian Foundation are: Alliance Defending Freedom, Alliance For Marriage, American Center For Law and Justice, American Family Association, Campus Crusade For Christ, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and National Organization for Marriage, which collectively received over $163,000,000 from the National Christian Foundation from 2001-2012.
While these groups got a mere $4,170,365 from NCF in 2001, their grants from NCF rapidly increased in the years since Chick-Fil-A Vice President and Corporate Financial Officer Bick McCabe joined the National Christian Foundation board: from $16,250,288 in 2008 to $27,304,189 in 2012.
Cash Cow for the Anti-LGBT Religious Right
Throughout 2014, the Center Against Religious Extremism (CARE) has been building an extensive case that the annual meeting of multimillionaire and billionaire funders of the evangelical right known as “The Gathering” is the epicenter of anti-LGBT rights funding in America and, more broadly, “The Religious Right’s Cash Cow“
The biggest charitable foundation represented at The Gathering, the National Christian Foundation is, according to CARE documentation, “perhaps the leading anti-LGBT rights funder in America”. The NCF’s statement of “core beliefs” include,
“We believe that the entire Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God; the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”
Until recent coverage from the Center Against Religious Extremism, critical scrutiny of the National Christian Foundation and The Gathering has been next to nonexistent despite the unsettling fact that the NCF is now the 12th biggest charity in America, as ranked by its #12 spot on the Chronicle of Philanthropy “Philanthropy 400” list.
In 2005, a December 2005 special Mother Jones issue ran a story by investigative journalist Michael Reynolds that covered the National Christian Foundation, its burgeoning financial heft, and the ideologically and politically charged nature of the causes it funds. But radical editing of Reynolds’ story by Mother Jones, from its full length at over 4200 words down to a mere 904 words, effectively neutralized the magnitude of what Reynolds had uncovered, hinted at by his revelation that one of the NCF’s co-founders managed the 2000 presidential bid of former Family Research Council head Gary Bauer.
Beside the leadership of the National Christian Foundation – which over the last five years has dispersed almost $2.5 billion dollars in grants – The Gathering community also includes members of the billionaire DeVos, Green, Prince, Coors, Friess, DeMoss, Maclellan, Ahmanson, Cathy, and Templeton families – some of which are widely known for their roles in funding the creation of the American new right and religious right and who back causes ranging from the mounting international evangelical war on LGBT rights, to efforts to privatize public schools and destroy labor unions, to the successful effort to defund ACORN, to the funding of Tea Party aligned religious right presidential candidates such as Rick Santorum.
The Covert Kingdom
Chick-Fil-A Vice President and CFO Buck McCabe’s position on the board of directors of the National Christian Foundation is especially problematic because, as described by Michael Reynolds, the NCF serves as a conduit through which many of the biggest funders of evangelical causes in America can give anonymous donations – to causes that range from from socially and politically centrist to hard-right, some of which are overtly theocratic as well.
The result is that while religious right groups heavily funded by The Gathering and the National Christian Foundation – such as Campus Crusade For Christ, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the Alliance Defending Freedom – are working to export their culture war agenda, including anti-LGBT hatred and anti-gay legislation, to all corners of the globe, the National Christian Foundation’s structure as a hybrid donor-advised fund effectively cloaks the identity of the donors.
Leadership of the American Protestant Christian right has for decades recognized the need to disguise its anti-gay activism through, down the years, increasingly sophisticated mechanisms that hide the identities of the companies, individuals, and foundations which fund the myriad anti-gay ministries and organizations of the evangelical right.
In a key 1994 planning conference held at the Colorado Springs, CO, Glenn Eyrie castle headquarters of The Navigators, Focus on The Family leader Ken Eldredge – author of a book that would later help inspire the founder of two successive, especially bloodthirsty Mexican drug cartels – warned attendees who represented many of biggest conservative evangelical activist groups in America that,
“We must never appear to be attempting to rob anyone of their rights — their constitutional rights. We must never appear to be mean-spirited or bigoted. We must be shrewd to get consensus for our position by appealing to shared values and concern, and issues of fairness and justice.”
[The Navigators and Focus on The Family are heavily funded by the National Christian Foundation, as detailed in the National Christian Foundation Anti-LGBT Funding Encyclopedia]
As a May 19, 1994 Washington Times story described, the conference featured “Leaders of anti-homosexual-rights groups across the nation”. 35 different groups were represented according to the article. The lone journalist to notice the event, author Valerie Richardson of the Washington Times, was barred from attending the conference because the sponsoring group, Colorado For Family Values, which had just pushed through Colorado’s Amendment 2, prohibiting equal protection for LGBT citizens, wanted to avoid media coverage.
Also in 1994, key leaders of the religious right including Campus Crusade For Christ head William Roehl Bright and one of the National Christian Foundation’s original co-founders – Christian financial adviser Larry Burkett, helped launch what would help forge a united front among the many emerging nonprofit legal organizations on the religious right: the Alliance Defense Fund.
Now renamed the Alliance Defending Freedom, the ADF – which now boasts a budget of roughly $40 million dollars a year (25% from the National Christian Foundation) – coordinates and financially supports legal activism by dozens of religious right law nonprofits. The ADF reportedly played a key “traffic control” role in the many lawsuits filed in or after 2012 to challenge reproductive health care mandates attached to the Affordable Care Act, including cases that became Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
Covered in an extensive May 2014 report from the liberal advocacy group ThinkProgress, the Alliance Defending Freedom – which “seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries” and, as covered in July 2, 2014 Center Against Religious Extremism report, has numerous ties to the overtly theocratic (or “theonomic”) Christian Reconstructionism movement that advocates radically Laissez-faire government and the imposition of pre-Talmudic Biblical law – has both supported U.S. state-level legislation that would allow private businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and also reportedly advised Russian legislators who have crafted anti-gay legislation.
Another milestone in the anti-gay organizing that has emanated from The Gathering and the National Christian Foundation came in 1997, when Fieldstead and Company program director Don Schmierer presided over a presentation (link to audio and partial transcript) to The Gathering during which former Fieldstead and Co. program director Herb Schlossberg – who has close ideological ties to Christian Reconstructionism and is friend to some of the movement’s top leadership – laid out a master plan for combating “organized homosexuality”.
One of the speakers at the presentation was ex-gay ministry head Jim Johnson, who read a speech written on his behalf by the team, which had been tasked with the project of combating “organized homosexuality” by Fieldstead and Company (which sometimes goes by the name “Fieldstead Institute”). In his speech, Johnson declared,
“Americans did, at one point, accept – nearly unanimously – the premise, quite literally, interpreted in our laws and culture, that homosexuality is wrong, unhealthy, should be illegal, and, frankly, is un-American — because of its inherent selfish character and obviously self-destructive tendencies.
…gay politics or, in other words, organized homosexuality, is a group manifestation of the homosexual’s pathological need to justify his existence. It’s nothing more.
The need — they feel guilty about what they do and all the time – all the time and that is why they are into everything and seemingly everywhere, right now – because wherever they turn in our traditional culture, they are reminded of their pain of conscience.
And they have mistakenly led themselves, and us, to think that these pains of conscience would disappear overnight if only all remnants of homophobia were done away with.”