Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy admitted in a letter to the American Family Association that the fast-food chain "inadvertently discredited" groups including the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes after changing its "giving strategy."
"We understand how some thought we were abandoning our longstanding support of faith-based organization," Cathy wrote in a letter to Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. "We inadvertently discredited several outstanding organizations that have effectively served communities for years."
"The intent of our corporate giving has always been to have impact -- not to make a statement or support a political or social agenda," Cathy continued. "Chick-fil-A will give to faith-based and other organizations that we believe to be highly effective in a particular area."
Chick-fil-A's devoted conservative fanbase dealt the company some harsh criticism after it cut off support for three groups that oppose gay marriage and have drawn the ire of protesters.
The loss of funding from the chain, famous for refusing to open on Sundays because of its founder's religious beliefs, is significant to the organizations. In 2017 and 2018, the Chick-fil-A Foundation gave $2.4 million to the Missouri-based Fellowship of Christian Athletes for sports camps for underserved youth, and $165,000 to the Salvation Army to buy Christmas gifts for needy children. The foundation also gave $6,000 to the Paul Anderson Youth Homes.
Cathy said the company's commitment to its "corporate purpose" -- "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A" -- is not waning.
"In my personal letter to Mr. Cathy, I asked him two questions: (1) Will Chick-fil-A publicly state that it does not believe the Salvation Army and FCA are hate groups because of the ministries' beliefs about sexuality, marriage, and family? (2) Will you publicly state that Chick-fil-A will not hesitate to fund these two ministries again, should the opportunity arise in the future?" Wildmon wrote on AFA's website.
"This response was a welcomed clarification," Wildmon wrote. "It appears that Mr. Cathy understands how many evangelicals perceived the company's decision, as he stated that these Christian groups were 'inadvertently discredited.' The fact that Dan Cathy called these two Christian groups 'outstanding organizations' will mean a lot to evangelicals."
The Salvation Army said in November that it was "saddened" by Chick-fil-A's decision.
"We serve more than 23 million individuals a year, including those in the LGBTQ+ community," the Salvation Army told FOX Business in a statement. "In fact, we believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ population. When misinformation is perpetuated without fact, our ability to serve those in need, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or any other factor, is at risk."
Chick-fil-A, which operates about 2,400 restaurants, had been also taking heat from gay-rights supporters, which had impeded some of its growth efforts.
Last year, airports in Buffalo, New York and San Antonio blocked the restaurant from opening at their sites because of the company’s record on gay rights. Some college campuses have banned the chain, while students at an Oregon high school walked out of classes last year, in part to protest the presence of a Chick-fil-A food truck at home football games, citing the company's donations to the anti-LGBTQ charities.
A location in the United Kingdom is also closing because of protests.
But the criticism didn't relent even after the donation decision.
Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in November if Chick-fil-A wants to be taken seriously, it should disavow its anti-gay reputation and ensure restaurants are safe for gay employees.